Heavy metal band Skyforger dedicate album to Ancient Prussia

Skyforger, who are almost certainly Latvia’s best known and most popular heavy metal band, have released their latest album entitled Senprūsija. As the title would indicate, the theme of this album is Ancient Prussia, and the songs are about Prussian history, legends, and culture of the extinct Prussians.

Skyforger are often called ‘pagan metal’ or ‘folk metal’, as many of their songs include aspects of Latvian folklore and folk songs, pagan traditions, as well as legends (their previous album, 2010’s Kurbads, was about the legend of the Latvian warrior Kurbads). The band play an extremely aggressive brand of metal, with relentless guitars and drums, and vocals are are more shouted than sung. The group, made up of vocalist Peter (the members have declined to provide their last names in the CD booklet or on their website) on lead vocals and guitars, Edgars ‘Zirgs’ on bass and vocals, and Edgars ‘Mazais’ on drums, with Alvis Bernāns providing additional guitars and vocals regularly perform all over Europe in solo concerts and many metal festivals, and will be one of the featured guests at the German pagan metal festival Heidenfest 2015 in October.

Helpfully, instead of providing the lyrics in the booklet (the lyrics are still available via the group’s website), Skyforger provide extensive notes in English (Latvian versions available on their website) on each song – what the song is about and some historical and ethnographic notes. Besides providing detail on what is perhaps a lesser known topic (the history and legends of Ancient Prussia), they give the listener a deeper appreciation of the music and themes. The group even note a historical consultant – Agris Dzenis – in the credits.

Though almost all of the album is in Latvian, the first song ‘Ei skīja, skīja’ is in the Ancient Prussian language. In what is the calm before the storm, this somber song, which shows that singer Peter has an excellent deep bass voice, provides a moment’s respite before the scream that launches the title track ‘Senprūsija’. The chugging guitars provide the backdrop for this song about the ancient Prussian lands and the warriors that were made there – ‘Senprūsija – Baltu slava un gods tā reiz bija, varoņus izauklēja, par viņu tie asinis lēja’ (Ancient Prussia – once the praise and honor of the Baltic people, they raised warriors, and they spilled blood for it). The song also features traditional instruments, such as the ‘stabule’ (pipes). Not surprisingly, many of the songs on the album are about fighting and war, appropriately for this style of music!

The song ‘Rāmava’, at nearly seven minutes, is one of the longest and most memorable tracks. Beginning with some excellent guitar work by Peter, the melodic introduction then is supplemented by ritual chanting in Prussian, which is appropriate for this song about the Romuve grove, one of the most sacred places for the Ancient Prussians. The lyrics include references to the three gods who lived in the hollow trunk of the ancient oak in this grove.

Perhaps the most tragic song on the album is ‘Melnās buras’, a song about the devastating effects of the plague on the Prussian nation during the Great Northern War (1700 – 1721). The shrill guitars, sounding almost like an alarm, weave through this song about the misery and death that the plague brought. As per the notes, this was the event that brought an end to the Prussian culture, as it killed more than a third of the Prussian nation. Compounding the tragedy was that many of the keepers of the oral traditions also died, meaning that many rituals and much knowledge was lost forever with their death.

The trouble with this aggresive style of music is that, over a period of time, the songs start to sound very similar and can be difficult to distinguish – though this is not something unique to Skyforger – there are literally hundreds of bands that play a similar way. Skyforger are at their best and most interesting when integrating traditional Latvian music and instruments into their music – that is when their sound becomes more original, and they stand apart from the many groups in this genre. Though Senprūsija does offer elements like these periodically, the album could have used more of them, as well as a bit more actual singing (rather than shouting or growling).

Skyforger remain the undisputed champions of Latvian heavy metal, and Senprūsija is yet another ferocious entry in their catalogue. With nary a breather over the course of its twelve songs, the group display their unique presentation of the story and legends of Ancient Prussia, simultaneously providing an aural assault and history lesson. Though their brand of music may not to be the taste of many listeners, the faithful will continue to have their faith reaffirmed by the group’s distinctive melding of legends, folklore, and intense music.

For more information, please visit the Skyforger website.

Skyforger - Senprusija

Details

Senprūsija

Skyforger
Thunderforge Records, TFR 001, 2015

Track listing

  1. Ei skīja, skīja
  2. Sudāvu jātnieki
  3. Tagad vai nekad
  4. Herkus Monte
  5. Rāmava
  6. Lepnums un spīts
  7. Divi brāļi
  8. Melnās buras
  9. Nekas nav aizmirsts
  10. Rituāls
  11. Zem Lietuvas karogiem

 

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

First full length album by “Latvian indie pop fairies”

Sus Dungo, an all-female ensemble, call themselves “Latvian indie pop fairies”, and after releasing their well-received EP Rasā pēdas in 2012, have now released their first full length album Down the River.

Sus Dungo’s sound is indeed challenging to characterize in just a few words, as the various instruments in the ensemble all give a dreamy and fairy tale like sound. Flute, accordion, harp, as well as electric guitar, drums, and the occasional stringed instrument give their music an added depth and dimension. Blending together various styles, listening to Sus Dungo is indeed like an aural fairy tale, full of majestic sights and sounds.

