Bagpipes are one of the oldest musical instruments. According to Celtic Life Intl, bagpipes were known as “war pipes,” used on battlefields in Scotland in 1396, creating an early association with bagpipes and wars. Additionally, they have a jarring feel, much like the early Scots used to unnerve their enemies. Bagpipes are also used in traditional music for weddings, christenings, and funerals. The bagpipes aren’t just used for traditional Scottish rites; they are also played in music in many different genres. Those familiar with Drop Kick Murphy or Flogging Molly know that bagpipes are effective in rock and punk songs. However, many other songs and artists have effectively brought bagpipes into modern music. These are ten fantastic rock songs that feature bagpipes.
10. The Call of The Mountains – Eluveitie
The opening of this song features highland bagpipes and other traditional Celtic instruments. However, its lead singer, Anna Maria Murphy’s voice with sudden guitar punctuation, makes this song soar. Throughout the song, you hear the music you associate with countries like Scotland and Ireland. Yet, it is elevated by the addition of guitar and driving drum beats. Murphy’s voice shines over the instrumentation remaining memorable.
9. The Tempest – The Real McKenzies
This song starts with a traditional round sung in pubs. Paul McKenzie’s voice embodies a traditional brogue. As the song progresses, you begin to hear bagpipes and drums. Even though the style maintains a more traditional Irish sound, electric guitars make it feel current.
8. Caput Draconis – Schelmish
At the start, the song sounds more Middle Eastern. However, the bagpipes highlight the music with a light drum beat. The song remains a hybrid of highland bagpipes and esoteric drums. Many different things are happening in the background. The song is entirely instrumental so that a listener can hear a full range of instruments.
7. Up To Me – Seven Nations
Heavy rock guitar opens this song with a mix of bagpipes and fiddle. Kirk McLeod’s vocals shine against the backdrop of a hard rock song that finds uniqueness with the addition of bagpipes. Many pieces that use this instrument incorporate additional traditional instruments that keep it classic to many other Celtic songs. However, McLeod’s voice, driving drums, and heavy guitar riffs make this song memorable.
6. Kurshi – Skyforger
Historically, bagpipes were used as a part of warfare. This song brings back that history with a modern twist. At the beginning of the song, you hear plaintive Scottish chanting followed by intense heavy metal guitar. Peteris Kvetkovskis’ voice creates a modern war cry. Bagpipes appear in the middle and end of the song, adding an eerie quality to the music and distinguishing it from other songs in the genre.
5. Bagpipes on Mars – Enter The Haggis
This song sounds like a pub standard south of The Mason Dixon Line. After listening to it, you may wonder if Phish has a parallel universe group. One part of Scottish culture is tall tales, and the lyrics in this song certainly spin a colorful yarn.
4. Green Blood – The O’Reilley’s and The Paddyhats
Like many nationalities, the Irish are proud of their heritage, and this song celebrates it. It blends the traditional style of storytelling with a heavier rock feel. Throughout the song, it fades between traditional Celtic music and arena rock. This song is unexpected because it transitions quickly between the two genres.
3. Last of The Wilds – Nightwish
The first notes of this song are a haunting bagpipe refrain. They alternate with lighter thrash guitar, keyboard, and a driving drum beat throughout the music. This instrumental song plays well on modern Celtic instrumentation and allows the instruments to shine—the song’s middle winds down to another bagpipe solo with chimes in the background. After approximately a minute, the drums and guitars return full throttle ending the song in raucous harmony.
2. Stille Wasser – Tanwzut (Featuring Liv Kristine)
The track starts with an evocative bagpipe solo. Liv Kristine’s emotive style contrasts nicely with Mike Paulent’s baritone. Most of the song is a slower anthem, yet sections of the music erupt with metal guitars and nocturnal drums. Additionally, many song sections use the bagpipes as the main instrument with a faint overlay of other instrumentation. Tanzwut is a German Medieval metal band that adds additional depth to this song.
1. Shipping Up to Boston / Enter Sandman – Goddesses of Bagpipes
Covers aren’t generally done with bagpipes, especially covers of Metallica songs. Drop Kick Murphy made the song Shipping to Boston famous, using many instances of bagpipes. However, the stripped-down instrumentation of bagpipes and heavy drums allows the arrangements to shine since Ken Casey’s voice can dominate the music. Moreover, the song Shipping to Boston lends itself perfectly to an entire bagpipe solo. As this song ends, it goes right into Enter Sandman. On bagpipes, the sound has a fuller depth absent in the original version.
Typically, you don’t think about bagpipes in music other than traditional Irish or Scottish songs. However, the instrument adds additional intensity to genres of music that have remained stagnant. Although there are many different types of metal like speed and thrash, the addition of the bagpipes makes a firm stand out more than a variation on a guitar riff or heavier drums. Medieval and Celtic rock has piqued in places as well. So, reworking it for the 20th century with more intense guitars while traditional instruments remain at the forefront adds another layer to songs otherwise forgotten.
Listeners expect to hear specific instruments in their favored genres of music. But when the songwriters go outside conventions, they create songs remembered well after the musicians are gone. Bagpipes are one of the oldest instruments, but thanks to many musicians globally, we see a resurgence in many types of music. The seductive dominance of the bagpipes allows it to outstretch the war cries of ancient Scotland and become a part of current music.