American Latvian heavy metal band devote album to exiled Latvians

Sen senie senči, an American Latvian heavy metal band, play music inspired by Latvian history and mythology (not unlike Latvian folk metal band Skyforger). Their debut album Tautas zobens was released in 2015, and, additionally, their song “Kurzemes cietoksnis” was featured on the Latvian heavy metal compilation Latvijas metals. The group returned in 2016 with their second album Trimda.

Band members include brothers Lars and Kārlis Alversons (as some may know, Lars is a long time member of American Latvian rock group Bob and the Latvians), with Lars providing vocals and bass guitar and Kārlis on vocals and guitar. The brothers are joined by Alvis Briģis (the album booklet and website is unclear as to what instrument Alvis plays).

Trimda, available as a digital download, is, as its title would indicate, an album inspired by the journey and plight of exiled Latvians. The album notes state that “these songs were written remembering how our grandparents and parents traveled across war torn Europe and the Atlantic Ocean to escape the horror of WW2”. As children of these exiles, the band members are in a unique position to present their stories, having learned about them from their families, as well as growing up in a time (late 1970s/early 1980s) when the Soviet Union was still dominating Eastern Europe (and elsewhere) and Latvian independence was remained an elusive, if not hopeless, dream.

Heavy metal is perhaps an appropriate style for telling these stories, as the aggressive guitars, fast tempos and growling vocals provide an aural picture of the terror of war and the resulting destruction and uncertain fate of refugees. For example, the song “Gājām”, begins with a mournful guitar and cello duet, signifying the difficult journey of refugees that had to abandon their homes. The song, in a style that reminds listeners of similar Latvian folk songs about the horrors of war, asks “Kur mēs bērni paliksim? Kur mēs šonakt gulēsim?” (What will happen to us children? Where will we sleep tonight?)

Besides the fear and terror of war, one emotion that is also stirred in times of war is anger, particularly at those who collaborate with the enemy, and this anger is displayed in the song “Nodevējs” (Traitor). Beginning with a thunderous drumbeat in the introduction, the song is relentless in its fury at those who betrayed their friends and country with lyrics like “Tevi uzpirka, valsti bojāja, tikai slinkoja, mantas kāroja” (You were bought, you ruined the nation, you were only lazy and greedy).

Not all the songs on the album are about war and exile – in fact, there is a song inspired by the achievements of Latvian folklore historian Krišjānis Barons (also known as the “father of the dainas”) simply entitled “Barons”. The song puts to music Barons’ heroic achievement of gathering together and publishing more than 200,000 Latvian folk songs (or “dainas”), thus preserving for all times these Latvian folk songs which were, at that time, in danger of being forgotten. The song celebrates his work – “mūsu latviešu dainas un dziesmas sirmais dievs” (the grey god of our Latvian folk songs). Also referenced in the song is 3233 – a minor planet discovered by Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh and named KrišBarons, in honor of his achievements.

The album ends on a hopeful note with the song “Celies” (Rise), a song about how the war may be long over, but there are still many battles ahead – “Mums šodien lāpu nest, jo cīņa vēl nav galā” (We still need to carry the torch today, since the fight is not over yet). This call to action is a fitting close to the album, a reminder that the suffering of those during and immediately after the war should not be in vain.

The album booklet is meant to remind readers of an old family album, with grainy black and white pictures of the band members and others. Also, an added charming and authentic touch – the Latvian diacritic marks are made to appear like they were drawn in by hand (a memory of a time and place when one had to use a typewriter with no Latvian letters).

An engaging and riveting listen from beginning to end, Trimda is a dramatic and emotional achievement by Sen senie senči, capturing not just the intensity and ferocity of war, but also the hope and spirit of the exile community. The album, created by veteran Latvian American musicians, is a powerful poetic and musical statement, combining intense performances and vivid lyrical imagery, and is a fitting tribute to those that bore the burden of maintaining Latvian culture during those dark times.

For further information, please visit the Sen senie senči website.

Trimda

Sen senie senči
Rota Records, 2016

Track listing:

  1. Nodevējs
  2. Klusums
  3. Murgos
  4. Lēns gājiens uz Elli
  5. Upuris
  6. Gājām
  7. Uzvara
  8. Barons
  9. Atdzimts
  10. Celies

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.

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