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Skyforger - "Kurbads" (CD)

Skyforger - "Kurbads" CD cover image

"Kurbads" track listing:

1. Curse Of The Witch (5:04)
2. Son Of The Mare (5:26)
3. The Nine-Headed (3:56)
4. Bewitched Forest (5:14)
5. In The Yard Of The Father's Son (0:39)
6. The Devilslayer (5:05)
7. The Stone Sentinel (4:55)
8. In The Underworld (4:12)
9. Black Rider (4:15)
10. The Last Battle (5:38)
11. Kurbads (5:11)

Reviewed by on June 9, 2010

"Ultimately Skyforger ends up just as victorious as the heroes they describe by way of tradition: heavy riffs, inspiring melodies, and the ever-present bagpipes."

Folk metal has been getting quite the run lately. Finntroll, Eluveitie, Turisas, and the like have become quite popular with their blend of folksy texture and metal swagger. But the downfall for much of folk metal is that it is folk first and metal second; taking traditional folk melodies and playing them on distorted guitars backed by pipes is the norm. Latvia’s Skyforger takes the opposite approach – they are a metal band first and they blend in some folk elements (namely bagpipes and costumes) to make their music. This combination yields the power that much of folk metal lacks while shedding the extraneous folk elements.

Based in 1980s traditional metal, Skyforger crafts a set of songs that are straight forward metal rockers. The riff on “Son of the Mare” could be straight off of any Dio album and the fast and jaunty “The Devilslayer” is derived from Maiden-based power metal. But these elements serve only as the base for Skyforger’s variety of modes and tunes which make this record unique. The aforementioned “The Devlislayer” also mixes in some speed thrash riffs, Maiden gallops, the (requisite) bagpipes and an oddly off-kilter chorus, making it much more unexpected than any Hammerfall or Blind Guardian tune.

And that is part of the genius behind “Kurbads.” Skyforger takes traditional metal tropes and expands them in unexpected ways to create surprise. The initial chug of “The Stone Sentinel” evolves into an inspiring melodic bridge that elaborates on the chugging melody, all while the vocals move more and more toward death metal gurgles. The end of the song sounds more like Amon Amarth covering Guns n’ Roses than any kind of folk metal. This is followed by the squeal of the bagpipe-led intro to “In The Underworld” that melds into a nu-Metallica grind backed by weird lead vocal shouting. “Black Rider” is an up-tempo power metal piece that combines black metal vocal squeals and thrash rhythm changes.

But despite this penchant for unexpected twists and seemingly poorly planned combinations (Amon Amarth plays Guns n’ Roses – waaaah?), Skyforger isn’t an experimental outfit or a band that is grasping at too many poorly planned ideas – they remain staunchly planted in traditional heavy metal. This lends the music credibility and ultimately quality. Skyforger’s unique sound brings in much of the metal that has come over the last 30 years and combines various bits as necessary to create their brand of metal. Ultimately it is just heavy and eminently headbangable.

Lyrically, however, Skyforger sticks close to their folk metal brethren. “Kurbads” is about the Latvian fairytale hero of the same name, that was “born magically from the white mare and did many great deeds.” Pictures of Skyforger show them in tunics and breeches, carrying swords, water skins and things made from rams’ horns. Ultimately Skyforger ends up just as victorious as the heroes they describe by way of tradition: heavy riffs, inspiring melodies, and the ever-present bagpipes.

Highs: The combination of heavy riffs and folk metal elements on “The Last Battle” and the title track are two particular highlights among many.

Lows: The vocals often fit but just as often are inconsistent and odd.

Bottom line: Heavy, powerful, and inventive, this folk metal is much more “metal” than “folk” and is never cliché.

Rated 4.0 out of 5 skulls
4.0 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)