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A gem in the vein of Ulver's Kveldssanger - 95%

larsen, March 3rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Independent

Skyforger is a well established pagan black metal band with a folk touch. If you are deep into only metal music, this album is definitely not for you. You will neither understand, nor appreciate it. However, if you are found of deep atmospheres and cold, solemn, folk music, this album is for you. It might remind one on Ulver's "Kveldssanger", since the Norwegians have also released a unique masterpiece of acoustic music with northern influences. Of course, there are plenty of differences. Skyforger use a variety of traditional instruments, providing this album a very specific sound. In fact, this effort is close to the Finnish band Tenhi.

Don't expect to find growls, raw guitars or blast beats, but for anyone who likes this type of music, it's a must. Some bad thinkers might argue that some songs are too similar. On the one hand, they are right. Especially the ones which consist on some repetitive choirs. Other people might criticize this effort for its lack of originality, meaning that these are not the band's personal compositions but covers of different traditional songs. Nevertheless, Skyforger bring their own touch to these songs and you can still feel the folkish touch which is present on most of other of their releases.

If you are ready for something different and if you want to enjoy a peaceful album with a great pagan but non metal touch, you should definitely give this album a try.

Make sure you know what this is before listening - 84%

Valfars Ghost, June 19th, 2017

Do you remember 'Tumman Virran Taa' from Ensiferum's From Afar? It's OK if you don't. Essentially, it's 50 seconds of several deep-voiced guys singing a slow, simple verse in unison without musical accompaniment. Though Skyforger is Latvian rather than Finnish, their all-folk LP Zobena Dziesma could be thought of as 'Tumman Virran Taa': the album. While something like that seems doomed to wear out its welcome after a few tracks, this product ends up being is a gorgeous, unpretentious and down-to-earth representation of the musical traditions of the band's homeland that stays entertaining. As simplistic as the music is, it manages to be thoroughly mesmerizing through its runtime thanks to some inspired songcraft and heartfelt execution.

It's a shame that this album could potentially repel listeners looking for metal and expecting to get some based on the Skyforger logo adorning this release's cover because those people are missing out. The music on this album is about as bare bones as it gets in terms of instrumental accompaniment and quite minimalistic in its writing but still satisfying if you know what you’re getting into. Rich gang vocals you'd expect from Heidevolk or the passionate version of HammerFall that might exist in some parallel universe appear quite a bit, often preceding or following the earthen solo vocals that are probably being provided by Pēteris Kvetkovskis, the band’s usual singer. This outing's rhythm section eschews electric guitars and loaded drum kits as well as seemingly any other instrument that Latvian musicians weren't using 800 years ago, except the occasional acoustic guitar. The album is mainly built on the vocals, which engage in a lot of harmonizing, though bagpipes, a jaw harp, and several archaic stringed instruments chip in as well at different points, blending together to form some simple but spellbinding music.

Here, the lack of anything flashy forces the writing to stand on its own. There's no window dressing whatsoever to distract listeners from sloppy or half-hearted songwriting so the band absolutely has to get it right. And get it right they do. Album opener 'Sen dzirdēju, nu ieraugu' is a great piece with rich, polyphonic vocals and no instruments at all. The next song, ‘Zobena Dziesma’, is the opposite, with a bagpipe-laden atmosphere behind a rhythm that gets faster and faster with each repetition. It’s probably the most fun song on this album (just try to avoid babbling along with it as it speeds up) but also the least representative. Most of the other songs involve flutes weaving simple, infectious melodies, like the exemplary one in 'Gatavs biju karavīrs', that give way to multi-voiced vocal choruses where the instrumental presence falls down to maybe a jaw harp or one hit of a drum once every second or two.

Skyforger gets an incredible amount of mileage out of this no-frills songwriting method. The only real surprise (beyond the fact that this isn’t a metal album) is the soft female singing in 'Kur tu jāsi bāleliņi?' and 'O kai saulute tekejo' and even that doesn’t make this album’s bones any less bare. Still, though, each song is distinct despite the narrowness in the band’s approach to composing and their expelling of almost all non-ancient Latvian influences.

With catchy melodies in abundance and a range of well-executed tones, from triumphant to somber, Zobena Dziesma is as rich and hearty as a bowl of warm beef stew. A follow-up to this album is something the Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, which supported the release of Zobena Dziesma, should definitely consider funding.

Folklore - 12%

Felix 1666, February 19th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Independent

It was the last thing I expected to happen, but I bought an album full of folk music. Latvian folk music. Too bad that I forgot to gather information about this release before I ordered "Zobena Dziesma". The album has nothing in common with Skyforger's other full-lengths, because metallic elements are completely missing. People who like the more or less traditional songs of Korpiklaani may have an affinity for folkloric songs and therefore they might be able to like the melancholic tunes of "Zobena Dziesma" as well. But I don't think so. Perhaps fans of medieval music will find a new treasure when listening to this work, but once again, I don't think so.

