Interview - Skyforger - "Our job is to spread word about Baltic people, their culture and history!"

Here you can find a special polish version, promoting gig in Warsaw. 

Skyforger is a Latvian folk/pagan metal band, founded in the year 1995 in Riga. By this time, they’ve got quite big audience on the scene, spreading the Baltic metal music amongst the fans. In this interview Peter (vocalist and guitarist) talks about band’s history, cultural heritage of Latvia, modern pagan metal scene and some other things. The interview is really long, but also very interesting, so I hope you will make it! Enjoy.

1. Hail! First question will be light-hearted, just for a good start. Tell me about two albums that you have bought lately and made on you big impression.
Hello Nasu!

Well, I recently got album by our local punk legendary band Inokentijs Mārpls – “Pupu mizas”. They started out in mid 80-ties and just recently released this third album. At some point I also was playing in that band hehe. They recently won our local Gada Balva Awards (similar to Grammies) as best rock band.

But in general naked truth is that I (and many more of my countrymen) don’t have much money, which could be spend on buying albums or vinyls. My payment is considered here as total minimum to barely survive and thus it all goes out for food and flat and things alike, where the rest , what little is it,  I spend on booze and cigarettes. But that’s not big deal for me – money and wealth have little importance in my life.

As back to your question – I have friends, who buy albums and give me to listen. I am one of those, who listens music mostly on mobile telephone on the way to work and back. As for two albums – I am very critical on music and there are very few albums lately who can bypass my critique to impress me. But to name two, they could be two latest Absu albums and Asphyx’s “Deathhammer”, oh well and Venom’s “Fallen Angels”, though it is from 2011.

2. Ok, let's start the right interview. Firstly I would like to ask you about the roots of Skyforger - why did you found this band? You were playing previously in the death/doom band called Grindmaster Dead, and few years later became a pagan metal band. It was because you have "suddenly" discovered interested in Latvian mythology, or because of more and more growing fascination about this?
I think the second is true. We were already into historical lyrics, but then I thought - why we, as Latvians, are singing about medieval Europe while we have our own history and traditions? And that’s why we changed everything in band – name, lyrics and music style also. We tried to start anew, with this new concept and ideas.

3. Ok, I will ask you about a scene and paganism later, now let's talk a bit about your music. Demo "Semigalls' Warchant" and your first LP, "Kauja pie Saules". From musical side they were more black metal than folk metal, as it on your modern stuff. Why is that? I read somewhere that (as I remember) Norwegian scene had big influence on your music, is that true? What do you think about modern Norwegian black metal scene?

Yea, that’s true – we were pretty much influenced by this new black metal stuff at that time. I was into other styles before. At start it had fresh ideas and aggression we lacked so far. But at same time we didn’t want just to copy it in our music - that’s why we tried to join it with some Latvian folk melodies and metal riffs in Skyforger’s songs. We were constantly looking for our own way to play black metal. Unfortunately as we know black metal all soon became mainstream and that wasn’t way for us.

Today I don’t follow Norwegian black metal scene anymore – it lost its grip long ago. The old leading acts became boring or changed their style and new bands just try hard to copy what was already done or play boring music - at least it is boring for me. It seems that every style in metal genre went this same way – even pagan/folk has become mainstream today.

4. Aggressive music needs also brutal lyrics - they are more or less about wars between Order of Teutonic Knights and your ancestors. How do you think those events influenced Latvia as it is today? Do people in your country know and care about their roots and history?
Those events changed a lot for our nation. If Baltic crusades were never happened, who knows how it would be today for Latvian people - maybe there would be all different now. Also these crusades stopped our natural evolution as nation and put us into decline for centuries under German (and later Russian) occupation. 
At those old times our people were free and warlike, we had our own culture and were just few steps behind central Europe, but suddenly it all was stopped and destroyed. That’s why that period of time is so important for our people. You can read more about those crusades in my blog http://history.skyforger.lv/

More or less Latvian people of today know something about these historical events, but do they care? I think majority don’t care - especially in this century of cosmopolitism. But then again, there is still enough of those, who still have great interest in history and own roots. 
For a small nation like we, Latvians, are, such things as historical heritage, traditions, folklore and language are very important, because without them and without keeping them in our hearts we are going to be extinct!

