I already have the excellent demo "Semigallian Warchant" and the good first CD "Kauja Pie Saules", but what Latvian SKYFORGER bring us here with "Latviesu Strelnicki/Latvian Riflemen", I would never have expected this!
You most probably call this Pagan Metal, musically coming from the Melodic Black-corner, but pepping up the sound with a good portion of Latvian folklore (especially in the melodies) and quite some surprising influences from the more traditional Metal. And also not the usual standard-screech, but a rough, not really melodic voice, which nevertheless fits the music. That they sing in Latvian might be a scare-off for some of you, but I like the foreign sound of this language, which makes the whole thing even more original than it already is.
The use of heathen symbolism might seem suspect to some, but SKYFORGER decidedly distance them from any connections to Nazis and similar scum, this has to be said!
Musically the Latvians bring a lot of variety into their compositions, besides the "normal" instruments we also get a flute, accordion and like that, always very well implemented! The tempo also is varied a lot, from calm, Folk-borne passages up to really fast parts (thankfully with only very few blasts! You know, double-bass and that ;), SKYFORGER never become boring!
The title-track starts with Latvian warchants before turning into very melodic Pagan Metal, borne by an almost playful guitar, which, despite its serious lyrics, somehow sounds like a good mood. A flute introduces "Kauja Pie Plakaniem, Kauja Pie Veisiem/Battle Of Plakani, Battle Of Viesi" (which can also be found in the very melodic "Naves Sala/Death Island"), "Dzives Vismelnaka Stunda/In Life's Darkest Hour" comes over with fat, driving double-bass and also in-between there is no filler. And the melodies always are writing with capital letters!
Also remarkable are the lyrics, which are printed in Latvian AND English in the booklet, which deal with the role of the Latvian riflemen in World War I. Here, too, war is not glorified at all, rather the contrary, because the cruelties of war are shown pretty drastically at times, it is rather an ode to the bravery of the Latvians, which in itself might again be misunderstood as exaggerated nationalism, but if you look at it more closely it pretty quickly becomes obvious what they are trying to tell us.
Sure nothing for weak hearts and fluff-Rockers as the level of heaviness gets pretty high at times (like on "1916.Gada Marts/The March Of 1916"), but who can live with this gets a really original and high-level album, which should establish SKYFORGER, even though I fear that once more an ingenious band will get ignored somewhat...