The best Latvian pagan metal band of all times had come out with a new album this summer. We were talking with the band about this album and other interesting things. . .
Hails MIRGILUS! My name is Rihard and I do guitars for SKYFORGER. I must to apologise very much for horrible delay with this interview. That's not enough that I say it, but I mean it too! This is just our guilt and I feel sorry for that. Actually SKYFORGER quit often delay interviews, because of too busy job duties, band things and also laziness. OK, now I will start with answers as good as possible!
As this is your first interview for Mirgilus Siculorum, let's review the band's history. There was only one demo (Semigalls' Warchant) in 1997 which you had released. How do you see it now, from today's perspective?
We still like this record very much and don’t want to forget by no means! We often play these songs in gigs and I think they have stood the test of time. I cannot tell you about sales of our demo, I guess that was only 500 copies and it is long time sold out. Reaction has been very positive and overwhelming, it was even voted as “Demo of the Year” in German’s black/death metal magazine Ablaze, also all main metal press who get the promo copy, have put out the good marks.
Maybe right now we have gone a bit away from pure black metal, but it’s a logic evolution of the band, we don’t want to produce two similar albums in a row. But it’s our past and I cannot see any problems with that. I can tell you fresh news that we plan to release finally “Semigalls’ Warchant” on CD/LP format by Folter Records and that will happen in somewhere in March/April 2004. The idea of such release has been always somewhere in the air, because demo is sold out long ago, but fans still write and demand it.
We’ll remaster that, add new artwork and some bonus tracks. So, it will be available again for the fans. For the readers that are not familiar to the demo, I can tell you a little, so you can understand it in brief. 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 were 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 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 in number crusaders, so they lost the game. But still we remember our forefathers and their chiefs; we have our demo album “Semigalls’ Warchant” dedicated to those glorious times.
Your first album was “Kauja Pie Saules”. What should we know about it and what historical event does it treat?
Our first full album “The Battle of Saule” is continuing the path we have chosen on the demo material. Album is also dedicated to the ancient Semigall tribe and their hateful battles against crusaders of Christian power.
As I told you, we have many historical documents about these times and we use them like it was told there. German chronics luckily documented all quite well and they admitted that fights were bitter and resistances were hard. Semigalls were brave warriors if it is believed to chronicles. The name of album carries the name of the bigger battle against Crusaders, which happened in forests and swamps in territory of Latvia.
Semigalls fought together with Lithuanian tribe called Zemaisi and all invaders were destroyed. Of course, the lyrics are more detailed and rageful than I can say it here, then you should check out by yourselves. We like this album and play these songs often in gigs.
Your next release was the “Latvian Riflemen”, which was considered by many magazines to be the best pagan metal album of all times. What should we know about this album? I know that the lyrics are concerned with Latvia's participation in the 1st World War. Please talk a little about details.
That’s our second album and it was unleashed in 2000 year. Concept for “Latvian Riflemen” was to create an album about those brave battles, which happened in 1915 and 1916 years, so to say, beginnings of our fight for independence.
It tells about eight battalions of Latvian Riflemen and their actions into WWI into Latvia’s territory. If looking closely to the subject, many people nowadays don’t know much about the subject. The word itself “Latvian Riflemen” is legendary, because people from abroad often call Latvians in this word. They formed about that period urged by some volunteers and very quickly idea of own personal national force flied over our small land. Many people wanted to step inside even knowing that this is very dangerous.
They just wanted to give some resistance against invaders, which mercilessly slayed the natives, raped woman and burned down the land. Later Latvian Riflemen took part in many battles in Russia and always their attitude was purely courageous and faithful. They better preferred to fall, but not to give up by any case. I think that in world’s metal scene, our second long player “Latvian Riflemen” is quite original and outstanding work.
I cannot see any strange things with that, anytime some band comes up with some topic, and it might seem unusual to some listeners. We just wanted to do the album about those brave men, without whom our country wouldn’t have existed, that’s for sure! I bow down to those great students, peasants, workers and soldiers who went into the battles against four times bigger and better armed German forces which wanted to destroy idea of our freedom.
Many of them sacrificed their dreams and hopes for our future, which was remarkable heroism even by today’s measures. I guess that we are finished with ‘riflemen’ topic right now. We have many more untouched and not yet explored territories to walk inside, for example our new album is about ancient mythology. These ancient pagan themes are very essential to us.