5. Your another album, "Latviešu strēlnieki", could be shock for all those fans of folk metal, which love lyrics about "brave Viking which is proudly fighting" hehe. It is about Latvian soldiers fighting on the fronts of World War I. Why have you chosen this subject? Is it because Latvia won freedom after it? You know, this topic seems to be as important for Skyforger as your pre-Christian history...
It is a long story, but I try to make it short. I was reading a lot of books at that time about Latvian history and somehow I came across one book which told the story of Latvian Riflemen in World War I. I knew a little about those events from school time and never really had serious interest in that period of time. But when I read that book, it become like a true revelation! I was so overwhelmed and fulfilled with Latvian Riflemen topic, that I had great urge to make an album about them “right now”!

I remember how I was persuading my band mates to change lyrical topic in such drastically manner, but finally they agreed and we made such album.
Latvian Riflemen are a legend for our nation and there simply has no other way for Skyforger, but to have an album dedicated to them!

6. " Pērkoņkalve" was much calmer than everything you have done before. Why is that? I heard that it's because of lyrics - they were about Latvian mythology, not about wars. So have you written all those lyrics before writing a single song?
You are right about lyrics – the Latvian mythology was main topic of this album and that’s why songs were not that aggressive and with greater folk music influence than before. I think every Skyforger’s album is different each from other – mainly because of lyrics of specific albums and also because we don’t want to do the same thing in a same way again and again. If it is once done, then it’s done and we are moving on.
Maybe it could be confusing for you to hear, but I write lyrics always when all music is already done or even after songs are recorded in studio! The thing here is, that when we start to write music for a new album, I have concept for whole thing already in mind and keep it always in background, when composing songs. Then I listen to the songs and after my imaginations and feelings try to write lyrics. But as I said I have the main concept always in mind when writing riffs and putting them together in songs. In a simplified example, if there will be something about battles, I try to make some aggressive and fast song and later after listening to it, write down fitting lyrics. Maybe weird, but that’s the way I have always worked.

7. And later, in 2003, you released the strangest thing you have ever made (hehe). "Zobena Dziesma" is in 100% folk album. Can you tell me why you have released this material under Skyforger's name, and not as a side-project?  And what's going on with this statement: "This record has been released with the support of the Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia". This is the organization bounded with your government or something like that? Also, I know that many people ask about it, but let me be the next: do you planning to record another folk album?
We released it under Skyforger name because folk music was always part of our band. I mean, in all our heavy albums there are some folk tunes. So idea was why not make one whole album like this. Latvian folk music is a great part of our culture and for a band, who are making albums about Latvian and Baltic history, it was fine opportunity to present to our listeners another piece of our Baltic heritage.

Also I think it helps to people understand how serious we are about what we are doing, that Skyforger isn’t just another mainstream Viking metal band singing about beer, trolls, Odin and jolly polkas hehe.

Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia is a government made council, which financially supports various musicians and artists here. Of course the sum they gave us was small one; this was few hundred euros for studio costs. And the rest we covered by ourselves. But better this than nothing at all! But the truth is they gave us money because they saw that we had a good aim and why not support it. Our government still has that programme and everyone with good intentions can apply.

As for another folk album - only time will tell. In fact, we’ve got some folk songs already recorded, but not enough for a full album, but if I will have some time, inspiration and ideas, then yeah, why not made another folk album of Skyforger!

8. Could you recommend some folk bands from your country and abroad? How big is your interest in this genre of music?
Sure, I have great interest in folk music – how could we otherwise sing those songs and recorded folk album?! I also listen to some medieval music too.
There are a lot of folk music groups in Latvia and Lithuania and in times when we resisted Communist regime and fought for our freedom, folk music and bands who performed it was a great inspiration for our people then.

One of greatest is band Iļģi, especially their early music, when they were more to folk roots than nowadays. Now they are experimenting a lot and using more modern instruments in their music. Then there is Grodi, Vilki and Vilkači, Trejasmens, Skandinieki and many more bands. The good site to see more about is our local folk label Lauska: http://www.lauska.lv/

9. Ok, and now let's talk about "Kurbads", your last album so long. This is a conceptual album about a man called Kurbads. Is he a mythological person, or did you just make him up and bounded with Baltic mythology? What was your intention in showing Kurbads' story? 
“Kurbads” is our fairytale or legend, so the main character here is some supernatural hero, like for example, King Arthur, Irish Cuchulain or Sigurd/Siegried from Niebelung saga.