Generally speaking, the polyphonic vocals are expressionless and the melodies sound, well, very Latvian. Yet the main shortcoming is that the flutes, the jaw harps, the acoustic guitars and all the other instruments, that the musicians use so carefully, do not generate any kind of atmosphere. No camp fire is kindled, no heroes ride through the dark forests and the sword - "Zobena Dziesma" means "Sword Song" - remains in the scabbard. The only atmospheric element is constituted by the great artwork.

The booklet tells us that Skyforger "are not a professional folk group". I am not surprised. Many parts of the album are free from any instrumentations. These sections sound terrible. I just hear bearded men - and, even worse, I see them before my inner eye - that mumble archaic wisdoms in a language I do not understand. The eleventh track also features female vocals and I must face the truth: the pits of hell are bottomless. Okay, I do not rule out that the songs create moments of magic, but only Latvian ears are able to realize this enchantment. "Migla, migla, rasa, rasa" takes the bun. Listen to its metallic version, released on "Thunderforge", and than compare it with the here presented design. Depth, power and expressiveness are gone. And it goes without saying that the clean production of "Zobena Dziesma" does not possess a grain of metal.

It is no crime to be a patriot, but this does not give you the license to declare war on clueless metalheads by releasing such an album. Five percent for the patriotic intention, five percent for the artwork and two percent for the music, but this is just because I am very generous today. Or, to be fair, this is because I have no doubt that the likable band has put heart and soul into this record. Nevertheless, it's a waste of time for ordinary, slightly narrow-minded metal freaks. Love your country, but please express your love in another way.

SKYFORGER 'Zobena Dziesma','The sword song' - 90%

Gudrun, June 22nd, 2008

If you're going to feel disgusted at the sight of a folk CD being reviewed HERE, read the disclaimer before you log off in fury: SKYFORGER from Latvia are a metal band and the folk they play has a vivid metal streak in it. It is dark, grim and deeply pagan, it sounds raw and it is folk with an evil heart. This should persuade you to read on.

Latvia is a small, flat country in north-eastern Europe, covered in forests and lakes. The people are notoriously willful and headstrong, but they have warm hearts and they just love singing. Music was for them a way of surviving the dramatic twists and turns of their long and eventful history, it helped them remember who they are. Many of the songs which are still sung go back a long time; the lyrics contain references to pagan deities of the Baltic region. Other songs tell sad tales of war and loss of life, or brave stories of going to battle.

Skyforger has a long history of including folk themes into their music. But 'Zobena Dziesma' is an exceptional album in their discography. Originally self-released in 2003, quickly sold out, now comes out completely remastered with two bonus tracks. An absolute must for pagan metal fans that might be curious to hear what warriors do when electricity is cut off.
The music is played on traditional folk instruments like the kokle which is very characteristic of the old Baltic folk tradition, jaw-harp and the giga. And there's the singing that sends shivers down your spine, especially when Edgars 'Zirgs' sings in a voice that reaches registers practically below human hearing range.

You might remember 'Sen Dzirdeju, Nu Ieraugu' from the 1997 (re-released in 2005) demo 'Semigall's Warchant', or 'Migla Migla, Rasa Rasa' - a song of hypnotic quality that totally overwhelms you in the soft, carrying tune - you heard that one on the very successful 2003 album 'Perkonkalve'. Also from the same album, here's a new version of a song that was originally called 'Kad Usins Jaj', a fully metal, rather brutal piece, now appearing acoustically as 'Par Kalninu Usins Jaj' in slightly medieval dressing. Songs that have not appeared elsewhere include 'Zirgi Zviedza', a traditional song full of mythological imagery. It is this sort of song in which it is very hard not to sing along with - it has a repetitive theme, typical of folk music, with a chorus of varying number of voices that comes in and out, pulling you to join in. I would like to see how you resist singing along - I personally have to struggle. 'Gatavs Biju Karavirs' has a raw rhythm played on war drums and the giga which is sounding together quite haunting. The giga (the ancestor of fiddle) is a string instrument which looks like a small coffin with a two strings pulled along its length, played with a bow. 'Sidrabina upe tek' is sung a capella, and there's the exceptional tune 'Kur tu jasi, balelini?' where female voices give another dimension. The art of singing or the phenomenon of singing together as form of socializing, which is now disappearing fast in western countries, is apparently very much alive in this northern country. The pagan traditions are even more empathized by using the various nature samples - just to mention the sound of thunder featured throughout the album celebrates the power of Perkons, the Baltic god of thunder and lightning.
'Zobena Dziesma' will show you the world which disappeared over a thousand years ago in other parts of Europe. Latvia still has it, and Skyforger will take you there.