Skyforger are arguably Latvia's most successful and well known metal band, here is a Pagan Metal band who have stood against the test of time since their inception back in 1995; previously known as Grindmaster Dead from 1991-1995. Since then many changes have taken place, with vocalist / guitarist Pēteris Kvetkovskis and backing vocalist / bassist Edgars Grabovskis being the only members from the original line-up, both of which also take on duties of playing traditional Latvian instruments; joining them are Alvis Bernāns on guitars and Artūrs Jurjāns on drums.
Their latest album "Senprūsija (Old Prussia)" which saw daylight back in 2015, is their sixth album and provides more evidence that Skyforger are more than just a metal band, they're dedicated at pushing more of their cultural heritage, folklore and history to the fore. This is even more so evident with their new music video 'Nothing Is Forgotten' which was released in celebratory honour of the 100th anniversary of Latvian independence.
Peter was more than happy to chat to GMA about this momentous occasion, Skyforger's history, the importance of learning about one's national history and folklore, what makes Pagan Metal uniquely separate from the overarching Folk Metal genre and of course what metalheads can do in Latvia's heavily-steeped-in-history capital Riga.
Skyforger has stood the test of time with seven albums and 24 years under your belt - will you be celebrating your 25th in style?
"No, we don’t plan to celebrate 25 nor 30 years, if we will still be around, and have nothing more important to present our fans than retrospective on what we have done for all this years. But I hope not and that instead we get out new albums and new songs to show! Last year we did a concert dedicated to 20 years of our first album “Kauja Pie Saules”, but it was initiative from our friends to make such a concert happen, we just took part in there. However, it was all about the album, not the band. Personally I don’t like this kind of fake celebrations – who cares if a band is around 10 or 25 years, what matters is music they create. We do big shows when we have a new album out and could call it a “celebration”, but never cared about for how long band has been going."
How long did it take to make the latest video? Where was it filmed and who was involved?
"Well, the idea for this video was floating around in the air for some couple of years. We wanted to dedicate a song “Nekas Nav Aizmirsts”, or in English “Nothing Is Forgotten” for all those nameless Latvian soldiers and riflemen, who make freedom of Latvia possible 100 years ago. Since we had exactly a centenary date coming up, there was no more time to waste. The video clip was filmed in various locations near Riga during the Summer and September / October of 2018. Then we put it all together in one month and release date was decided to be 18th November, the day of our 100th independence day, which is a very symbolic date. We invited a great upcoming actress Maija Arvena to join the video clip and also used a couple of excerpts from some famous Latvian movies, like massive war scenes which we could not film ourselves, And we ourselves, of course ha ha. You can watch video online in YouTube."
Along with the other Baltic countries, how did Latvia celebrate 100 years of independence?
"Oh, there was a lot of stuff going on! Concerts, movies, various events, it is hard to name them all. The Government gave away money to special foundations, which took care of such events to happen. It was all around our country for some time. Needless to say it went on with high national pride and spirit. Also we had the annual Song Festival celebrations for one month. Skyforger also took part in these activities: we played a concert at the Soldier Remembrance Day on 11th November 2018, and most importantly, our biggest show ever – metal opera “Kurbads”, a whole spectacle based on our "Kurbads" album performed by dancers! You can watch it here: http://straume.lmt.lv/lv/kultura/kultura/kurbads/1001003"
Can people learn basic Latvian from your songs? Is it easy / hard to learn Latvian?
"Hmm hard to say, but I doubt it would be possible to learn basic Latvian just from our songs - few words, sure, but not the basic language, you need some dictionary for that. In my opinion the Latvian language is hard to learn - could be a lot harder than German, English, or Russian. We had a lot of those ķ, ļ, dž, ž, š and a/ā, i /ī, u/ū and so on. Very few words built on a Latin base like English or German have and even then those words are borrowed from languages I mentioned. So it would be quite difficult for foreigners to learn and pronounce words like kaķis (cat) or dzelzsceļš (railroad) ha ha I bet!"
