When I heard that SKYFORGER had finally signed a deal with a bigger record label, i.e. Metal Blade Records, I was excited for them. When I received the promo of their sixth full-length album “Kurbads”, I was excited for myself, since the five Latvians are among my favourite bands overall with their pretty unique brand of Pagan Metal. A three-track sneak preview I had been able to hear through my good friend Andis a while back had revealed that the band still had it in them, but without sounding the same. But it was just three tracks, so eight more to go and you never know in the context of an album how they will fare.
Now the cover had not been all that promising (sorry Martins) with the odd red-headed beast there (the rest is fine) and after I had listened to the first song “Raganas Lasts” (“Curse Of The Witch”), I was a little, well, afraid, to be honest, because the song sounds a lot less Pagan, a lot less SKYFORGER overall and the vocals also seemed a little off at times, so I got worried. But thankfully “Keves Dels” (“Son Of The Mare”) more than makes up for that, pounding, with flute and bagpipe and energy and all, that’s what I am talking about, sounds a little like a mix between “Perkonkalve” and “Zobena Dziesma”, especially where they go all Folk Metal in the middle, love it, my worries are eased.
The vocals overall are probably going to be the single-most bone of contention that will split the listeners, because more than once (especially when Peter is trying to actually sing more or in some of the choir passages) they seem a little off, when he is in full swing with his characteristic semi-roar, though, he has his usual charm. Thankfully the following songs confirm SKYFORGER’s position at the forefront of the Pagan Metal scene, even though there definitely is a stronger Power and sometimes Thrash Metal influence to be detected, while at the same time maintaining a sturdy Folk base within their compositions. “Devingalvis” (“The Nine-Headed”) is a very good and dynamic mix of the old and new, while short “Teva Dela Pagalma” (“In The Yard Of The Father’s Son”) is a pure campfire-Folk like track that has tons of atmosphere.
One of my favourites is “Velnukavejs” (“The Devilslayer”), where the Power Metal influence comes through even stronger, dynamic, with full Folk instruments, the choir works, lots of power, but also with a calm interludes with just bells and bagpipes, which is strongly contrasted by the immediately following “Akmens Sargs” (“The Stone Sentinel”), far slower, and brooding and even when the drums pick up speed, the brooding atmosphere does not go away, very unusual for the Latvians.
What is nice, though, overall is that the Latvians vary the speed throughout the album better and more than on their previous efforts, which helps the longevity of the album and the Power Metal elements in conjunction with the Folk instruments that are used to spice up the band’s Pagan Metal without taking over or seeming gimmicky also play in SKYFORGER’s favour. Oh, there is one more track that I haven’t mentioned yet, which is the title track. At first I had not known that “Kurbads” was actually a cover version of Latvian Hard Rock band OPUS PRO and after checking on Youtube (where they unfortunately don’t have this song available) I must say that SKYFORGER must have really adapted this one, because this is pure Power/Speed Metal in the vein of the 80s with bagpipes and Peter’s trademark voice (which hits its limits a little when he tries to sing more), I love it! (P.S.: Thanks to Andis and Richards for actually sending me copies of the song!)
Overall it is difficult for me to really say, if “Kurbads” (the album) met my expectations, because I am not sure what I expected and it surely is somewhat different than what they’ve created in the past, with a few flaws, but in the end it is good to see that SKYFORGER are not just treading water, but actually are evolving and that is worth a lot of respect and they pull it off well. Do they reach “Perkonkalve”? Not fully. Do I like this album? Hell yeah!
So the godfathers of Latvian Pagan Metal are back with one of the best albums of the genre of 2010, hands down, they sound a little different, but they still are SKYFORGER through and through, unique to the core!
(Online October 23, 2010)