Russian Darkside E-Zine
Author: Roman "Maniac" Patrashov
Date: March 10, 2004
© Russian Darkside e-Zine

Thunder And Lightning
Over the years after the demise of the Soviet empire, the Baltic states have developed a small, but an interesting metal scene, which despite being absolutely obscure to the former mother Russia, is pretty well-known in the West. We decided that such situation is not what bands over there and fans over here deserve and arranged an e-mail interview with the flagship of the Latvian extreme metal scene, a pagan act called Skyforger which has already released four CDs and is just about to re-release one of them, "Thunderforge" (2003) on the Russian market. The questions were answered by singer/guitarist Peter, who happens to be the mastermind of this very promising band.
Skyforger have released four albums so far. Why did you choose "Thunderforge" as your debut on the Russian market? Are there any plans to re-release the other three CDs over here?
This is a question that is easy to explain. Last year we released "Thunderforge" on German label Folter Records, which is mostly known as a label for black metal artists. In connection with this worldwide release, we started to look for some suitable label on the Russian market. We tried some of them, but finally we stopped at CD-Maximum Records, which showed interest in releasing this album. Quite soon it should be available at Russian shops. So, it was just a natural process that we need to work with new material, which is at hand and completely new, but older stuff can wait. So far we have not released any albums officially in Russia, although I am sure that our albums are available in so-called "unlicensed" versions hehe… I mean pirates and such stuff. Also new computer technologies like mp3 allow people to get recordings even without going to a music shop. But we hope that this release of "Thunderforge" will make Skyforger's word a bit more popular there. If there is interest of record labels, we can think of releasing our previous albums as well.
The lyrics of this album no longer deal with war themes so characteristic of your previous CD "Latvian Riflemen". What is the reason? Is war of no interest to you any longer?
No, this is because we thought of making the album about olden Latvian mythology already quite a time before. In "Thunderforge", which is by the way a conceptual album in some meaning, the listener will find the songs about the ancient Latvian gods and goddesses, ancient rituals and traditions; this was our idea to write something different. But still it is fully our style stuff; we want to be a band with many facets, but not to be only a "battle" band. War and battles are still within our interests, of course. So, it turned out to be a calmer album concerning that we don't touch battle topics in this case, in connection with more peaceful lyrics. We searched many months for adequate folk melodies, tried various new musical components, picked up useful folk lyrics and the result is just there. I hope the listener can appreciate this work. The heavy side of the album also took many nerves, and many beers were emptied while arguing about riffs after all! Moreover, we use synth for the first time for empathizing some places. Sound effects and stuff like that. We try to make our own style and not to be similar to our previous works. We like to change styles and themes from album to album to bring some musical surprises to the listener. Let our fans judge if we succeeded. I hope that people like what we do and understand why it is. It would not be a problem for us to produce some more albums like "Latvian Riflemen", but personally for us it would be kind of boring to stay on one ground, although it is safer to exploit a well-known scheme. But we are not afraid to take a risk and we hope that the next album will be a bit different again.
Why did you include two old songs in the album? How much are they different from their original versions?
That's because of two reasons: they were not familiar to the public and also they seemed fit to the whole concept of the album. For those readers who don't know about what we are talking about I can say that those two songs are "When Usins Rides" and "Through The Gates Of The World Beyond". The first was never recorded, but the second was released in 1996 on some tape compilation under the name "The Legend" and was sung by the Grindmaster Dead singer. All the time they didn't get into the themes we exploited, but into the "Thunderforge" album they fitted well. So we decided to use them, of course they were recorded in new way. We have also another older songs and it could be that one day we will be able to return to them. Through the years we still practice them, think how to make them better, so they are of course different as years ago. And lyrics were totally new as well.
Tell me about the songwriting process in Skyforger. Who are the main authors of music? And what comes first - music or lyrics?
The process of making songs is quite painful for us haha… We are not a band which release albums every year. This is quite tied with our lifestyle and similar things. Usually we start to work on new songs straight after the release of the previous album. The authors of music are the entire band together. We have freedom of speech in the band and everybody is allowed to come up with topics and riffs for new songs. We have quite a well balanced scheme worked out throughout the years how to develop the songs until the final stage. First of all we work on main riffs, then we drown into details. Every band member is responsible for some part of the song, and rare is that song which is invented by only one member of band. When all is ready I can think of suitable lyrics. But the very final shape is only made in the studio; we still are free to change something even at the last moments of recordings.
How many visitors does the "Stories" section of your website get? What goal did you have while creating it, and to what extent has it been achieved?
