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Some crunchy riffs - 75%

Dead1, February 18th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Thunderforge Records

To be honest I had some reservations reviewing a folk black metal band. Given that the closest I get to either genres is Bathory one can understand my trepidation. Then to my surprise it turns out Skyforger's new album Sensprūsija offers a more multifaceted approach including large chunks of heavy and thrash metal circa 1988!

The metal world needs more catchy metal and Skyforger certainly deliver on Sensprūsija. And in true Bathory style they don't pretty up the delivery just cause they're catchy and occasionally melodic and even at epic at times.

The riffs are the big drawcard on this album. They're meaty, catchy and full of tasty hooks. And whilst the style is firmly rooted in the 1980s a lot of the time, it's certainly not cheesy or nostalgic. Indeed the thick tones and raw edge give these classic riffs new life. Mix in a few black metal style riffs and you've got a veritable smorgasbord of heavy metal riff mastery. Backing up the guitars is a deliciously dirty huge rumbling bass sound that would make Venom's Cronos proud.

The vocalist Peter Kvetkovskis does a great job at being Latvia's answer to Skyclad's phenomenal Martin Walkyier. Though unfortunately the lyrical impact is lost for non-Latvian speakers, who might like to know what they're singing along to those group shouts in "Herkus Monte." The occasional clean vocals are folky style chants but overall the vocals don't veer too far away from the memorable Walkyier-esque snarls complete with dripping venom.

The folk elements are surprisingly few. Occasionally there's some flutes, acoustic guitars or folk style chanting present but overall the album is pure thrash meets heavy meets melodic black metal meets occasional early melodic death metal. Folk elements are only really a major element for the big sounding "Ramava" whose chunky monstrous riff is a definite highlight or "Zem Lieutvas Karogiem" whose latter half morphs from full on thrash to folk metal. Same can be said for the black metal components which seem to be confined to the odd tremolo riff and overall guitar texture.

The song writing is top notch. The songs are memorable and even catchy but don't compromise on metal intensity unlike so many other folk inclined metal bands. Highlights include the folky and huge sounding "Ramava," the rumbling freight train that is "Tagad Vai Nekad" and the at times fist pumping title track. But there aren't any truly bad songs here.

On the negative, some of those tremolo riffs seem a bit samey. Taken as part of individual songs they're ok, but in the context of an album they can get a bit repetitive.

Skyforger's Sensprūsija is a great example of making old riffs sound new. It's catchy and accessible whilst retaining that rawness and ugliness that marks out some of metal's most classic albums. It is a great example of transcending genre boundaries to come up with an engaging, varied and most importantly enjoyable listening experience.

History lesson - 78%

Felix 1666, August 25th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Thunderforge Records

Since the beginning of their musical activities, the members of Skyforger do not only appear as musicians, but also as emissaries of their country. From my point of view, they represent Latvia in a dignified way. Their discography is growing constantly and most of the efforts are very well done. Despite the fact that some of their albums are slightly weaker than their predecessors, the band always acts in an authentic manner. But authenticity is not the only trump card of "Senprūsija". Due to its strong compositions, it belongs to the better outputs of Skyforger and surpasses its predecessor significantly. Furthermore, it cements the musical approach of the band. The Latvians cover the whole spectrum between wild thrash and shamanic doom and they do it in a skillful manner. Without neglecting completely folkloric elements, they create a churning mix of metal.

Harsh tracks like "Sudāvu jātnieki" or "Tagad vai nekad" underline the most craggy side of Skyforger. These songs are no American-style thrash metal and the usual European thrash approach does also not show up. Furthermore, these tunes have nothing in common with the more or less primitive black thrash legions from Germany, although their sound is slightly blackened. The band offers a different version of thrash. It is able to create very special melodies and the edgy Latvian language adds an enriching element. It would be an exaggeration to say that Skyforger still spread an exotic aura. Their sound is not unique. But the musicians are capable to generate the vehemence of thrash metal with their own means. The equally massive main riff of "Divi brāļi" pulls you into the song immediately, but this piece does not follow the thrashing approach of the aforementioned songs. The longer it lasts, the more the band emphasises folkloric sounds, in particular as a result of the use of flutes. Due to this pattern, the song is comparable with the title track. But despite these differentiations, the album never falls short of an appropriate level of heaviness. Not least to the raw voice of the lead singer and an unmistakable quantum of high velocity parts ("Melnās buras"), this full-length exudes metal from each pore.

