Latvia, one of Europe's forgotten metal scenes is alive and well in the underground, however it's on the surface that it lacks international recognition albeit for their torch-bearer's in the Pagan / Folk Metal band Skyforger. Focusing on the underground and you have bands like Stagnant Project, whose Modern Metal sound may be miles apart from the core Folk Metal sound that seems to engulf the national scene, but united they are with their fellow Latvian brothers and sisters. The quartet are not resting on their laurels having released their 2nd album "The Age Of Giant Monsters" back in 2018, they are in no doubt poised to release new material within the coming year, we will just have to sit and wait.
We therefore had to interrogate them, they elected Paul Rutkovsky to be the spokesperson. We spoke about the band's origins, the challenges that Latvian Metal bands face and have to overcome, their scene and what cool phrases fans tend to shout out at their shows.
For those who have not heard of Stagnant Project, could you explain how the band came into being and where the name came from?
"A long time ago in 2010, when we were teens we had a dream to play in a bad ass band without any metal sub-genre limits or something that can cut off our music ideas. We were rehearsing hard and took up a sudden Punk Rock festival participation offer. But we had no name for our band and so we decided to name ourselves Stagnant Project - almost like "just another music project without future". Right after the first show, the next day another gig offer came and we decided to leave it as it is."
Could you tell us more about your latest single 'Khuemraz'? Will it also be re-released in Latvian given it's in Russian?
"Actually, we had some thoughts about English version re-release in nearest future."
How would you describe your sound without the use of genre tags? What seems to be the more prominent metal genres in Latvia?
"The most prominent genre in Latvia is definitely Folk Metal, then Progressive Metal. But I would say we are influenced by bands from the Industrial, Death, Thrash, Nu and Metalcore genres, I think that it is one of the points why we are not really popular on the local stage. But our last release 'Khuemraz' made us really unique because of the Russian lyrics, that as far as we know, is one of the most popular languages in the world after English. And as we know, the Russian language has a huge poetry base that we can use to express ourselves from."
What has the band been doing at home during the pandemic? What other hobbies / interests do you all have?
"We are very careful under the restrictions and maintain all the distance suggestions, because we really want the live shows and touring to come back. So, the best way to reach the result is to be disciplined and begin with yourself. All of us are working from home and keep the distance. We are working on some ideas separately. Talking about myself, I found the isolation is a very nice time for my family and relationship, I dedicated a lot of time for my guitar tone, mixing / mastering skills and vocals. Also, I have found a lot of time for my comic book collection to be read. Talking about the guys - we have got a constant chat with memes and discussing our future plans and sharing thoughts on random thoughts. But nether the less we managed to print our new merch and continue to write music."
Are there some Russian or Latvian phrases fans tend to shout out at gigs? If not what are some cool Latvian / Russian sayings?
"Really cool question because we have got one like this. This phrase is "ebash", in the Russian language it is a swear word meaning 'working f**king hard', and actually our local fans scream the word during our live shows and to be honest it is more like a motivation word, no matter whether you are a pure Latvian or Russian, the spirit is the same. Also, Stagnant Project is to complicated to shout :)"
Tell us more about the Latvian Metal scene, when did metal arrive in Latvia? What is the public opinion of metal? What challenges do bands face?
"Actually we have got a lot of cool and unique sounding bands here and live shows are at a very professional level to be honest. But unfortunately the biggest part of them don't cross the borders of the country in meaning of international popularity. I bereave each of us, Latvian musicians, we try our best, but only a few names have got the popularity outside the country. But we, as Stagnant Project, really believe in ourselves and we will brake the wall saying "ebash" on our way."
For metalheads visiting Riga, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"The first venue you should visit is Melna Piektdiena, there were a lot of shows by big metal stars like Meshuggah, Vader, Arch Enemy, Cannibal Corpse, Decapitated etc. and even Little Big were here. I don't mean the giant bands stadium calibre, but have to say, it is the legendary metalhead place here in Latvia. Also, Latvia is one of the most green countries in the world, I suggest visiting our castles, ethnographic museums, parks and I have to say Latvia is a very small country, you can cross it in 4 hours by car, but most part of the roads will be across the woods; we are proud of this. "
Do you have any thanks or greetings you wish to send to friends, family or fans?
"We wish everyone to take care of yourself and your relatives, the most important thing in your life are your family and your friends, because in hard times those are the closest people who will help you and care for you. Don't be lazy or too introvert, call your mum, dad or your best friend no matter what, just keep in touch with people who care for you."
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!"