I don't know how active people are visiting the "Stories" section haha… The whole purpose was just to put some fragments of some literature material for use of fans of our music to understand better what is this or that song about. As we are mostly singing about some historical happenings, then every album topic has some background and we can supply some explanations for a usual fan. This was just our simple aim and I don't know if that is helping much. I can say that last year we have significantly raised hits to our page, apparently people find our homepage interesting and we also try to provide always some more new information to make the page more interesting. I guess we are on the right way. Basically we can bring more information about history of Latvia and I think that is just cool. If anybody is interested in Skyforger, visit then:
When and how did you get interested in the history and culture of our country? Who or what influenced the birth and development of this interest?
This is an easy question hehe… I think this is just because we like history, folklore and culture. As it happened that we live in Latvia, we try to sing about Latvia-related things. You know, if I were into some horror or gore stuff, then probably I'd work in some death metal band haha… But I am interested in interest for history, and here I can admit that my interest in history of all countries and generally in the past has grown with the time and probably started at school. Since I remember myself, I have always liked to read books about ancient warriors, battles and pirates, so this is just a natural thing that I make music about those subjects. Skyforger is a band, which brought people together in the right time and place, that's why we can work more or less comfortable together, have common interests and keep on going. Also we are fans of our country and I can't see anything wrong that we try to bring some topics of Latvian background. It would be stupid if I sing about warriors, which have fought in Spain or France, wouldn't it? Latvia has very old historical material and when I read some books, I discover some interesting stories or events and I already have ideas coming and associations with music. So, I guess you got my point.
You use a few folk instruments on "Thunderforge", and most of them are played by the band members themselves. Where did you learn to play those instruments? Are they easy or difficult to play when compared to electric guitar or drums? And how do you recreate these parts when playing live?
This is all connected with band's history. As we like national folk music very much, we tried to incorporate some elements of it into our music. It is not only the "Thunderforge" album where we use those national folk music instruments - shepherd's horn, giga, kokles, mouth harp etc. I guess this just came naturally and with time. The use of these instruments started already in demo times. We also tried to make our music more interesting and colorful for foreign fans, and I think that we have succeeded. Many people say that Skyforger has an interesting musical concept and we can't be mistaken for other pagan/black metal bands. It is just cool, I guess. We started to learn to play them just by ourselves and I think that everybody would have mastered that, if he had spent enough time practicing. We started to sing folklore songs just for our fun when drinking beer at a bonfire for example. Later we had ideas to accompany ourselves and to make some songs for albums. Later we started to get invitations to play at some folk music festivals. And last year we already made a step forward and recorded our latest album, this time it was purely a folk music album. We released it by ourselves and it consists only of war and mythological songs, which is our passion. Of course, to play these national instruments is much easier than heavy metal gear. You have to be more dedicated there and put in a lot of power to play guitar decently. I want to say that Skyforger is a metal band and folk is just our interest for the free time, there are a lot better folk musicians around here hehe… In metal gigs we don't use any traditional instruments, because heavy metal sound is very thick and other sounds cannot be heard much. So we play all melodies on guitars.
You play a lot of gigs in Europe. Have you ever had any problems with the use of the word "arian" in the "Stories" section of your website? As far as I know this word is not in favor in the West, especially in Germany…
I have to say that we have never had any problems with this word. It was used just to tell people about the history of Baltic tribes, where they come from and how they formed. If anybody doesn't like this word, this is purely his problem. We have a different problem - sometimes we have problems with our logo, which has an ancient pagan firecross inside. Then Germans as nation which has a strong negative attitude towards all Nazi stuff sometimes dislike our logo. The latest example is that we had to cancel a concert in Hamburg on our European tour just one month ago. They had fears that we are a Nazi band and pulled off the already arranged gig. But of course it is just misunderstanding, we are a pagan band and we use pagan symbols. We are not guilty that national socialists took this symbol and turned it into a bad sign. Also we had problems of sales of our CDs but we did put warnings on the booklet saying "No Nazi stuff here, only pure pagan symbols used". But generally we are very welcomed in Europe, and this latest tour turned out to be a massive success for Skyforger, all gigs were attended very well and at the last concert in Germany even set a record for sold tickets for that venue, which never had had so many people before. Promoters were very satisfied haha…
Before Skyforger its members played in a band called Grandmaster Dead (or Grindmaster Dead? I have found both variants on your website). Which music was this band playing? Did it make any recordings?