In your opinion, what influence had the Latvian resistance in the course of the 1st World War?
I think that Latvians had no outer influence, because at that time many popular countries were still under different regimes. The thing is that some well-educated men started to print newspapers and popularise the idea of own country.
Very quickly it gained big crowd of supporters on all levels of nation. You must know that by the time of 1915 Latvia was never even been independent country. It was always under occupation of bigger powers. When it came to WWI, people understood that this is their time and proudly sacrificed their life for the sake of independence. Now this is reality...
There had been new come-out last June. What should be known about that and what do the lyrics contain?
In our new (metal) album “Thunderforge” we explored new themes, which we wanted to do long time, in order to escape from “war” themes. We had it already in the minds a couple years ago.
It tells about mythology of ancient Latvia and could be received as a concept album. Music-wise “Thunderforge” album is different from previous albums in such meanings - it’s a bit slower, doomier, and not so aggressive; also we used many folk instruments to get the ancient sounding mood.
For the first time we have experimented with synth and it gives a more monumental sound. Next album definitely will be again different one; very certainly we will get more aggressive! I think that this album brings us to the next level musically, and it proves that we are capable of being more varied thematically.
We did this album in last year and now we start to get some feedback. Talking about responses - so far reactions has been very well from media and fan side to the new album. Check out homepage for reviews. Lyric-wise CD starts with short folk intro and then it opens up with song about spring god Ūsiņš, which comes to us each year to bring warmth and joy for people. So, song-by-song, album goes through the ancient forefather’s yearly festivities and each song tells about some individual God or festival in the times when there were no technology everywhere and people worshipped Gods of Nature.
Thus it brings us closer to the end of year until it’s autumn and wintertime. One could say that this is like small book about our mythology in brief. On booklet are translation on English for Latvian lyrics.
Your first two albums were released by the Mascot Records, which in my personal opinion made a very weak promotion for the band. I gladly found out that you have changed your label but I'm sceptical about the Folter Records, as it is well known about its not too good releases. Why did you choose it?
We did choose it because it seemed right at the moment. We wanted to get German label, his offers were quite good looking, so we agreed to sign the deal. Your sceptics are a bit wrong.
The FOLTER chief is our fan also and he does all the possible to get the major promotion for the album. He is trustful man – Jorg Schroder and we like his way of working. This label is releasing mostly black metal and we are only pagan metal band, but he is open to all kinds of music. He is running also a concert agency in Berlin, so we will play some gigs in near future too. So, I would say, we feel OK for this label.
Our release was good looking, no problems with that. I also want to say, that bigger label not always is the best for the band. Right now, it seems that this small German label makes better promotion than all gigantic Mascot Records! I don’t want to say anything bad for Mascot Records, but sometimes their attitude sucked really badly. You know all these things – not answering the e-mails, not doing the promised things in contract, they even never did tell how are the sales of both our first albums.
All emails were just a couple lined, never had that friendly atmosphere which is between two good parts of business. I guess that we did well for them, and they earned a hell of money for themselves, but we never get any royalties out of this.
They never did any promotion for our glorious album “Latvian Riflemen”. I have never seen a single review for that album organized by label, and it sucks fucking badly. And finally we even now don’t know are they still pressing the both albums “The Battle of Saule & Latvian Riflemen”. These are extremely hard to find and it’s annoying stuff. I guess if we could turn back the time wheel, then we would not choose Mascot to be our label. In opposite Folter Records does all these stuffs and it is really different attitude.
For example, Folter Records has released “Thunderforge” also in vinyl version, limited to 500 copies. It looks just splendid! It is our first vinyl and we are glad about it. We also played in Folter Records organized black metal festival in Germany and performance turned out great! So, I think that it is very well if both band and label can go hand in hand. That should be always that way; unfortunately there are many fuckers in this business.
Haven't you thought about writing a song about the most famous Latvian ruler, Tālivaldis?
Not yet. So far, history tells that most famous Semigalls’ leader was Nameisis, we have song about him. Maybe in future we will try to dig out any other relevant persons.
You know, this is so good that you can take out from oblivion some important man or particular fight. People start to get interested, what is this man, and therefore many events or persons can be revived. This is exciting process when you make new songs and lyrics, you know?
Is it true that after the Soviet Union disintegrated about 50 % of the population of Latvia started to use pagan customs again, and that paganism is officially recognised by the state as a "religion"?
