Skyforger is Latvia’s answer to folk metal and they’ve been giving it a go for quite a while. Despite having been around since 1995, however, they’ve not produced a terribly huge discography. In fact, Kurbads is the first Skyforger album since 2003, when they self-released a folk album that was mightily well-received by their fanbase, even, apparently, more so their metal album from the same year Thunderforge. The band, for the record, has also been involved in a bit of controversy surrounding the use of, what the band calls a thundercross, and what the rest of us call a swastika in their logo. But it seems the band has worked very hard to distance themselves from any of the controversy surrounding this and should be approached from a non-political stance.
And pure folk metal Kurbads certainly is. Written with an eye towards ancient Latvian mythologies about men becoming heroes, every song on this record is basically about people standing up to the evil confronting them and defeating them. Think about it as the Baltic equivalent of the great national epics of Germany, Sweden, England or anywhere else for that matter. To back up this admirable and interesting concept the band has once again attacked the subject with their breed of doomy (or at least mid-paced) blackened folk metal. As I’ve been listening to this album I’ve had some issues placing exactly who the band sounds like, which is a thing to be admired, really, but I guess the best way to describe Skyforger‘s sound to newcomers is a blend of 80s thrash, Iron Maiden and Bathory with a healthy dose of folk melodies. It is a sound that is both familiar and comfortable, yet unique and interesting. Normally not a fan of mid-paced bands, Skyforger spoke to me on a completely different level.
This appeal has largely to do with the well-structured and interesting songwriting which combines all these different elements into a strong alloy. For example, the track “Black Rider” mixes a Blind Guardian-esque riff, using bagpipes as lead instead of overly layered guitars, with an old school style Motorhead riff. While “The Nine-Headed” blends folk metal with Kreator-like German thrash and Iron Maiden‘s dual guitar leads. Each one of these songs offers a beautiful blending of these different metal styles and makes them cool, cohesive and crushing. My personal favorite song, and the one that convinced me that Kurbads was going to be a good record after all was definitely “Son of the Mare”, which starts out slow but turns into a speed metal track of amazing quality, with some of the most addictive melodies being carried by the bagpipes towards the end. This track set the standard for the album, which most of the record really lives up to.
Listening to Kurbads I’m really reminded of what it is about being a metalhead that I like so much. Sure, there seems to be a ridiculous amount of genrefication that’s gone on in the last few years. There are very few bands that are universally loved by metalheads in the same way that an Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath or a Metallica once were. But the ability of bands to take these various different genres, blend them together and get something new out of it is definitely something that is worth our admiration. Every metalhead has his or her own idea of what The Best Fucking Band Ever should sound like, and most of the time it’s not one band, but several. Skyforger has managed to mix all of these things together to write one of the more interesting folk metal albums you’ll hear these days and something I guarantee you doesn’t sound anything like Eluveitie, Turisas or Finntroll, and that’s what makes it awesome.