Yes, history roots of Skyforger are into Grindmaster Dead, this is the right name. Now this band is always mentioned when there is a talk about Skyforger beginnings, but years ago we didn't think that this band would get any attention. In short: I started the band with our bass player Zirgs (Horse) and old drummer Imants in 1992. We played brutal doom metal, something like early Cathedral. We did record two albums in tape format, one in 1993 called "Through The Vaults Of Sadness" and the other in 1994 called "Stronger Than Love" and we actively played live at both metal and alternative underground gigs at that time. I have to say that quality of these recordings is poor, because we hadn't any funds to record in good studios, so we were doing everything in a purely underground way. Many people ask how the band was then. Original record tapes are only at our possession and many are interested to hear those creations of our youth hehe… Maybe we will release these songs sometime in the future for some "past" edition. We were using a female flute player, the band consisted of many members, but that's not so important now. I tried to incorporate some national melodies as well, so this is somehow connected to the start of Skyforger. We started Skyforger because we felt that we need something faster, more aggressive and brutal. I like to read a lot; at the times I was heavily into books about ancient Latvian history and it struck into my head that I need to sing about that, also I saw that this is what I need; it fitted to my soul position. So we decided to quit Grindmaster Dead and in 1995 it fluently turned into Skyforger. We had the same members and a couple of records too, but the first real push came with the arrival of guitarist Rihard in 1996. Then followed the demo album and further story you probably know…
What is your first drummer Imant is doing at present? As far as I know, he still helps Skyforger as a vocalist, but does he play in any other bands?
No, he is out of music business. I heard that he occasionally plays drums for some hard rock bands. We sometimes invite him to sing some intros or choruses when we need to do it in the studio, because he has a good voice. He was very a funny drummer and liked to drink a lot, that's why we kicked him out. Once during our concert he felt asleep behind the drums haha… then we told him that his time has gone.
I originally got to know Skyforger from the "Dark Fire Dancing III" compilation released by Lithuanian label Dangus Prods. What role did this compilation play in your career? What is your general opinion about the work of Dangus Prods.?
Well, if you got to know Skyforger from this compilation, then apparently this has played some role in the band's history haha… I don't remember anymore what song was featured there, to tell you the truth. We have participated in some underground tape releases around the post USSR territory, so this is good promotion. But mostly all our success is based on our three CDs released by European labels. I can say only good words about the work of Dangus; he is a true music fan, he makes goods concerts and often invites us to play in Lithuania. No problems with him at all, let there be more such people.
Do you have any plans to re-release your first demo "Semigalls' Warchant" on CD? How much is this material different from the first two Skyforger albums?
This is a question right in time! In the next couple of months we will prepare and release our demo album "Semigalls' Warchant" on CD/LP under our label Folter Records. Previously it was available just on tape and in limited number of about 400-500 copies. Now it will be on a good quality sound carrier and feature some bonus material. It will give possibilities to the fans to listen to old black metal wrath of early Skyforger. We do it also because our label agrees to release it now properly. It could be that we combine it with some those Grindmaster Dead recordings to bring back the old days. I can tell you about Semigall's tribe, so you can understand what the story was about. Semigalls were one of the tribes that lived next to Baltic Sea since very old times. The time they had the peak of their activities was 11-13th centuries of our era. Also in the territory of current Latvia lived many more small tribes - Kurshi, Seli, Lattgals, Vendi etc. These all were quite small tribes and when Christian motherfuckers entered here, they started to oppress them tribe by tribe, and after some time they succeeded. These tribes had developed their own language, culture, mythology, architecture etc. They were also great warriors and we decided to remind people about their brave battles. There are notifications of those times and battles in ancient essays of German chronicles and they are in every history book about the very beginnings of modern Latvia. Unfortunately the powers of tribes were too small to fight back more numerous crusaders, so they lost the game. But still we remember our forefathers and their chiefs; that's why we dedicated the demo album to those glorious times. We still like this album and play these songs often at our gigs. Hmm, what can I say about the musical side… The demo and the first album were more black metal in the style of Darkthrone and Immortal, then we explored themes that don't fit well with the black sound and vocals like in "Latvian Riflemen", that's why we tried to find new ways and we will continue like this in future. Time will show what will happen and what kind of musical progress will be in next albums.
You and Neglected Fields are the first Latvian bands whose albums are released officially in Russia. What is your opinion about the current situation on the Latvian heavy metal scene? If we compare the Latvian scene with the Lithuanian and Estonian ones, which one is in a better situation?
Well, yes, for this moment one could say that we both are the biggest bands on the Latvian metal scene because we put albums out and play gigs on a regular basis. The situation with metal bands here is not very good, most of the older bands are dead now, because people get married or get another interests, maybe simply find a regular job and have no time to run a band. Among new bands there are such young bands around as Urskumug, Flaying, Preternatural, Nightwing etc. In Latvia we don't play much, maybe 2-3 gigs a year. That's because we have grown out of our small land and we need to get out to a next level. Latvia is a small land and this is the situation with metal. But I have to say that metal is coming back after some 3-4 years of depress, because now we have quite many gigs and a lot people start to attend them. I personally like more folk music bands and listen them a lot. In Lithuania and Estonia all is quite the same way.
Are you satisfied with the work of your label Folter Records? Will you continue cooperating with them?
