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Screams from the Baltic battleground - 80%

Felix 1666, June 4th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2000, CD, Mascot Records

"Latvian Riflemen" must be deemed as the most direct full-length of Skyforger. The nightmarish cover does not only indicate the cruelty of war. It is simultaneously an omen for the pretty brutal overall impression of the musical content. I concede that the folkloric elements are not completely marginalised. For example, the band has chosen one of these fragile melodies for the beginning of "Battle of Plakani, Battle of Veisi" and the vocals of "Death Island" follow the more or less heroic approach that these long-bearded pagan bands usually use. Nevertheless, Skyforger have put the focus on a proper mix of thrash and heavy metal that does not lack of gruesome vibes. This decision is simply consistent, because the warlike concept of the lyrics and the almost romantic love of nature are mutually exclusive.

Songs such as the highly explosive "The March of 1916" illustrate the violent path of the formation. Hammering drums, straight guitars, a modicum of melodies and the unpitying nagging of the lead vocalist take the audience to the front line. The listener is confronted with the smell of powder, the filth of the disturbed ground, the blood of the fallen comrades and his own cold sweat. Of course, the apocalyptic scenario is described from a Latvian perspective and it seems as if each and every soldier of the Baltic country has been a true hero ("The Siberians flee, but Latvians still stand!"). In this respect, it comes as a surprise that the German Empire won the war in the East. Anyway, the primal catastrophe of the 20th century did not produce a great number of winners. Skyforger's music expresses the tragic of the European mass suicide. Especially the grinding "In the Tirelis Swamp" illustrates the hopelessness of the soldiers and cements the feeling of no escape. "Be Like a Man" points on the same direction, especially its instrumental part which combines sharp guitars with melancholic lines. The crude mixture of personal pain, national pride and mortal fear is well captured by the band.

From the beginning to the end of the album, Skyforger do not present any sloppy tracks. Instead, they guarantee a solid quality level. The guitars are very dominant and create a dense atmosphere without delivering stale riffs or vapid leads. "Latvian Riflemen" was recorded by a guy called Lundberg and the band itself. In my opinion, this team has done a good job. On the one hand, the vigour sound does not kill the emotions that the music evokes. On the other hand, it shines with the necessary degree of robustness and stability. Hence it follows that pure metal lines like those at the beginning of "Six Days of Madness" come into their own. By the way, this song bundles the main features of this album, the metallic compactness, the dramatic concept, the brave attitude of its protagonists and, during the second half of the tune, the murderous intensity of the battles. No doubt, thumbs up for an autonomous full-length without any serious shortcomings.

Heroic and Monumental - 97%

mirons, November 5th, 2010

This is the second full-length in Skyforger’s discography, or the third album, if you count the demo tape Semigall’s Warchant, and it is once again different. While still having its feet set firmly in the black metal territory, it has some characteristics by which one can tell that they were beginning to distance themselves from black metal. Most notably it’s the vocals, that have went from the typical black metal croaking an rasping to more coarse, mid-pitched and reasonably clear roaring half-growl which would become the band’s trademark vocals for the years to come. Secondly, some riffs and even whole songs have different roots – for example, Pulkvedis Briedis (Colonel Briedis) has a clear speed/thrash metal influence, to say the least, while Tīreļa Purvā (In The Tīrelis Swamp) can be traced back to the doomy stuff they were doing at the time of Grindmaster Dead; not even mentioning the full-on folk metal song Nāves Sala (Death Island). However, there’s still plenty of unadulterated black metal to be found on here, 1916.Gada Marts (The March of 1916) and Sešas Ārprāta Dienas (Six Days of Madness) being the prime examples.

I have heard and read people complaining about how Latvian Riflemen supposedly has almost no folk influence save for a few intro parts and as such differs vastly from their other catalog. Well, I guess those are the people that can only discern folk influence when hit in the face with bagpipes or fiddles. The folk parts are there, no less than in the previous records; only this time they more often than before are to be found in the riffs and melodies, as opposed to solos and interludes played on traditional instruments and/or clean chanting. Each song has at least a few riffs that carry the folkish melody, sometimes those are even directly lifted from traditional folk songs – if you have heard Skyforger’s acoustic folk album Zobena Dziesma (Sword Song), you might be able to spot a few of these. And then there’s also the bonus track that was not included on the first pressing of the CD and can be found on the tape version and later CD pressings – Uz Kariņu Bāliņš Jāja (Brother Rides to War), which is a shortened cover version of a folk song.

Anyhow, it’s not the folkish stuff that really makes this album. Flutes and kokles have been reduced here for a purpose: the album is about WW I. Chanting may have been an integral part of everyday life during the warfare, but it’s the artillery and machine gun fire that were the hits on the playlist. Adequatly, this album consists of thunderous drums, skin-piercing riffage and vocals sounding somewhere inbetween of being enraged and tormented. The lyrics are also utter excellence – complemeting the sound in every possible way; one could almost say that it’s even the other way around for the most part of the album – it’s the soundtrack for the lyrics of war. Did I mention the bass guitar? If you have heard any Skyforger recording before, you’d know that a strong presence of bass is a given, and this is no exception, the bass is delivering the one hell of a low end, at times even resembling a roar of a distant cannonade. Strategically placed sound samples play their part as well.

