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!"