26 April 2010
by Tom Dare
While Finntroll and Ensiferum still deal in the Nordic knees-up music, Eluveitie have already shown that folk metal is a style of music capable of being taken a mite more seriously than as just providing the soundtrack to a piss-up at Bloodstock or Wacken. Latvia’s Skyforger have now returned after a seven year absence to add weight to the suggestion that folk metal is growing up – though a certain amount of the “folk” element has been lost in the process.
While some folk metal bands base their style on either the Gothenburg sound with traditional instruments replacing the lead guitars or on a style of music native to their homeland, Skyforger are basically a metal band with some folk instruments augmenting things. Certainly there is a fair dose of At The Gates in the guitars, as well as a mixture of Bay Area thrash and death metal piled on. This is topped with an occasional injection of traditional Latvian folk tunes, although these sometimes feel more like black metal riffs played on a bagpipes variant. The overall effect is to take Skyforger well away from the usual continental fun-time bollocks and into more credible territory, while still retaining just enough of the party feel to put a smile on your face.
Kurbads is full of primordial power and barbarism, nicely blending the primeval fun of a fur-clad knees-up around the fire at the centre of an ancient village with the danger of bygone ages. With plenty of heroism and little of the silliness that some people find off-putting about the likes of Turisas and Korpiklaani, Skyforger have done themselves great credit here. By avoiding being a band purely about getting legless and wearing furs and war paint, they also deliver a record that stands up to serious scrutiny and does not become stale about half way through, something many bands fail to do.
That said, in avoiding many of the pratfalls that plague practitioners of this kind of music, they also avoid some of its best aspects. They simultaneously miss out on the brilliantly fun tracks other bands are capable of – there are no party anthems the size of Korpiklaani’s ‘Vodka’, nor is there the kind of perpetual atmospheric beauty and barbarity that permeates Eluveitie’s latest album. It may be a far more grown-up affair, but who really wants folk metal that’s grown-up?
Watch a studio report from Skyforger:
While Kurbads is strong and well worth a listen, you feel Skyforger are struggling to define themselves. Obviously wanting to avoid being clumped in with the humppa crowd, they have likewise sacrificed one of the style’s biggest attractions. This is a perfectly entertaining sojourn in the dark forests of the Baltic lands, but you are left hoping this is more of a statement of intent for the future than the finished article.
Sounds like: Eluveitie, Finntroll
Top tracks: Son Of The Mare, The Nine-Headed, In The Underworld
Skyforger- Kurbads tracklisting:
Curse Of The Witch
Son Of The Mare
In The Yard Of The Father’s Son
The Stone Sentinel
In The Underworld
The Last Battle