There is a long background to this story, but in short our intention was to introduce people with our Latvian legends and fairytales. Everyone knows (ok, maybe not everyone) about Norse sagas or Knights of the Round Table, but none knows of such existing tales from Baltic lands and that’s why we made Kurbads.
When we were young boys there was even a great book and cartoon movie made in 80-ties.

10. "Kurbads" is again more aggressive album (even if not so aggressive like the firsts releases). But I can also feel the influence of, well, hard rock? You even covered an old Latvian hard rock band's song, called "Kurbads (!)". Do Opus Pro means any special to you?
You are right, we were very influenced by old good heavy metal when wrote Kurbads. It was also intentional, because I felt that such an epic tale will go fine along with some heavy metal riffs. As for Opus Pro, it was great heavy metal band here in Latvia, when we were young. They had this song also named Kurbads and we thought why not made cover of this long forgotten song and include at the end of our album. At the time it carried a hidden message inside. They also had some more great songs back then and also with meaningful lyrics against Communism regime, but today this band do not exist.

11. I also heard that you are working on the new album. Can you tell me something more about it?
Our new album will tell about Old Prussians, the third Baltic nation, who was defeated by Teutonic knights in 13th century, their lands were occupied and themselves they were lately exterminated or germanised.
In those times they were most advanced of Baltic people. Prussia also was main pagan hub with archpriest settled there. Old Prussians took the main blow from European crusaders and made a bloody stand against them, almost till the last man!

Today as they are no more, many of Latvians and Lithuanians know nothing about them and that’s why we are making such album.
Right now we have all music composed and preparing for studio. And as always I need to write whole lyrics yet. There will be 9-10 songs with one or two folk tunes included. We will even try and sing some in Prussian language, which is not used for centuries as you can guess! There are maybe 1 person who know this language a little bit here in Latvia.

If everything will go sound and fine, there will be new Skyforger album out in autumn/winter – we hope so very much.

12. To sum up band's history - what were the brightest and darkest points of your career over these 18 years?
All in all the darkest times was always those when band was on the brink to break up. When someone left the band or threatens to leave, or when there were no new ideas and people started to felt that there is no future for band anymore. This is the hardest thing – to keep band together through the years!

And the brightest moments always are those when our work is well received, when people come to our concerts and they say how they like our music. It is great impulse to continue and then you feel that your hard work was not in vain.

13. What do you think about modern pagan/folk scene? Don't you think that there are definitely too many bands which play it and don't really care about the past and the pagan spirituality? For many of them it's just a "cool topic"... Also, have you noticed that mostly these problems concern western bands, while eastern bands (like you for example, Kroda and others) take it more seriously, they talk and write much about it and they want to follow pagan values in their own lives?
As soon as pagan and folk metal became mainstream, it lost its value. And as soon as it became mainstream, then there arrived a lot of bands and organizations who tried to make some profit out of it. At one point I felt like now everyone is singing about Vikings, starting from heavy bands - and ending with death metal bands.
Unfortunately the big “thanks” there goes to fans, who blindly support and buy all this polka, beer and Hollywood Viking crap.
If years ago metal music was something like protest against mainsteam pop culture, then now it almost became part of it! Unfortunately same tendencies can be seen almost in every art lately. People don’t want to think themselves anymore; they fall in for cheap shiny things to have fast entertainment and then move on to next thing.

And there is also answer why eastern bands are more serious than western ones – because they don’t have this mainstream music business approach yet. Though I don’t know for how long it will last ‘cos more or less their eyes are set on west anyway.

But then again there are still a lot of great and serious western bands out there too - of course most of them are in underground, not the ones who are constantly rotating on magazine covers and big festival line-ups.