The arrangement of the songs is well done. The heavyweight "Rāmava" is absolutely correctly positioned. It separates the faster tracks of the first half of the album from those of the second half while leading you to the dark Latvian forests or, alternatively, to the autumnal and windswept shores of the Baltic sea. Desperate riffing meets mantra-like singing while the last rays of sunlight vanish slowly. The deities of the Old Prussians are surely delighted to get this sonic offering. By the way, the ambitiously designed booklet is a treasure trove for historically interested metalheads.

Long story short, Skyforger deliver another chapter of their independent kind of metal. With the exception of the lukewarm instrumental called "Rituāls", they offer good songs with a more or less flawless production. All of you who like the previous albums of Skyforger will not be disappointed, because the band remains a reliable partner for its supporters.

The ancient spirit carries on - 88%

mirons, May 12th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Thunderforge Records

Five years have passed since the latest Skyforger album saw the daylight, and now they’re back with a new studio recording, called "Senprūsija" ("Old Prussia"). The relationship with Metal Blade which started with "Kurbads" release didn’t work out, so Skyforger have founded their own label, called "Thunderforge Records" to release this new one and possibly future recordings.

Lyrically, "Senprūsija" deals with – obviously – Old Prussians, one of the three larger Baltic nations beside Lithuanians and Latvians, and who sadly ceased to exist several centuries ago due to annihilation, plague and assimilation. Unlike the previous album, this is not a concept album with an underlying storyline, however, the Old Prussian theme unifies most of the songs (a couple of them don’t deal specifically with the history of Old Prussians, but can be attributed to them as well). There are stories of great struggles against Christian invaders, noted personalities, mythology and religious beliefs, together with some more philosophically themed songs about the general evil of the oppressive Christian religion and death and destruction for greed, envy and corruption by power. The artwork looks very nice, and while the initial impression can be that of a cliche – swords and skulls and stuff, it actually represents the contents very well – bones and rusty artifacts are pretty much all that is left from this once so prosperous nation.

"Senprūsija" took quite long to record, but it has paid off, at least in the context of sound quality. Sound is clean and crisp, all instruments sound lively, and it is really heavy – this might be the heaviest Skyforger has sounded on record. The guitars are edgy, with just the right amount of crunch to make them sound moderately agressive, without getting too muddy. Bass is omnipresent as always, perhaps even moreso, at times even reminding of OverKill. Speaking of which, thrash metal is to be found on a larger scale on this album than before, but most of the time it is combined with blackened tremolo riffs, although I wouldn’t call this a black/thrash album; the overall style is a hybrid of heavy, thrash, black and, to a lesser degree, other musical styles, but it is instantly recognizable as Skyforger. The folk instrumentation is drastically reduced though, going back to the levels found on "Kauja pie Saules" and "Latviešu Strēlnieki" – some listeners will be pleased by this change, while others will be disappointed; it depends on which aspects in Skyforger’s pagan metal you prefer.

"Senprūsija" sounds like it would have been the next logical step in style evolution from "Pērkoņkalve", with "Asinslauks" EP being the closest style-wise; it definitely is heavier and more metallic than "Kurbads", but not quite as harsh as the first two (or three, if you count the demo). While most of the songs fall under the aforementioned hybrid style description, some have Iron-Maiden-esque galloping riffs and melodies (most notably "Nekas nav Aizmirsts", but also the title track has some); the midpoint of the album is marked by "Rāmava", which is slow, doomy and ritualistic sounding, reminding of "Caur Aizsaules vārtiem" from "Pērkoņkalve", and the first half of the album closer "Zem Lietuvas karogiem" is an all-out pure thrash song, before it transitions in a folk chant in Lithuanian which serves as an outro. "Tagad vai Nekad" is probably the heaviest song on here, with it’s stomping rhythm and at first slightly strange sounding echoing riffs. One of the main strong points on the album is again versatility – not only between songs, but also within them, "Divi Brāļi" being one of the best examples of this.