The group is made up of six ladies – Diāna ‘Sus’ Čepurnaja (vocals, guitars), Anneli Arro (drums, percussion, vocals), Marika Arro (bass guitar, vocal), Marta Trofimova (guitars, vocals), Elizabete Balčus (flute, vocals), and Liene Dravniece (accordion, piano, vocals). Down the River also features Elizabeta Lāce on harp. The group’s name comes from the combination of ‘Sus’ (The name of Čepurnaja’s first guitar, as well as subsequently her nickname), and ‘Dungo’, which means ‘humming’ in Latvian. The group’s work has been recognized with a Latvian Gold Microphone Best Debut Award in 2012, as well as member Elizabete Balčus’ Best Debut Award for her 2011 solo album Wooden Horse.

Though Rasā pēdas was entirely in Latvian, the group decided to record almost all of Down the River in English (with one song in French), presumably to reach an international audience. The decision appears to be paying off, as the group has become noticed outside of Latvia.

The spiritual has always been a significant aspect of Sus Dungo’s music, and this is evidenced on the song ‘Gabriel’, a modern prayer, as well as a duet with Jānis Strapcāns. The lyrics embody the questioning that often comes in such spiritual matters – ‘why don’t you come to the place where all they need, is to believe?’ With Lāce’s harp providing the backdrop, this song, like many Sus Dungo songs, is an emotional sonic journey.

Though many of Sus Dungo’s song feature a softer sound, the song ‘Wolves’ features heavily distorted guitar, adding another layer to the group’s multifaceted sound and to this song about the metaphorical eternal fight between the good wolf and the bad wolf.

Anneli Arro’s arrangement of the French folksong ‘À la claire fontaine’ echoes the sadness and dreamy quality of the lyrics, about a maiden bathing in a fountain and longing for a lost love. The group’s performance of this sentimental song is at once beautiful and heartbreaking.

With their usage of instruments like the harp and flute, along with their experimental and complex melodies, one is occasionally reminded of the progressive rock of the 1970s, as there is a certain Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull sound to be heard in Sus Dungo’s songs, such as the instrumental ‘Intro Ra’, which also features cellist Undīne Balode (of the group The Sound Poets). The piece balances the softer instruments with an almost abrasive electric guitar to create an intricately woven sound tapestry.

Though Sus Dungo’s style of music lends itself to just about any language, one still wishes that they had recorded at least a few songs in their native Latvian, as one of the many aspects that made Rasā pēdas memorable was the creative and dreamy lyrics.

With their full length effort Down the River, Sus Dungo reaffirms that they are one of the most talented and original groups in Latvia today. Their exceptional sense of melody and harmony, and the many layers of their music make Down the River a refreshing listen. Intricately arranged, blending various instruments and styles, Sus Dungo have established themselves as one of the most creative of Latvian groups.

For further information, please visit the Sus Dungo website.

Sus Dungo - Down the River

Down the River
Sus Dungo
Sus Dungo, 2015

 

Track listing:

  1. 1. Rānda Loul
  2. 2. Gabriel
  3. 3. Wolves
  4. 4. Circles
  5. 5. Intro Ra
  6. 6. À la claire fontaine
  7. 7. Pocket
  8. 8. Sailing the Same Way
  9. 9. No Roads
  10. 10. Fall
  11. 11. The River Lullaby

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

Sviests 6 now released in folk compilation series

The latest release in the Sviests series, entitled Sviests 6 (Lauska CD057), has been released. A bi-yearly event, the Sviests series is a collection of recent recordings inspired by Latvian folk songs and music.

As with previous releases, there is a great diversity of material, from traditional interpretations of folk songs, to modern performances inspired by Latvian folklore. The album features tracks by both veteran artists as well as newcomers to the Latvian ethno-music scene. From the folk metal of Symbolic, to the French and bluegrass inspired music of Black Diamonds, to the jazz improvisation of Amorālā psihoze, Sviests 6 shows the broad range of music influenced by Latvian folk songs.

The CD booklet includes notes on each song in both Latvian and English.

For further information, please visit the Lauska website.

 

Track listing:

  1. Kad saulīte meita bija – Raxtu Raxti un Auļi
  2. Atsaronat, skauģa bērni! – Dārdi
  3. Alus – Rasata
  4. Tumša nakte – Māsas Dimantas & Cēsu medību kolektīva cepurīšu orķestris
  5. Sakāmvārdi – Amorālā psihoze
  6. Sajāja brammaņi – Prievīšu Andris un draugi
  7. Kad pārnāksi bālēliņ’? – Black Diamonds
  8. Kalnu dziesma – Jēkabs Zariņš
  9. Novij man, Māmuliņ’ – Milleru-Balandīnu ģimene
  10. Rūtoj’ bite, Rūtoj’ saule – Austrumkalns
  11. Kas skanēja, kas dimdēja – Šmite, Kārkle, Cinkuss un koris Gaudeamus
  12. Spīguļo, Saulīt! – Symbolic
  13. Narečeņka – Balle pie rātnā zirdziņa
  14. Skaista, skaista tei meitiņa – Rikši
  15. Ar laiviņu ielaidosi – Zaļa zāle
  16. Mazais Vilciņš – Jauno Jāņu orķestris
  17. Lēni, lēni – Zari
  18. Bali inspirācija (Tīģera remikss) – DJ Monsta

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.