One of the best “new” (well, to me anyway) bands I discovered on my recent trip to Hammer Open Air in Finland were Latvian folk-metallers Skyforger. A new name on most of the CackBlabbath readership, I spoke to frontman Peter to find out a little more about the band, their history and their thought on the “N” word, nationalism.
Skyforger are a new name for us, can you tell me a little about the history of the band ?
Our band was born in 1995 as black metal act, with strong folk and historical elements. Before Skyforger we had another band, so we already around for some time before that.
In 1997 we released our demo Semigalls Warchant and later signed with Dutch Mascot records. Due to the popularity of black metal, and numerous bands around at that time, we tried to find our own way and went away from black metal. We started to mix various metal styles in our music together with Latvian folk melodies. In 1998 we released Kauja pie Saules /Battle of Saule and later in 2000 Latviešu Strēlnieki/Latvian Riflemen, an album, which was dedicated to Latvian heroes who fought in the First World War.
After that we signed with German Folter records and in 2003 made Pērkoņkalve/Thunderforge. In same year we recorded the self financed pure Latvian folk album Zobena dziesma/Sword Song.
In 2005 we re-released our old demo with 4 new songs as an EP Asinslauks/Bloodfield, then Kurbads is our latest piece of work released in 2010 by Metal Blade.
About line up. There was a lot of people coming and going and I doubt it will be interesting to readers, so in short: main players through all the years are me – Peter (vocals,guitars), Edgars “Zirgs” (bass) and Edgars”Mazais” (drums). Sometimes we have second guitarist in band and guy who plays folk instruments, but as I said these people come and go, so it’s hard to call them real band members.
We thought you guys were brilliant at Hammer Open Air, are you usually pleased with the reaction you get when you travel to play other countries ?
Yea, can’t complain! Of course there is smaller and bigger crowds, but all in all we have our fans through the years, the ones who come specially to see Skyforger. On the other hand we are still underground band, who sing in their native language and our music is quite specific, so we’re not expecting as much people as some big popular bands, like Venom or lets say Ensiferum have. It is fine for us as it is.
Also it’s just great if there are some new people who see our band for first time and likes our music at “first sight”. There are still a lot of places where we had not played yet!
I think you may be the first Latvian band I have ever seen, is there a big rock and metal scene back home ?
Unfortunately no. Latvia is a small Eastern European post-Soviet country, which means our scene is small compared to Germany for example. Though there are enough of metal bands for various tastes and we have gigs going on quite often and even some festivals in summer time.
Then music we play (pagan/folk metal), there are no any other bands like us in Latvia – don’t know why, seems like no one wants to be called a copy of Skyforger maybe.
The problem with most Latvian bands is that they still can’t grow out of copying their idols, that’s why you can hear a lot of bands playing and sounding like Metallica or other world-wide “big shots” – possibly that’s why they aren’t interesting to wider audience beyond our borders.
Anyway I will name some interesting local acts, worth listening to: Sanctimony, Malduguns, Frailty, Preternatural and Eschatos are just a few names which come to mind.
We also have big fol kmusic scene here of which we are proud!
Yea, it is! As I said above, we have quite a big folk scene here. Our folk songs Dainas are greatest cultural legacy our nation has! They are genuine and some come from very old times, back as far as the 10th century! Luckily for us they were recorded at the end of 19th century otherwise they would be lost as modern people don’t care that much about singing and dancing in traditional ways anymore.
Since the country emerged from Russian control, have people been rediscovering the roots of their culture ?
Not really rediscovering, because it was always there – our culture was the main thing which helped us to survive as nation in Soviet times. It was some kind of resistance to regime back then!
The bad thing is that with capitalism breaking loose here, many Latvians have turned away from our culture and traditions – in times of wealth and money culture is not that important for people, especially when they try to survive in harsh world.
Still here there are enough enthusiasts who keep things going and lately I see lots of young people who care for their traditions and culture.
