Skyforger
Kurbads

Despite having plied their brand of Eastern European folk metal since 1995, I’m still relatively unfamiliar with Latvia’s Skyforger, having only heard the Paragon Records 2006 re-issue of their 1998 debut, Kauja Pie Saules (The Battle of Saule). I’ve missed the three albums and a compilation that have been released since 1998. When hearing the band’s sound now, compared to Kauja Pie Saules (The Battle of Saule), I’m was a bit taken aback, but eventually found myself rather impressed.

Apparently the band has transitioned from a traditional Eastern European folk metal band with a war metal/black metal backbone, into a more tempered and amicable more thrash/heavy metal band. The vocals are now a mid-range, hoarse shout that at times reminded me a lot of Martin Walkyier (Sabbat/Skyclad). Except this time the singing is in Latvian. In fact, a burlier version of Skyclad is a good reference looking for Skyforger’s current sound. The folk/ethnic elements are still present in the form of bagpipes, pipes, and traditional Latvian stringed instrument, the kokle. The overall effect is not unlike Korpiklaani, Eluveitie, Suidakra and such, but the metal element is far more retro and relatively mid-paced than I was expecting.

Based on the Latvian legend of folk hero Kurbads, the album actually opens relatively weak with “Raganas lāsts (Curse of the Witch)”, a fairly standard and even bland, rumbling thrash number with virtually no folk elements. It left me pretty unimpressed. However, ”Ķēves dēls (Son of the Mare)” dropkicks things into a swing with a rousing marching riff and a nice little flute/piccolo/pipe-combo. Again, with Pēteris’s gravelly voice, I’m reminded of Skyclad’s heavier moments, especially with a great thrashy, mid-song canter and jig. “Devingalvis (The Nine-Headed)” is a simple catchy track I can imagine hearing on Latvian rock radio or a the Latvian song for Europe qualifier before moody “Noburtais Mezs (Bewitched Forest)” slows things down a bit with a stern, steady pace replete with some beer hall “wo-ahs”.

After the brief drunken chant of “Tev a Dela Pagalma (In the Yard of the Father’s Son)”, “Velnukavejs (The Devilslayer)” delivers an upbeat, thrashing, more typical (think Turisas) folk gallop. Some deeper, almost death metal vocals grace the menacing “Akmens Sargs (The Stone Sentinel)”, where Skyforger bare their teeth a bit. But sure enough, it’s followed by the rather tepid Korpliklaani-ish simplicity of “Pazeme (In the Underworld)”. Luckily “Melnais Jatnieks (Black Rider)” picks things back up again and closer “Pedeja Kauja (The Last Battle)” wraps the album and tale up in crunchy but somber fashion. Then there’s the bonus track, “Kurbads”, a cover of a 1986 song by a Latvian rock band called Opus Pro. But you’d never know if I hadn’t told you (and I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t have a press sheet).

The album has a very robust, thick production, further distancing Skyforger from their black metal roots, and their signing to Metal Blade is certainly deserved with the growing interest in folk music. They are better than Eluveitie and offer a much more authentic take on folk metal without being overly cheesy.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
February 11th, 2011

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