With your lyrics are you hoping people would pay interest in Latvian history and folklore?
"Sure we do! That is one of our goals! That is why we have everything translated into English and even more – we always add some explanations and stories for people to understand what it is all about. Just check our website, it is full of explanations about what we sing and what we tell: http://skyforger.lv/en/"
Do you have any favourite songs from the albums you have done?
"No, they all are like my children, everyone is equal in the eyes of the father ha ha. But honestly, I never listen to my music at home. Probably it is because I hear those songs differently to anyone else from aside or they were in my ears already for so many times when I created, recorded and performed them, so I had enough already. Therefore I can’t name you any specific song I love from Skyforger, sorry."
What is it in your opinion that makes Folk Metal, or in your case Pagan Metal that bit special?
"Hmm, I can tell you what makes our music special, but if you ask how those (Folk / Pagan) styles stand out, I have a hard time today to tell something original here. So-called Folk Metal of late reminds me more of Power Metal than what it was (Folk) when it all started. Today I see Folk Metal as jolly Power Metal hymns with pathetic pompous choruses and of course bagpipes playing along the band, add here Odin and Vikings ad nauseam and you’ll get the picture. It is funny that even non-Folk Metal bands now sing about Vikings and add that folky stuff in their music. Like when you have Judas Priest and Saxon singing about Valhalla!
It is to the point that we as Skyforger feel a bit shameful to be named as Folk Metal band. I know it will sound like bragging, but here are a few things that makes us stand apart: we sing in our language, we sing about our Baltic heritage and history instead of Vikings, we try to play a more aggressive and grim style of music, we do real research about what we sing. So maybe it is better, in our case, to call it Pagan Metal. I know, I maybe take it all a bit too serious, but then again that is my personal attitude to the music."
For Metalheads visiting Riga, what sights / attractions could you recommend? What venues? Best alcohol drinks?
"Old Town of course - there is a lot to see, all that medieval style most of metalheads would love. Then there is the Ethnographical Open Air museum on the outskirts of Riga. What else… probably the folk club-pub Ala, with live Latvian folk music and dances and something like 30 kinds of beer. The Folk music shop Upe (you can buy traditional folk instruments there) and ancient jewellery shop “Baltu Rotas”. Some traditional food places, like Lido Dzirnavas. For best alcohol – beer - there is no better stuff here as we have old beer traditions. I can recommend Bauskas, Tērvetes, Valmiermuiža beers as good ones one can buy in shops and then there are countless craft beers in places like Labietis. Two of the best places for Metalheads to hang around with metal music and like-minded people inside is the tavern “Zobens and Lemess” and café Leningrad. If you come in Summer (June) we have our own Pagan Metal festival 'Zobens Un Lemess' or 'Kilkim Žaibu' festival in neighbouring Lithuania. So this is what comes into my mind right now."
What plans does Skyforger have for going into 2019? Are there any greetings you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc?
"We started to work on new songs, but I guess a new album will be out only in 2020 as it still goes slow due to not enough of free time and just one rehearsal in a week. But at least it is started! Then we have some great festivals ahead and few concerts here and there for this year. For example Party.San festival in Germany. Maybe some more opportunities will arouse as the new year is just started!
As always we want to say big thanks to everyone who supports our band, comes to concerts and listens our music – we appreciated it a lot! Thanks Global Metal Apocalypse for this interview and see you all soon around!"
Croatia has had it's fair share of rich metal music history, however it has only recently spawned it's first ever Pirate Metal band; the genre itself popularized by Scotland's Alestorm in 2004 although it's antecedents originates back with Germany's Running Wild releasing the album 'Under Jolly Roger' in 1987. GMA caught up with Marko Vučković (drummer and band manager) otherwise known as The Admiral and looked into what makes these scallywags tick, Croatia's pirate history and what the Croatian Metal scene is like.