Nationalism in music takes many forms, I’m not sure how it is in Latvia, but elsewhere it often seems to be the extremists who are most keen to seize control of their heritage ?
There is nothing like that here. Of course some foreign reporters (especially from Russia) tries to show everything connected to our nationalism in as bad a light as as possible. Like when our people remember those who were fallen in World War II, some people try hard to show it as some Nazi march!
From the Soviet times we have a lot of Russians living here and unfortunately many of them aren’t loyal to our country and even hate everything which is Latvian. They’d like to see Latvia back in the Russian empire and are trying hard to make this happen. Of course Russia supports them and also operates here with their own goals.
So in the end our language, culture and traditions are only things which keeps us together as nation and there is no extremisms in it – it is just only way to survive.
Unfortunately we also have a very badly corrupted government, which makes things even worse for Latvians. But yeah, there is nothing like national extremism here – we just want to live in peace in our own country!
I assume that you do get asked about “nationalism” and politics a lot, does it annoy you if people ask you about that as much as about your music ?
No, no problem, because it is something important that is also important for us as a band. You see, with our music and lyrics we are trying to tell the rest of the world about the Baltics, our nation – Latvians and Lithuanians, about our culture and history. The Baltics were commonly ignored for long time in European history, because we were occupied by bigger nations and thus not important. But we are part of same Indo- European people as Germans, Celts and Slavs with same rich and genuine culture, which now is on the verge of extinction; this has already happened with a third Baltic nation, the Old Prussians, who are no more!
Are Skyforger a nationalist band ?
Sure we are, but in a positive way. I understand where the nationalism comes from – after World War II everything which is connected to nationalism is viewed as same as Nazism back in Germany.
This is good oldhypocrisy: big countries are always loud when they accuse smaller countries of extremism as soon as they see some nationalistic signs there. Those same accusers are keen to avoid speaking about real extremism and racism which is openly going on in their own countries.
No one talks openly about it, but as soon as some Latvians honor their Second World War soldiers, then the headlines are about the SS on the rise and bloody Latvian Nazis on the world news.
Unfortunately not much has changed even in 21st century – winners still write history and tell their truth.
Right, back to the music. The musical traditions of the world are being eroded in the face of global corporate expansion. How important do you think it is to keep these ancient traditions alive, does it matter in a world where everyone wants everything immediately and reality television is the new media god ?
It seems important to me – without past there is no future! On the other hand we all understand that in modern times there is almost no place for old traditions, because we live in different society and see world different than our ancestors. But then again this old tradition and culture is our legacy, it is what makes us different and interesting to each other. It gives us understanding from where we come and (possibly) where we go.
Europeans already lost most their own culture by taking Christianity as their new religion and working hard to destroy everything which was connected to their pagan past!
Christianity was made in Ancient Rome as great tool for politicians to keep people under control. Today with wider education and when people start to think by themselves, it is much harder to sell them Christian fairytales, so politicians looking for new ways to keep us under control. Possibly globalization and one ruler over the whole world are their goals now, so they try hard to put our minds away from such things as old traditions, culture and positive nationalism.
I think American Indians are still there only because they keep their old culture alive, otherwise I guess they had been no more. And same is for us – if we don’t want to be just mindless cattle and another bricks in the wall – culture and traditions must be important for us and must be kept alive.
Folk traditions evolve over time, do you guys see yourselves as a continuation of a line that goes back for centuries ?
Not really continuation, but ones who keep this ties to past alive, just one small hand here.
Almost done, one question that I really want to know the answer to.. are we going to see Skyforger in the UK in the future ?
I think for sure – we already played in UK few times and will come again, though can’t say when right now, but we will! Keep an eye on our bands sites on facebook and homepage, there is always all info there:
And one last question.. Zirgs does love the camera, Is he as mad as he looks 😀 ??
No, no – he just goes berserk on stage, in life he’s not like that ha ha. A nice fellow he is.