14. What are your thoughts about religion - do you find it negative or positive? Do you believe in Gods and practise religious form of paganism, or do you just follow the pagan values in your life (like honour, courage, honesty etc)?
I am not religious person; paganism for me is more like philosophy of life, wisdom of our ancestors. I’m also attracted by mysticism, magic and superstition which surround these things. But it is very complicated.

Look, paganism is part of our European culture, piece of our nation’s heritage and that’s why we must carry it in our heart. Christianity tried hard to tore it out and forbid paganism, but it is ours and it is very bad that European people declined their ancestor religion to give a place for some religion, which came from far south, from Judea!

Also I see it that there is no way to turn back those times and make paganism as main religion for Europe again – it is simply gone! The people of today, who live in cities or industrialized country are very very far from how it was for our ancestors. People can try and pretend, but it will never be authentic. But I very sympathize and support everything, which keeps these memories of our pagan religion alive, because as I said it is part of our history and culture.

15. What is a situation of paganism in Latvia? Is it strong?
It is widely accepted here, because as I said above it was/still is part of our culture. Pagans no need to hide in Latvia nor are they somehow otherwise suppressed. There are those pagan festivities, like summer or winter solstices, which are celebrated on nationwide scale.
Many of those traditions are taught to children along with our folklore in kindergartens and schools. Here it all is more like “that’s our Latvian culture” than simply old pagan religion; I mean - it is not religious at all.
Sure there are also some people or groups, who perform rituals and give sacrifices at sacred sites (we have a lot of such sites here still standing), but they are minority.

16. About Christianity - what your thoughts about it? What do you find especially dangerous in this religion? Or maybe you just don't care about it, and you don't have any antichristian views?
I strongly stand against Christianity! Their time has gone - we are not in middle ages anymore! The truth is that Christianity is just a hotchpotch of many ancient pagan religions, garnish with later century’s ideas and philosophy.
But the main thing why it is here is because of Roman Empire, which took this new religion and turned it into official tool to keep people down and brainwash their minds. Christianity was forced upon Europeans by the ruling caste, which followed Roman trails.

Christianity did so much wrong to mankind through centuries that if there were any sanity this religion must be forbidden now! How people can hypocritical talk about Nazis and their crimes, while say not a word about Christianity.
If today they said sorry about what happened, then in same way Nazis can say sorry too! This is such hypocrisy. This religion is alien to European people and has no place here anymore! But no, it is still here and still brainwashes simpletons’ minds, take money from their pockets and even try to influence politics.

17. Nowadays there are more and more people which become atheists. They break up with Christianity, but they don't find anything that can be a fundament in their lives so they are getting more and more depressed and/or immoral. People don't care about anything than money, there is more and more divorces etc. Why do you think this is happening? Can we blame technology (especially internet) for getting people more and more alienated from the real world?
I am happy to see how church and Christianity is losing their grip over people of today. That’s mean people started to think more by themselves. I don’t believe that human beings need any religion to fulfil their life or become happy or whatever. What they need here is education! But if education is only about how to get better job with maximum payment, then no wonder that they care only for money and wealth and nothing more.

In my youth (and it was in times of Soviet regime!) I was taught about comradeship, honesty, of how great it’s to help or defend your friends and values like that. There were indeed a lot of such movies made for kids and youth on TV. Imagine that the Soviet communist system tried to teach its youth such things!

And what is today? I see that there is nothing left of it – it is whole new and different world. Of course race for money was always there, but nowadays it is on hyper level. If you can’t catch along, you are left behind, become depressed and lost. I bet if they will teach children that without money there are some greater values in life, the situation could be different. But then again there are enough of educated people, who can think by themselves and that’s just great - only they are still in minority…

18. Ok, now let's talk about everyone's fav topic - politics. Firstly, I heard that Latvia is very indebted, so the EU get it a proposition: they will forgive you a part of your indebtedness if you will take more immigrants from Asia and Africa. What do you think about it? And what your thoughts about massive immigration in Western Europe and politic of EU?
In fact, politics are on bottom of my interests. About this proposition - this must be some kind of bullshit. Economy is growing, Latvia has already started to pay back our debt and there were nothing about forced immigrants from Asia and Africa, you are misinformed, friend. We still have very few of them here. [oops, my bad – Vladyka]

But yes, as every European, I watch this massive immigration with great worry. And I don’t think that soft democratic system is in guilt here. I bet as always there is something shady going on behind the curtains. And I feel that it have close connection with what is going on in Palestine now. People get massively brainwashed by ruling caste again for decades. They play their dirty games as always and we just simply continue to believe everything they told us. Or even worse! We know what’s going on but remain silent – and I mean Palestine again.
I simply refuse to believe that European governments are mild sheeps and so stupid to allow such immigration without any restrictions and all just in name of democracy! And where was this soft democracy when they attacked Iraq?
As I said it is all the game and there are great puppet masters behind the curtain leading this game.

