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REVIEW: Skyforger - Kurbads Metal Blade Records, 2010
Skyforger - Kurbads - cover art No doubt Skyforger have changed in this release. Expectations were high, and it's hard to keep up with them, but why not challenge them? These guys have been brave. And in a certain way, they've succeeded. I don't like the word "fan," meaning someone who loves everything made by a favourite band, farts included, so let's leave it as I'm only a humble follower of these Latvian blokes. Therefore, I expected nothing but a bunch of great songs, moving, evocative, heavy and folkish. With a traditional blend of uncertainty and eagerness I put the CD in my stereo and now I'm ready to put down some lines.

To be honest, first impressions can be slightly disappointing; Perkonkalve showed a rather solid approach as a whole, while Kurbads meanders quite a lot in various aspects. The second half of the album meant nothing to me when I heard it at first. Further listenings to give the benefit of doubt favoured the album and I made up my mind; patience is a good thing. The first detail to notice is the inclusion of bagpipes. Far from being similar to other bands using such an instrument, Skyforger have managed to include it quite decently (and frequently) in the sonic body of their brand of metal. Providing the medieval/ancient sound needed (since the lyrical concept deals with folk tales of Latvian lands), bagpipes don't soften the output: this is a metal album, ladies and gentlemen.

In general terms, I'd say Kurbads is slower than previous releases and mostly headbanging midtempos are the core of the album. Some Running Wild and other heavy metal bands' influence is breathed in some passages, which is nothing completely new nor bad whatsoever. Killer midtempos, rooster and horses samples, dark solemn recitatives, guitar leads, classic metal heavy gusts of air, double bass drum cavalcades, thrashy licks, folk instruments... The band can sound in manifold ways, from a metallised version of Corvus Corax to any prior album resonance. That displayed variety and the general musical focus can stir some doubts and uncomfortable feelings. Anyway, after some listens, this album passes the test of time and it's far from being uninteresting.

Quite the contrary, musically speaking the album is more varied and richer than before. Skilled musicians as they are, progression shows when it comes to musical patterns and harmonies is a token of their will of going forward creating something new. This is not Finntroll, humppa metal, beer metal or any other label; we have a band trying to go their own way without fear, we have Skyforger.

Production is excellent, clean, sharp; an improvement which is highly responsible for the overall result, without a doubt. Incidentally, the booklet is as well endowed as usual, with lyrics both in Latvian and English, an introduction about the lyrical topic of the album by singer Peter himself and some lines on each song about the concept they deal with. Also the lyrical issue is a thing to remark, Skyforger and Peter especially are uncompromising in yelling verses to strengthen traditions, telling interesting stories to the world.

As a bonus (at least in the digipak version I bought) there is a good heavy song which is a cover of a Latvian hard rock band called Opus Pro (the Baltic rocker answer to “Life is Life” creators?). It's a nice addition, certainly! To mention some down points of the album, I'd say the artwork is a bit weak and childish, especially when earlier covers come to mind. I'd also point out the overall feeling Kurbads features is quite good, but doesn't match the spirit and magic of earlier albums, call me nostalgic if you wish. However, a nice step forward without looking back nor repeating cliches. Do you want folk metal away from the typical bullshit in terms of lyrics and music? Then check out Skyforger.

written by Fjordi

Find out more about the band

» Skyforger band details
1. Raganas Lāsts
2. Ķēves Dēls
3. Deviņgalvis
4. Noburtais Mežs
5. Tēva Dēla Pagalmā
6. Velnukāvējs
7. Akmens Sargs
8. Pazemē
9. Melnais Jātnieks
10. Pēdējā Kauja
11. Kurbads (Opus Pro cover)

Playing time: 49:39

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