Latvia’s Skyforger have been around for ages. They first formed in 1991 as a folk-leaning death metal band called Grindmaster Dead, but by 1995 they changed their name to Skyforger and turned their attention to black metal. After leaving their mark on both the second generation of black metal and the formative years of pagan metal, they turned their attention to Latvian folk traditions unconditionally. Zobena Dziesma, translated as “Sword Song”, was released in 2003. It left metal at the door, and presented, in coordination with the Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, an outstanding compilation of songs in traditional Latvian style.
Here is the explanation on Skyforger’s official website for how Zobena Dziesma came to be:
“Skyforger is not a professional Folk group, and we are traditionally known for playing Folk/Pagan Metal. We started playing Folk music as amateur enthusiasts, only for ourselves. However, our friends and fans expressed a desire to hear more of these songs, and that led to the creation of this album. Most of the songs you can hear on this recording are taken from the repertoire of well known local Folk groups. Others are reworked versions of material from our previous albums. Our passion is to play olden songs of the war and mythology of our forefathers. In that respect, this album is no different from those we have recorded in the past. It is our tribute to ancient Latvian history, culture and folklore.”
Skyforger translate Zviegtin’ Zviedza Kara Zirgi as “Neighed the Battle Horses”. It’s the track that has always stood out to me most on the album. It is exceptionally visual. It’s one of those songs that transports you to another place and time, and allows you to engage an ancient world trapped somewhere between history and fantasy.