19. I know that you have a big problem with Russian minority, as they don't have citizenship even if they are something like 25% of whole society. Can you tell me more about it?
Yes, sadly there is such thing here. There is many of Russians who live here, but are disloyal to independent Latvian state. And with them we have some problems. They are constantly instigated by secret services and Russian TV. They refuse to learn Latvian language and thus get citizenship, because they still believe that Soviets soon came back and take this land again. And Russia is trying hard right now. Their millionaires buy out land from stupid old Latvians on countryside, buys factories and enterprises – in one word they are silently working everywhere behind the cover. And the worst part here is our government, which does nothing about it (I sometimes even think that they can’t really do anything about it), in some cases they even support those Russian businessmen here.

Some of local Russians constantly cry out of how they are oppressed here in Latvia, but the funny thing is that when offered - they refuse to leave for better life in Russia and what’s more funny - we have mayor of capital city Riga and he is Russian! In reality local Russians have fine life here, they have businesses, schools, kindergartens, private enterprises, they can freely speak their own language, they can travel all around just like Latvians, but nevertheless they still hates independent state.

Of course, there are a lot more of those who love Latvia and can speak Latvian and are loyal to our state – with them we live nicely along. But yes, the problem is that other part who hates Latvia and still are dreaming about united Russian empire and bringing back old Soviet times.

20. Your logo has changed a bit, hasn't it? Why have you removed a solar sign? And what means this new sign?
It is another conspiracy running high against old European pagan culture. And World War II stands behind it. You know – history is written by the victors! We were in constant trouble because of swastika or as we call it here Thundercross, we used in our logo – some German concert organizers and venue owners were afraid to get accused by supporting Nazism. People also refused to print our CD or just afraid to sell them because of the sign and after a long time we saw that there is no way to explain it. If we want to play around and spread our music there were no other options for us left.

I can tell you that there is no problem with swastika sign in our country and we use it here, because this sign is part of our culture – on local money, dresses, architectural designs etc. But in Europe people are afraid of something! I bet you can imagine who dictates this crap there. The new sign means nothing, it is just an O letter made in some national style, that’s all.

21. Ok, last three short questions. Maybe it will sound a bit pathetic, but what do you think about:

- Latvia's future?
It looks bleak. Right now we are on the verge to be no more as Latvians in future. There is zero national politics here - no support for growth of birth-rate and new families, no support for national things, like culture, art or music. No reasonable education system and so on. And this fault is upon Latvian people themselves. We allow such governments to operate for years, we allow Russian millionaires and secret services to buy out our lands, we chose not to fight back but instead to leave for other richer countries and live there.
We hope that it will get settled by itself somehow, but it will not!
Though hope dies last…

- Europe's future?
I don’t know, but if they will not stop immigration, there will be trouble anytime soon. As I said for someone it is very gainful to make things to happen this way and if people not wake up, soon it will be too late! I have nothing against that there will be no borders in EU and Europeans will feel like they live in one big country. But specific cultures and languages must be there – after all this makes people different and interesting and without past there is no future!

- And of course Skyforger's future?
We will continue to do our job as long as it will be possible. And our job is to spread word about Baltic people, their culture and history!

22. Ok, that's all from my side, thank you very much for this interview! The last word belongs to you, cheers!
Thanx man, for this chance to introduce Skyforger to Polish metalheads and hope to see you guys someday in Poland in concert! And watch out for our new album in autumn of this year! Dziekuje!

Peter / Skyforger

Single from "Kurbads" album:

Photos: band's archieve.
Interview by Vladyka 2013. Please do not copy this interview without HA'Z permission. Respect the copyrights! 

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