As the shortcomings of this album I would mention that some parts of it sound too familiar, making me wonder (not for long) where I have heard this before. Same goes also for lyrics; overall they are well written, but some of the rhymes sound recycled, and some are just silly, thus failing to meet the extremely high standard Peter has set with his previous lyrical works. Also the instrumental song sounds kind of a filler.

Overall though, the album leaves a very good impression, exceeding the hopes I had for it and placing itself next to the first three which could be considered as pagan metal classics by now. Those who were put off by the large amounts of folk instrumentation on "Kurbads" and it’s generally lighter style, will applaud the return to gloomier and harsher sounds, but there’s enough melody and nods to classic heavy metal to keep also fans of the previous album happy. Favourite songs: "Senprūsija", "Sudāvu Jātnieki", "Lepnums un Spīts", "Nekas nav Aizmirsts".

The forge is still lit - 83%

autothrall, May 8th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Thunderforge Records

While a large percentage of the pagan/folk metal crowd seems to have reduced itself to a band of lively, gallivanting minstrels who have watched Lord of the Rings and Braveheart to the point they can recite them line for line, there are particular bands among the lot which have long stood head and shoulders above their stylistic peers. Latvia's Skyforger is one such name, a group that has always taken itself and its devotion to craft quite seriously, and perhaps more importantly, offered us an historical view of a particular culture and region of the world that many of us Westerners might not be so well versed in. Granted, not all of us are necessarily going to understand the lyrics until we have translations available, but I personally don't enjoy the aural ingestion of these records nearly as much as when they are offered in the native tongue, and judging by the relative popularity of records in Norse and/or Finnish, I do not feel the language barrier is much of an obstruction at all to anyone seeking sincerity.

Though several of their earlier albums were cut more directly from a black metal cloth, the band had taken a turn for the slightly more accessible with their prior record Kurbads, which was among their best material to date, and sixth album Senprūsija ('Old Prussia') is a loyal followup to that with grimmer artwork and a lot more aural callbacks to older discs like Kauja pie saules (1998) and the Latvian Riflemen (2000), meshing together lattices of inspired, memorable Scandinavian-style black metal riffing with some overt heavy metal and blackened thrash influences. It's not that they constantly innovate the chord progressions, but they take great care to ensure that almost every guitar pattern on the record sticks to the ears, and there is this constant variation in the rhythms which is a mix of lethal intensity and more celebratory pomp we generally equate with the folk metal medium. The guitar tone is rich but cutting, anchored by just the perfect level of buzz on the bass and constantly punctuated with tasteful leads that honor a hard rock tradition without ever becoming exceedingly flashy or frivolous. Curious harmonies and an excellent balance of the drum kit round out the production to what is possibly their best ever, and I found there is nearly no means by which I could predict what exactly was about around most corners in the songwriting, though they never break their character.

Character. That's so important here, and rather than some bunch of misplaced teen angst troubadours diddling their fiddles in the Renaissance Faire restrooms, Skyforger wins on personality over just the novelty of mixing heavy guitars in with traditionally inspired ballads and chords. Peter's vocals continue to serve as a Latvian analog to the great Martin Walkyier (Sabbat, Skyclad), gruff and growled and appropriately ugly alongside the deeper, clean backups; this approach happens to function fluently with the language, and the lack of anything remotely silly going on in the background enforces its efficacy. At the same time, I don't want to make this seem like its overly misanthropic or spiteful sounding music. Aggressive and well balanced, but there's a hearth-like quality, a warmth and pride that resonates through the structure of the songs, and the rawness of the bass and bleeding of some of the tremolo picked guitar lines never completely jump ship on that underground black metal aesthetic which permeated the first few records. This is a good band. The near hour of material they've assembled is extremely consistent, with many of my favorite tracks ("Melnas buras", "Nekas nav aizmirsts") coming even in the latter half when most albums' fire has already died down, just ceaseless successful recipes of traditional heavy/speed, black and thrash licks dowsed in the cauldron of history. Take the ladle and drink.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com