We feel very well. The label boss is our long time friend and he does all he can to get major promotion for the album and we like his way of working. This label is mostly releasing black metal and we are the only pagan metal band, but he is open to all kinds of music. He is also running a major concert agency in Berlin, which arranges gigs of all the biggest metal bands in the world like Six Feet Under or Morbid Angel for example, so we have played gigs and tours there as well, which turned out great. "Thunderforge" was our first album for Folter Records and so far the reaction of media, fans and label itself is marvelous. The album is selling very well, for the first time we are into all major European mailorders, like the Nuclear Blast catalogue, EMP and tons of others. Folter Records has also released "Thunderforge" in the vinyl version and it looks just splendid! It is our first vinyl and we are glad about it. So, I guess, we don't have anything to complain about and we feel good. The only thing is that they are a small label, but for the moment we are satisfied. As I said, we are going to release our demo album with them. Time will show if we are moving later to some another label, it will depend on offers.
Please tell me in more detail about your new album "Zobena Dziesma / Sword Song". How did you collect material for it? Does this album has a general concept, or is it just a collection of folk songs?
This was our try to make the band's evolution again a bit more different. As I told you before, the whole story is that we had many traditional Latvian war and mythological songs for our folk music gigs. Slowly we got an idea that maybe we can record them on a separate CD. In Latvia we have the government-sponsored Culture Capital fund, which supports such ideas. We wrote a business plan and gave it to them for survey. They approved it, gave money for studio and we could start to work. I guess, otherwise it was not possible to release it, because to find a label for folk music abroad is not possible. The album consists of 13 acoustic songs and some could be found in older Skyforger albums, (we have re-recorded them) so on this CD we collected all them together. But we have more songs which didn't find a place on the album, because we tried to be a bit original in scale of Latvia and didn't repeat songs which are sung by other folk bands.
In an interview with Metal Music Magazine from Belarus (№5/2003) you said that the folk album will be called "Kam Pusat Kara Taures". Why did you eventually abandon this title?
That was because that at that time we still didn't know that the song of this name is not going to be included into the album. The idea was such but the result was different. I could say that it was a working title that later we changed it to "Zobena Dziesma" or in English "Sword Song".
Will this album be released outside Latvia, or is this project only oriented at the Latvian market?
Like I told you, we didn't think that we could find an appropriate label for that, so we didn't even try to look for a label outside Latvia. We consider this album as a self-released one. On tour we sold all the CDs we had with us, fans took it with great interest, so apparently there is audience for this CD. Fans have a chance to get this work either straight from the band's homepage or from several foreign mailorders, for example Firebox or Folter Records. If any shop or mailorder wants to obtain it for distribution in Russia, then they should contact us, no problems with that.
What folk metal bands do you like? What do you think, for instance, about Finntroll's acoustic album Finntroll "Visor Om Slutet"?
I don't buy much music nowadays, so I don't know of this album. I like some German or Scandinavian bands, but cannot specify them, this is not so important. It depends - today I like this, tomorrow maybe something else. My musical taste is changing all the time. I can only say that we still are fans of traditional heavy metal like Saxon, Running Wild, Accept, Manowar and so on. I think that never gets boring haha…
Are you familiar with the Russian pagan metal scene (Butterfly Temple, Severnye Vrata, Temnozor)? If yes, what do you think about the above-mentioned band?
Not much, unfortunately. I guess that some guys have heard their stuff, but I personally have heard only maybe a couple songs somewhere, so I cannot comment. Basically their music is quite unknown to people here.
When are you planning to release the next "electric" album? Are there any ready songs? How much will the new material be different from "Thunderforge"?
This is a question I also would like to know the answer to, haha…! Maybe after some two years, it will strongly depend on how we will work. If we are lazy, then it will take more time. So far, we have three songs ready but without texts. So far, we haven't conceptualized the album as such and therefore we can't move forward. Much time is taken by live activities and simply usual work. I guess we will try to make faster and more aggressive songs in comparison with "Thunderforge" album.
As far as I know, Skyforger have never played in Russia. What is required to arrange your gig in Moscow?
Yes, that's right. We have only been two times in Minsk for concerts and they were excellent. Mostly our concert actions take place in the West, but we would be just glad if some serious promoter invites us for playing in Moscow. Right now, there is possibility that we can play in 16th of April in Moscow, but I don't know if it will happen (as of the publishing date of this interview, it will not - ed.). I know that someone has invited us. The conditions are quite simple but in the same time serious. They have to pay travel costs, provide decent promotion for the concert, make a normal sound and have a good attitude. We have played more than 100 gigs in the band's history and situations when we don't get paid after the gig or have to spend a night at a cold train station are not what I want hehe… I hope that soon we can make a concert there and fans will hear true pagan/black metal at the best!
To round up this interview, can you say a few words to readers of Russian Darkside E-Zine?
Thanks Roman for this excellent interview and support! And we hope that it will be possible to drink some beers together in near future! Stay true to your roots. All the best for Darkside readers! "Nothing is forgotten, nothing will be forgotten!"