"We grew out of the cliche that everyone thinks they [Alestorm] are the only pirate metal band that exists"
Could you give us a brief history of Rum Smugglers, how you started out, etc.
"We started as a duo back in 2011, playing a variety of blackened thrash with pirate themed lyrics. We soon recruited the bassist and the rhythm guitarist, to further explain; we regularly switched those band members due to differences in styles and then not being able to comply to the regime of the band. In 2015 we released our demo, 'Hemp Rope Justice', and later on found the new addition to the band, our keyboardist, thus switching to a more folk / power metal method in our songs. He left in the Autumn of 2017, being with us only for a short time, around 9 months. We re-recorded our single during the time he spent with us, and after his departure we are currently trying to employ two violinists. Hopefully they will prove to be better band members then most of the aforementioned."
Presuming one of your influences is Alestorm, what are you aiming to bring to the Pirate Metal movement?
"One of our influences was Alestorm in the beginning but, we grew out of the cliche that everyone thinks they are the only pirate metal band that exists. We also take influences from Skyclad, Running Wild and Swashbuckle, we are trying to freshen up the scene with our more 'thrashy powery' approach on the subject at hand."
What is the Croatian Metal scene like? Tell us about the festivals, media, venues, bands, etc
"It's a bit poor at the moment, there are some great bands here, but everyone's focus is mainly on tribute bands and on some weird avant-garde and experimental type of music, thus disregarding the metal scene as it was a few years back. There are some great venues like OKC Palach in Rijeka, and Insomnia in Slavonski Brod, Epic club in Osijek and Kset and Močvara in Zagreb. The Croatian metal scene is still strong though, pushing out bands like Flesh, Frozen Forest, SpeedClaw, Uma Thurman, Decomposing Entity and many others. Just type in Croatia on the Encyclopaedia Metallum website and hope for the best, and check out YouTube links with the same search.-"
You say you combine gypsy melodies, where do you get your influences from?
"Yea, gypsy melodies, well we are on the crossroads between the Mediterranean and the eastern front, so we get our influences from both sides of folk melodies and folk culture."
Are there any Croatian pirate stories you could tell us?
"Of course there are! Mainly representing bandits in the Adriatic sea but there are also many more, check this link and try to translate it to English :) https://hr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gusari"
What plans do you have for 2018?
"We are currently practising new songs and making new material with our new violinists. So you can expect a new album with fresh and not so fresh tunes to hit the internet soon."
Do you have any greetings you wish to send out?
"Do what you want, cause a pirate is free!"
Lithuania despite it's relatively well-positioned geographical position, seems to have a metal scene devoid of western attention with the exception of a few metal bands. One band who fits that category is Blackened Thrashers Dissimulation, whilst on the other hand of the spectrum it is arguable that Žalvarinis is another band who has garnered attention outside of Eastern Europe. But what about the new generation?
Well, with the latest news concerning Berserker's signing to Sliptrick Records the future looks bright for the Lithuanian Metal scene. This female-fronted melodic metal outfit have been around since 7th March 2009 and are set to release their latest offering and debut album "Dark Worlds Collide" this year. Having already performed in Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Poland, it's only a matter of time before they reach British soil.
But before they get that chance, GMA decided it was only fair to give the two ladies and four gents a brush over and interrogate them...
What does it feel like signing to US label Sliptrick Records? Where does this go in terms of the bands achievements?
"Dark Worlds Collide“ is our first released album. Our debut album, the digital version of it was released after 6 years since the band was founded. We gathered old songs, wrote new material, arranged intros and interludes. Now that this task is behind us, we are excited to have the opportunity to release this album not only in digital format, but also in physical format together with Sliptrick Records. We believe that this is only the beginning and with the help of Sliptrick Records we can further develop as a band, and share our music with broader audience.
Could you give us a brief background history of the band?
