Skyforger @ Electrowerkz, London

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@ Electrowerkz, London

May 2nd 2015

Review by Ann Sulamain


With strong competition from Greek black metallers Varathron at The Dome, Latvia’s favourite sons Skyforger still pulled a sizeable audience for their show at the elusive Electrowerkz venue. While a number of English youngsters outside the metal scene came along, possibly for the novelty of seeing a Latvian folk metal band, the main draw was from the Eastern European population of London.

Not often do musicians from the other half of the continent seem to tour, and knowing that Poles Praesepe and Thy Worshiper were also on board made it seem like a night dedicated to this part of London’s current underground scene.

After a lengthy soundcheck, the show opened an hour later with local band Mørktår, who also played with new guitarist Lord in tow. Their style of orthodox black metal was an interesting contrast to the rest of the night’s bill. While the relentless, static trill of their instruments and frontman Repktkor’s anguished shrieks did bring up an audible storm, the jarring decision to place them as support for a folk metal band (musically distanced from their own black metal roots) meant that not everyone in the crowd was willing to appreciate them.

‘Happiness… No Life’, ‘Worse Than The Plague’ and ‘Loneliness Is All You Have’ were key examples of music beloved and understood best by old school black metal heads, yet their stripped down nature proved too spartan for those not keen on the style.

With limited time between change overs, London-based musicians Praesepe shortly arrived. Drawing from death metal and melodic rock, it was inevitable for their set to have a more varied sound than their kvlt peers, which the audience met with much enthusiasm.

That they constantly moved around on the stage had also worked in their favour, as new songs ‘Somewhere’ and ‘Rzeki Niebiesko-Krwawe’ flew off the stage into the front row of happily headbanging metallers.

They were then followed by fellow countrymen Thy Worshiper. The opening rhythms of ‘Czarny’ hooked everyone’s attention with its tribal drum beats and undulations, yet the extreme growls and hard guitar riffs that came after were average at best. Though the music was enjoyed by much of the audience, the actual meat of the band’s sound was watered down by an over-focus on folk instruments, as opposed to marrying them together with metal effectively.

Which brings us to the headliners of the night, Skyforger. While it’s worthy to note the absence of folk instruments this time around, owing in part to the absence of musician Kaspars, this didn’t mean the removal of folk melodies whatsoever. Instead of a folk player, they now had a second guitarist in newcomer Alvis, who kept in line with his peers’ cultural and musical spirit.

‘Virsaitis Namejs’, ‘Kauja Pie Plakaniem’ and ‘Tīrela purvā’ each saw their folk instrument parts swapped for distorted guitars, which made these songs mightier without erasing their traditional tunes. In a sense, the lack of bagpipes and flutes that were a part of the signature Skyforger sound didn’t matter, because the music itself wasn’t all that affected by their loss.

This also meant that newer material didn’t stray from the band’s established sound either. ‘Rāmava’, ‘Senprūsija’ and ‘Nekas nav aizmirsts’ (to name a few from latest album “Senprūsija”) were performed and written in the same manner as Skyforger’s previous records, which kept up the unique sense of cultural respect and heavy metal aggression in the venue. While some of the English non-metallers chose to mosh, the rest of the crowd pumped their fists and sang along with frontman Peter.