Skyforger - Kurbads
Metal Blade
Pagan Folk Metal
11 songs (49'39")
Release year: 2010
Skyforger, Metal Blade
Reviewed by Alex

Even though I once said that my journey with Latvian Skyforger is complete, I am glad to announce that it continues. Now many others are going to have the opportunity to join in, as Skyforger, one of the hardest working bands in pagan metal, and definitely in all of Latvia, has been able to secure their first big break. Deservedly, the band now has a contract with a bigger, more recognizable, label Metal Blade.

Many a Skyforger fan would lie to you if they said they weren’t subconsciously concerned with the move. Will the band remember what made them unique? Will they continue to feed from their roots? Will they be forced to present something having to appeal to various portions of Metal Blade demographics? The one example, come to think of it, is another folklore driven band, whose rising I was able to monitor before it made a worldwide breakthrough. Tyr, the instantly recognizable Faroese, have eschewed a lot of their progressive folk in favor of more straightforward power metal on their latest album. So, which fate would befall Kurbads?

In short, I still can’t make up my mind. I loved the album upon the first few run-throughs for its energy and punch. Then came the realization that I am dearly missing the blackened atmospherics, the organic blending of folk music and progressive extreme metal as well as the rustic production. In other words, Kurbads is not Perkonkalve. There would be no songs like Migla Migla, Rasa Rasa or Tumsa Un Sala or Caur Aizsaules Vartiem on Kurbads, but luckily I purchase CDs of my favorite bands, and the booklet explains why. It wasn’t meant to be.

With Kurbads, the Latvian minstrels don’t journey into forests “in darkness and frost”. Instead, they present a hero epos, something every nation possesses. Skyforger/Latvian hero, Kurbads, Son of the Mare, half man, half beast, is born under unusual circumstances, fights all kinds of evil on his life journey, only to die while dealing his sworn enemies some mortal blows a moment earlier. In other words, Skyforger had to don a heroic and epic mantle to convey this story, and in that aspect they succeeded.

Without a doubt, Kurbads being the band’s heaviest effort to date, the album is full of no-nonsense chiseled riffs bordering on power/death/thrash/more mainstream metal. This, and the absence of practically all atmospheric moments, does not mean that Kurbads is not full of folk influences. The album is teeming with them! It would not be Skyforger if the sounds of bagpipes, kokle and flutes weren’t braided in so seamlessly and organically into the mix. Made to constantly harmonize with the heavy guitars, these moments blow the roof off in the album highlights Keves Dels/Son of the Mare, Devingalvis/The Nine-Headed, and elevate above par less definitive second part of the album, where there is a bit too much emphasis on just riffing away.

The song sequencing in the first half of Kurbads is unrivaled. It is if the band is trying to answer my every whim. After straightforward opener Raganas Lasts/Curse of the Witch points out that Kurbads will be something new from Skyforger, Keves Dels and Devingalvis take the breath away. And just as you begin missing the Skyforger of old, Noburtais Mezs/Bewitched Forest rolls in with all of its romanticism and depth, doomy swaying riffs leading the way. After a short folk a capello Teva Dela Pagalma/In the yard of the Father’s Son, Velnukavejs/The Devilslayer makes my earlier comparison with Tyr literal. And while I still can’t reconcile myself with the bottom half of Kurbads, Pedeja Kauja/The Last Battle absolutely builds an epic wall of sound, song title perfectly fitting.

Much maligned and pressed to eliminate the sign of Latvian thunder cross from their logo (having the appearance of swastika), Skyforger does come off “cleaned up” just a bit too much with their sound on Kurbads as well. The rustic ancient sound of Perkonkalve was priceless, while power and might, especially in the form of punched up drums often relying on double bass, is the target of Kurbads. Peter’s vocals don’t (or can’t) change from his regular hoarse shouts, having already become another Skyforger trademark.

Even if my first impulsive impression that Kurbads will be the defining folk album of 2010 is not going to hold up, there is plenty in Kurbads, not to label Skyforger as just another band with a few wind instruments. The knowledgeable long-time fans may bemoan what I am missing on Kurbads to a degree as well, the absence of enigmatic atmosphere, but my suggestion is for them not to despair their little known gem has gone all mainstream on them. After all Skyforger does not make the same sounding albums, changing its face from one release to another.

Killing Songs :
Son of the Mare, The Nine-Headed, Bewitched Forest, The Devilslayer, The Last Battle
Alex quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Skyforger that we have reviewed:
Skyforger - Perkonkalve reviewed by Alex and quoted 89 / 100
Skyforger - Semigalls Warchant reviewed by Alex and quoted 63 / 100
Skyforger - Kauja Pie Saules reviewed by Alex and quoted 79 / 100
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