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Skyforger Won This Battle! - 97%

Khull, February 12th, 2009

Admittedly, I'm not as enthusiastic a fan of folk metal as I probably should be; only a select number of bands have managed to hold my interest. Layering the typical cliché folk melodies – those cheesy, happy-go-lucky tunes derived from the myriad “folk” instruments that seem to be present in just about every country's music – never clicked as being particularly meaningful. At the end of any given album, whether it be by Ensiferum, Aes Dana, Eluveitie, Otyg, you name it, they all carry that same inherit trait which never fails to leave me dissatisfied. Fortunately for Skyforger, they don't suffer from this. Whereas the aforementioned bands proclaim more of a “Hey! Our ancestors could drink and sing you to death! Listen!” In Kauja pie Saules, Skyforger charges in from the flanks, their hatchets, bows, and swords at the ready, shouting, “Yeah? Our ancestors could raze your villages to the ground before breakfast! Fucking watch us!”

Skyforger lives up to that hastily crafted statement to the letter, and this is almost entirely due to the extent of the black metal influences. Fast paced, highly distorted guitars, producing wild and savage sounding riffs, rush headlong over the flurry of drums, shifting between double bass attacks and more involved compositions, culminating to something of a primitive sounding, early Windir mixed with a touch of Storm (Nor). Of course, the music isn't complete without the vocals; harsh, throaty rasps slightly dirtier than Eluveitie, telling stories of battles past. When put together, they create an intense blend of folk and black metal, fitting for an album who focuses on war and killing.

As the album progresses through the forty-odd minutes of blackened folk goodness, one gets a sense of purpose, like there's a story or point this album is trying to convey. Each track is a logical step in the progression of the story being told, and even though a typical person like myself can't make heads or tails of the lyrics, the sense that the album is going somewhere with each song is apparent from the music. Breaks and interludes, often in the form of brief periods of chanting, signify stays in the bloodshed and warfare happening all around. Conversely, the flurrying guitars and drums paint images of chaos and battle in the mind.

Of all the tracks, three contain the clichéd, distinguishing characteristics of folk metal. Neighed the Battlehorses (track 1), Kurshi (track 3), and Why the Horns of War Are Blown (track 7). Battlehorses, as one would expect from an intro, is a song of preparation. Horses neigh in the background as chanting is heard in the foreground. Kurshi starts with the sound of a flowing stream and native-tongued chanting, but doesn't last longer than a minute or two, giving way to the meat of the song. Horns is another interlude, containing only a crackling campfire and monophonic chanting accompanied by tribal drums and a flute.

I highly encourage Skyforger be listened to by anyone in the market for exceptional folk metal with traces of black metal. Hell, even if you don't particularly like the genre, this might go a ways to change your mind. The two standout songs are, perhaps not unexpectedly, the battle songs; The Battle of Saule (track 2), and Battle at Garoza Forest (track 8). You won't find any cheese or joy here; only determined, battle-hardened music arranged in such a way as to keep you riveted for the album's lifespan. Skyforger set out to tell us a story past with Kauja pie Saules, and they succeeded.

One final note: I wasn't aware that the tracks listed on our beloved site didn't have their English translations. I've given the track numbers corresponding to their names to avoid confusion.