Berserker was founded in 2009 by classmates Romeo (bassist), Krzysztof (guitarist) and George (drummer). Over the years we as a band suffered line-up changes that held us back from playing more gigs and finishing the record earlier. Our current singer Agnieška and second guitarist Mažvydas joined the band in 2013, Kristina – keyboardist in 2015. Now we can say that we have a stable line up.
The Lithuanian Metal scene appears to be very small (from a UK perspective), what can you tell us about the scene? (can talk about clubs, labels, media, successful bands, public perception of metal, etc.).
There are a lot of interesting metal bands, playing and incorporating very diverse styles into their music. The Lithuanian metal scene is quite small in terms of places to play in / at. There are a handful of clubs and a couple of festivals where you can play such music. Therefore bands tend to write English lyrics and share their work with audiences in other countries.
With Eurovision 2016 have been and gone, has Berserker ever considered (or thought about considering) entering the contest? What are your thoughts on it?
We have not thought about participating in the Eurovision Song Contest. For now we have many other
goals to achieve and to grow as musicians. Maybe we will when we get older.
Kristina & Agnieška, what are your thoughts on female musicians playing metal? Would you agree that the stigma towards female musicians in metal is not as oppressive as once was? Would you agree that modern society is more appreciative of having diversity in music be it gender, race, religion, etc., that there is very little oppression towards the mentioned traits?
I believe that gender does not matter in music nor that it ever did, female musicians can be as good as their male opposites. Although sometimes female musicians do not get a whole lot of respect from some metal fans, there are a lot of strong and respected female-fronted bands out there. I always felt good being a female singer in a metal band, for me it is fascinating to be a part of a band playing strong music.
Metal music lets you express your inner energy, spiritual power, emotions and rebellion – traits, which every person has, regardless of their gender. Of course, not everyone can play this kind of music, but if metal is not only in your ears, and makes your heart beat faster and lets you feel the passion, it means you play the right music – that’s what I feel. Modern society is very diverse, meaning its tolerance to a wider spectrum of music styles, I believe, that we are living and playing in the right time, when people want diversity, when it is pursued to be tolerant in all of aspects, because it gives a freedom of choice and actions. I can’t argue, there is always some disapproval, but without it, it would be harder to improve.
Where has Berserker got lined up to perform in support of the album re-release (via Sliptrick)? Is the UK on the table? (in contention).
We did a "Dark Worlds Collide“ tour in Poland, performed in Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and of course Lithuania with the purpose of promoting the albums digital release. Now the planning stage concerns
how can we support the re-release and find time to work with new material and other projects. Gigs
are being planned in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland and we can say, that the UK is planned for November. With proper support there is a bigger chance we will actually do it!
What would you describe your sound as without using genres in your answer? What sets you apart from other similar bands?
Our music combines epic melodies, apocalyptic lyrics to bring every listener to his own unearthly, magical, fantastic reality.
Finally have you got any hello's, thank you's etc you wish to send out?
We would like to thank all the people that support us, that attend and have fun at our shows. This is the main reason that pushes us to go forward and create music.
"Dark Worlds Collide" is out via Sliptrick Records date tba
It's not uncommon for a metal band to fall into a sub-genre that is totally unique, not only in terms of lyrical content or sound, but by the sub-genre name itself. So when Finland's Whispered announced details for their forthcoming album "Metsutan - Songs Of The Void", the slight-head turn became imminent after the first word. Why is a Finnish Metal band using a Japanese word in their album title? Turns out they're a 'Samurai Metal' band, well musically they're Melodic Death / Power Metal tinged with Eastern 'Oriental' Folk music influences, but we prefer the new genre tag as a way to describe them.
They might be fashioning blades, experts at martial arts, or masters at kanji calligraphy, but they're not resistant to our interrogation methods. Sadly no sake came between us or the band....
Vocalist / guitarist Jouni Valjakka and guitarist Mikko Mattila entered the interrogation chamber.