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Haul out your pennywhistles - 84%

radicaleb, March 11th, 2007

Straight up, this is a very nicely done piece of pagan folk-metal. Unlike some folk metal bands I've heard (and loved), SKYFORGER are very good at combining elements of both worlds into the same songs and that is where this particular album's strength lies. It's total effect as a concept album leaves me feeling, more than anything, like i've got to get myself over to fucking Latvia sometime soon.

Mostly their sound is just "heavy," not too thrashy while still maintaining thrash tempos, and neither very brutal nor atmospheric. When they want to be metal they are just straight-up heavy metal, with a pretty conventional guitar tone and pounding, occasionally double-kicked, drums. I'm curious to search out their earlier stuff but also kind of hesitant because sometimes this album gives me the feeling they might have formerly been just some mediocre, run-of-the-mill eastern european metal band. Some of their riffs definitely make me wanna bang my head off but sometimes they take funny turns that remind me of cheesy 80s stuff.....and I say that as a big fan of 80s metal.

But of course they aren't just writing straight up metal songs. These guys are extremely talented folk musicians, and particularly good arrangers, and they don't let these skills go to waste. So when a folky dual-flute lead explodes over the guitars in the middle of the first song, "When Usins Rides," I'm just like, "this is my new favourite sound ever." SKYFORGER manage to keep the use of folk instruments and melodies really varied over the course of the album, and as the previous reviewer noted, there is a very strong narrative flow to the mood of the songs that keeps everything feeling appropriate even when it isn't always fresh. There are songs that are clearly "metal" with acoustic instruments thrown in to mix it up, like the above-mentioned track, "Shortest Night of the Year," and "Thunderforge;" and then there are the more clearly "folk" songs, as performed by a metal band, like "Long Dance" and my personal favourite track from the album, "O Fog, O Dew," which is just amazing in it's execution and sense of suspense. But then for the last three songs, just when the band is starting to seem like a one-trick pony, come a couple of progressive thrash-sounding tracks that totally rule, and definitely end the album on a way more aggressive note than it began. Throughout the whole album, folk melodies and instrumentation appear in always well-placed moments, and altogether it's a great listen from start to finish.

The lyrics and liner notes play a huge part in my enjoyment of this album also, and knowing that it's this content that got them a cultural grant from the Latvian government to record their next album is just totally rad. All the songs deal with Latvian mythology, history, and folklore, but SKYFORGER go way beyond anything else I've heard and delve right into being educational....not only are all the lyrics printed in Latvian (as they appear on the album) and English, there are explanatory notes for each song that include details as minute as the celebration days for various deities! ha! I'm totally impressed by the effort that must have went into writing these songs, and the "seasonal cycle" motif makes for a very strong concept record.

Because of this approach, however, I feel like SKYFORGER lack some of the emotional impact that other, more angry bands bring to their folk/medieval metal, like FALKENBACH or acoustic-era ULVER, or even more atmospheric stuff like SUMMONING or ELFFOR. However, the fact that I consider them to exist in the same world, and without being the slightest bit black metal (like all those artists), should be understood as a solid recommendation. There is a sense of fun to this music that is impossible to deny, must be killer to see live, and has definitely won me over for many repeated listens. Hail Lativan Gods!