Latviešu Strēlnieki may be the least folk sounding Skyforger album for a foreign listener, but it is probably their most ferocious, the most brutal in every way, the one that raises the bar for war-themed metal as such; touching on the horrors of war and wasted lifes maybe even more than on cannons, grenades, rifles and bayonettes. No wonder, seeing that that was the way of Latvian Riflemen – they gained glory as great warriors whose lives were unfortunately wasted by high ranked officials who could not our would not make use of advancements made by these heroic men. These here are anthems full of rage, spite and bitterness, made to stay as a monument for them.

Latvian Brilliance - 92%

cultofkraken, December 19th, 2007

Skyforger have done it again, one of the most important bands in metal have given us listeners another concept piece centered around the heroic bravery of the Latvian riflemen.

When I hear of disappointment because of the lack of Latvian Pagan/Folk elements; I think it is worth mentioning that Skyforger take their conceptual basis for their albums seriously, and that it would be some what of a conflict to use those Pagan folk elements on an album based around the first world war in the 20th century. An earthen element to this album, stripped down and basic was a good decision by the band. They are obviously able to pull of an excellent album without the layering elements of their more traditional folkish sound.

The song structure and writing on Latvian Riflemen is extremely good, streamlined and feels almost storybook-ish in the way it follows the concept. Vocally it is somewhat different from the previous releases Kauja Pie Saules and Semigall's Warchant, the style is almost more of a hoarse shout yet it works well with the music and does not detract from the body of work. The riffing is pure Skyforger, such a strong ability to put together both memorability and catchiness within a black metal context.

All in all a very good album that I do not believe gets the respect it deserves in Skyforger's back catalogue.

Surprisingly solid - 82%

Rabbi_On_Acid, November 10th, 2007

In general I'm a bit adverse to folk, and/or pagan black metal, finding it a dilution of the black metal sound to incorporate far too happy folksy jigs and chants. Somehow when I'm in the mood for something heroically uplifting, I usually stick with power metal or Manowar. I'm not quite sure why this is, maybe I want my black metal to remain black, and thus sufficiently 'grim' and negative.
There are exceptions to this rule, though. Bathory's forays into 'viking metal' territory (if there is such a thing) were very inspired, and Falkenbach, with its melancholic atmosphere (especially evident in Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty), is still among my favourite bands. And with Skyforger we may have a new exception.

Latviešu Strēlnieki or Latvian Riflemen, apparently an album-long ode to these fighters' struggles against Imperial Germany during the first World War, was introduced to me by a very good friend. I must confess I'd never have tried it, otherwise. The song he let me listen to first was Kauja pie Plakaniem, Kauja pie Veisiem ('battle of Plaki, battle of Veisi'). And it was an immediate hit! Especially the vocals, odd but heroic, in that strangely compelling little language of theirs, really did it for me from the first time around. It's still my favourite track off the album.

But overall, this album is very enjoyable in its entirety. It's quite bare-boned, in the sense that it thankfully hasn't been stuffed with accordions, lutes and violins, as I initially feared. Apart from an occasional flute melody, it's very guitar-orientated. Though never really spectacular, it has interesting a bit traditional heavy metal-ish, riffing throughout, and continuous steady, earthly drumming with sparse blastbeats. The production is excellent: powerful but not too clean. The vocals to me never reach the peak they were at during Kauja pie Plakaniem..., and there isn't much variation, but they never get entirely boring. I also love the concept of the album, especially now that I have read up a tiny bit about the history of the Latvian riflemen.

This is a solid album, stripped-down and earthly, and never really mindblowing, but very enjoyable. I'm definitely going to track down more of Skyforger's material. This isn't really my style, like I mentioned, so people more into this sort of metal will probably like it even more. Recommended tracks besides Kauja pie Plakaniem..., are Naves Sala ('death island') and Esat Ka Viri ('be like a man').

Not great, not like Skyforger - 68%

RubenP, November 8th, 2006

Latvian Riflemen, as the translated title sounds, is unlike most albums you may know from Skyforger. Mainly this is because the Folk and Viking elements your find in the other albums, are not present on this one. What is left is a plain black metal album, without the strong elements as the flute and the folk riffs that Skyforger is known for.

Most of the songs on this album are pretty much the same: fast blasting drumming, heavy guitar sound and the barking voice from Peter. Last one is one of the strong points; though it doesn't save much for most of the songs may be good when you like black metal, for Skyforger this is just not too well compared to their other albums. The only song that has a few folk influences is the second on, "Kauja Pie Plakaniem, Kauja Pie Veisiem", which has a nice flute intro which returns in a riff later on.

Lyrically the album is also different from a usual Folk/Viking metal album, as it is mainly about war. This might be considered a weak point, but without a doubt they fit really well to the aggressive black metal style. Therefore, it's a choice well made. Also, the Latvian lyrics are translated in the booklet, so you can understand what the songs are about. Reading them really brings you in the right mood of the songs, so I advice you listen to the album while reading the lyrics at least once.

Strong points:
- The production, which is very clear but still rough enough for a black metal album.
- The aggression in the music, the album sounds like a battlefield with pulverising cannons and dying soldiers.
- The vocals, which define the band’s sound for a great part in a good way.
- The lyrics.

Weak Points:
- The lack of Folk influences in the music.
- Most songs sound the same, they aren’t that different from each other.

Overall, it's not a bad album, but just not like the other Skyforger albums, and therefore not what you want to hear from them if you like their other releases. If you like black metal, check it out, if you like folk metal, try before you buy or you might be disappointed.