Released: 1997, Folter Records
Reviewer: Gabriel C. Zolman
The disc begins with nature sounds, then a flute. That’s all you really need to know.
Actually, this is the re-release of cult Latvian folk-metallers Skyforger’s underground debut from 1997, combined with an EP’s worth of new material. This displays the roots of a band that would later forge a path quite all their own. Here, the potential is apparent, albeit hindered by the presence of Popeye on lead vox. Were it not for this, classic songs like “Chief Nameisis” would be in constant rotation. (Fortunately, this is a problem the band would correct on later outings).
The Baltic folk elements, when brought forward in the music, are actually quite good. This is nowhere more apparent than the infernal hum of “Night Of The Winter Solstice,” another terrific track made only slightly less so by the gagging hacks of their rasping vocalist.
“Long I Heard, Now I See,” a classically rendered folk song, will make you want to cause much heinous, grievous damage to the singer’s skull—not because he is bad this time…but because he sings melodically here, and is incredible. This guy can apparently really sing. And yet he spends ¾ of the CD croaking like a cancer-ridden toad, often sounding far more like a voice actor preparing to play some cartoon villain’s henchman, than anyone within ten feet of a guitar, much less a stage. However, the sheer majesty of the riffing—comparable to something like Finntroll or Enslaved—combines so favorably with the Pagan musical elements, much like Norway’s Einherjer, that it’s almost worth ignoring this as a quirk.
Fortunately, the latter half of the album is comprised of new material. And yes…the vocals are vastly improved, opting for more of a Swedish-styled death n’ roll rhythmic shout. This works in spades. Musically, the band has grown by leaps and bounds. The pagan folk elements are more smoothly integrated into the end result. The flutes and bagpipes whirl dervishly around the racing guitars and pounding drums, like Jethro Tull with balls. Again, fans of acts like Einherjer and Finntroll would adore this. Nearly every one of the new tracks is a standout.
If you’re a fan, this is a great deal—you get what is essentially the band’s demo, in addition to four new songs. If you’re a novice…move back a step, and check out this band’s last full-metal album, 2003’s PERKONKAIVE (THUNDERFORGE). All in all, this will be a love it or hate it affair; and given the diversity of material, and the span of years it covers, there is certain to be both in different measures.