Review Summary: A solid, if generally unspectacular offering from Latvia's finest.
A few years ago I had a hipster acquaintance who told me that he couldn't listen to any sub-genre of metal due to its general silliness, with the exception of folk metal. Now I am pretty tolerant of opinions, but his reasoning confused me greatly. Folk metal done right can be excellent, but even then, it is still one of metal's silliest variants. Latvian, flag-waving pagan metallers Skyforger are a solid representation of such artists. They're certainly a likeable group if Kurbads
is anything to go by, but between the harsh vocals and the sometimes oddly placed folk instrumentals, there's something challenging about it. Perhaps it's intentional; this brand of metal isn't meant to be easy-listening, and Kurbads
is hardly any different. Still, Skyforger's fifth LP is a solid, if generally unspectacular album.
Mind you, Skyforger doesn't limit themselves to the folk metal of groups like Ensiferum or Eluveitie. While the band incorporates traditional folk-ish instruments (bagpipes are a constant), Kurbads
is primarily rooted in thrash and traditional '80s metal. "Curse of the Witch" features familiar chugging riffs that have been a staple in thrash bands for twenty-five years, while the melodic guitar work in "Bewitched Forest" hankers back to old Iron Maiden songs. Though neither styles are particularly innovative, they give Skyforger an advantage over a lot of contemporary metal groups in that at least there is (some) variance from song to song. Factor in the folk melodies, which have a more complimentary role more often than not, and we have a surprisingly heterogeneous record. Granted, it isn't anything we haven't heard before, but between rousing epics ("The Last Battle") and gritty headbangers ("The Devilslayer"), there's enough quality material to warrant a listen or two.
For what it is – a fun, if underdeveloped metal album, Kurbads
is quite successful. And really, that's all an album like Kurbads
aspires to be. Nothing more and certainly nothing less. It isn't without fault; the harsh shouts of the band's vocalist are irritating at the best of times and though his high pitched growl is fairly good, he doesn't utilize it nearly enough. This isn't a major problem and while it isn't the difference between a good record and an excellent record, stronger vocal efforts would have made Kurbads
a better album. But again, as far as folk metal is concerned, it's a welcomed, if sometimes silly offering.