Location: Riga, Latvia
Genre: Pagan/Folk/Black Metal
Released: April 6, 2015
Format Reviewed: mp3 (320 kbps)
Feature: Global Conquest – Upcoming Releases
By: Kris Kotlarik
On top of being an absolutely gorgeous region, the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia all have some well-known folk metal exports. Estonia has Metsatoll; Lithuania has Obtest; and Latvia has Skyforger.
It makes sense that the people of the Baltics might take up a music genre that lives in days long past; these countries have been subject to the whims of the Germans and Russians for hundreds of years. Even now, Russia still takes custody of the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave bordering both Lithuania and Poland…for some reason. And don’t even get me started on the Karelian Isthmus in (what used to be) Finland.
For 24 years, Skyforger has been carrying the torch for Latvian metal, building up quite a reputation for themselves along the way. For this album, the band decided to write about the people of Old Prussia, not to be confused with the behemoth Kingdom of Prussia (Senprūsija means “Old Prussia” in Latvian). In terms of overall sound, they carry a lot of traditional elements of heavy metal with them but also add folk elements that enrich the music. This also has a much more polished mix to it than some of their older albums, such as Perkonkalve. However, there are less folk elements here than on those earlier releases.
Following the short and pleasing vocal introduction, the title track comes in blasting away, using an array of riffs, including a bridge section that features two flutes. “Sudāvu jātnieki (Sudovian Horsemen)” is also quite heavy. I also quite enjoyed the last few songs; There’s a very brief section towards the end of “Divi brāļi (Two Brothers)” that made my ears perk up after already being engaged by a lengthy folk instrumental section. “Nekas nav Aizmirsts (Nothing is forgotten)” has the galloping riff that reminds me somewhat of Iron Maiden. The best track, however, may very well be the closer, “Zem Lietuvas Karogiem (Under Lithuanian Banners).” The vocal chanting that occurs several times throughout the album makes one final return here, but the singing sounds more memorable here than in other parts of the album, partially because of how it’s structured in nearly two minutes of run time. The instruments fade out, but the singing continues, giving the listener something to think about after the album ends.
The middle section of Senprūsija travels back in time in more ways than just its lyrical concept; “Tagad Vai Nekad (Now or Never)” has all the markings of an 80’s thrash metal song. If this wasn’t in Latvian, I might have mistaken it for a track from Megadeth’s Rust In Peace. “Herkus Monte” carries more of an 80s heavy metal vibe in the form of Helloween (but without the Kai Hansen screeching), and has a cool bass riff in the bridge that was unfortunately a little muffled in the mix. Unfortunately, this is not the only time this happens and is one of the few marks against this album. “Ramava” sees a return of the male vocal chanting from the intro sung over a series of power chords.
I am fond of this release, but that’s not to say that it’s perfect. The material can get a little repetitive, especially in the middle, and occasionally the bass is drowned out even in places where it should be emphasized. With that said, at least from what lyrical translations I have available to me, the lyrics are brilliantly written. Anyone with an eye for history should love the content of this album as a memorial to the greatness that once was the people of Prussia. The info provided from the band, which reads as a history lesson of sorts, describes a struggle between Paganism and Christianity (Happy Easter, everybody!), one in which the native pagans would eventually lose in a sign of things to come for the Batlic peoples over the next 700+ years. Although lyrical content isn’t everything, it certainly does help to have this kind of historical context being the fuel for your inspiration.
Overall: A strong album from Latvia’s folk metal kings.