Skyforger - Senprūsija - (9/10)
Published on April 4, 2015
It is undeniable that the pagan metal scene has been pretty inflated over the past few years with tons of bands from virtually anywhere popping up and populating it, but there are still some bands around that were there way before it became a trend of some sorts and were among the forerunners. Latvian Skyforger have been holding the Latvian flag high for 20 years now and Senprūsija (Old Prussia) is album number six for the quartet from Riga, their first since 2010’s Kurbads.
Having parted with Metal Blade after just one album, the band now is offering up their latest effort through their own label, Thunderforge Records, and despite the bagpipes having taken a hike together with former member Kaspars Bārbals, it stands in full tradition of their previous works, not least courtesy of Pēteris Kvetkovskis’ characteristic voice. Ever since their iconic Semigalls’ Warchant demo in 1997, Skyforger have always stood for an authentic and grounded sound, far away from the flashiness and happiness of many of their contemporaries, with their lyrics dealing with the history of Latvia, old battles and the likes, staying far away from the exaltation of mead and beer drenched taverns, lending their gruff sound a completely different character, which has suited them well for the last two decades.
Going a bit more back towards their black metal influenced roots, Senprūsija (dealing with old Prussia in its lyrics) kicks things off with the frenetic opening of the title track (after the intro “Ei skīja, skīja” eased the listener in), which turns into a continuation of the sound of Kurbads, especially the at times very traditional metal riffing, but with some more or less gentle nods towards their previous albums, which together with Peter’s traditional gruff voice sets the album off to a good start that even brings in a short, but sweet flute solo that just adds this extra kick.
And it is this authenticity that makes the Latvians stand out among the crowds, because it does not feel forced, especially if one is familiar with their back catalogue, then the evolution throughout the years is an organic journey untainted by any flavour-of-the-day cookie cutters. The black/thrash metal influenced rhythm of “Sudāvu jātnieki” meets pagan melodies and energy in a way that proves that even originators of a style still can lead the way after all those years. The harshness of the Latvian language also plays its part, since the band never compromised on the language as a trade in for a potential wider audience to reach.
While the quartet definitely knows how to let the hammer fly, “Tagad vai nekad” is an example for this, the true strength of the Latvians, though, lies in their ability to bring the pagan spirit to life with great yet never obtrusive melodies, catchy, double-bass driven “Herkus Monte” comes to mind as well as the duo of “Melnās buras” (“Black Sails”) and galopping “Nekas nav aizmirsts” (“Nothing is Forgotten”), while “Rāmava” serves as the slower, more epic track of the album, complete with some choir, all together showing the band’s versatility, while keeping everything firmly under the album’s main structure.
Was Senprūsija worth the five year wait? It sure was and shows that Skyforger have not lost any of their spark and spirit, keeping them one of the best hidden gems of pagan metal that has been able to keep an amazing level of quality throughout the years. A definitive recommendation to all fans of the sub genre!