No, this is not the truth. In Russian times we have had to be atheists, that means no religions at all.
The only religion was Soviet Party, I guess you understand what I mean. Nowadays after fall of the Empire, everybody is free to choose to believe what they want. In Latvia as in crossroads of travellers are developed many religions, like the same fucked Christianity, Baptism, Lutheranism, also paganism is well popular. No any fights are visible. The only thing that frightens me is that stupid Christians want to make their false belief as a main one, to teach it in schools and so. But this trick will not work, most of the nation are quite irrelevant to their calls. There are no official religions in Latvia.
SKYFORGER has been qualified as Pagan Metal band and I guess that could be quite right term for our music. I certainly don’t call myself a pagan, because we all live in this time, now it’s an age of technology and computers and pagan life is simply impossible hehe. But we like to bring up the topics of those times, I agree of way of life and philosophy of our ancient forefathers. That means that I’m pagan more at my heart than in action, nobody worships ancient gods now and don’t bring sacrifices to various gods, that be stupid. I like it to support more mentally.
In Latvia it is still very visible, I mean that our everyday life is full of ancient festivities and traditions, which comes along from centuries, all ancient signs still can be seen in jewellery, dressing, folk music etc. Latvia and these region countries have still preserved that old feeling of ancientness which many western countries has lost already long time ago.
We have no aim to teach people to some certain thoughts, but just to express our point of view to public. Paganism is very important to us, but it’s much more in philosophical way, I mean, to live following Our Mother Nature rules, in confidence with our forests, meadows, birds and animals etc. I’d call it just normal and comprehensive way of life. That has always been dream of our ancestors. In opposite take a look at American way of life, why do they need four cars, if there are only three family members?
I guess this non-economical living very soon will pay back to the world. The world is full of stupid conquerors, which present their interests everywhere where’s some goodness out of land, and they are blind to minor problems of some small nations. To such americanization, cosmopolitism, injustice, despotism etc. I have negative attitude.
But to finish this question on happier note, I’d say also that our ideology is Metal Music, we are metalheads and it always will be so!
As far as I know it, you are very popular in Latvia, that band is there even in serious magazines and TV-channels. Is this so?
Hehe, maybe partly. We are the most popular metal band from here, which is true. In summer our single from “Thunderforge” album got into Top 3 of main Radio Rock programme.
It did beat all Marilyn Manson’s and Placebo’s. Month ago we were featured in biggest musical magazine in Latvia with 4 pages, no metal band ever appeared there before. So, I guess that we have some certain popularity, mostly between youth.
Before SKYFORGER, did you play in any other band?
Yes, my musical past includes about 25 bands before SKYFORGER. The most popular are SANCTIMONY, HUSQARN, DIES IRAE, GILLOTINE etc. I am now 30 years old, and started my entire metal carrier (hehe) about in 1990 year.
Since I have in SKYFORGER I am found what want and I am content with that. Maybe in future I will start some side projects as well. One should say, that I am very experienced metalhead.
In your logo there is this ancient Sun-cross symbol. Haven't you been considered nationalists because of that, or had other problems?
I can confirm once again that SKYFORGER is not a nazi band. We don't have anything in common with this thing, or any other national socialistic movements or whatsoever.
Our trouble started when Peter did draw band logo and at the times it seemed very ancient and cool looking, you know...We still love our logo and certainly this is big part of the band. This firecross is our national symbol and it's more that 5000 years old actually. The older meaning of this firecross (also known as Thundercross or swastika) is to give powers to its bearer. That, who wears it, is considered to have a protection of Gods of Nature - Thunder and basically all gods of Sky.
In past last centuries it's been spread here widely, we can meet him on house's roofs, on gloves, on belts, on beds etc. In Latvia it is legal sign and nobody even cares about that. When we formed out concept of the band, it meant to sing about very ancient times and out cultural heritage, it seemed wise to work it inside our logo. Then we got some emails from our previous label that they are afraid of the logo and their sales can go down... they wanted to take it out, but without it there's no integrity anymore, logo then loose the whole meaning.
Then we did put warning on CDs "No nazi stuff here - pure pagan symbols only". I hope it worked. But we have never had intention to be NSBM band or something. I understand that totalitarian regime gave bad popularity to this sign, but one can see what is under the sleeve - is this pagan sign coming from cultural background or used to popularise any neo-nazi things.
People should be simply more educated about the topic. We are not about any political stuff, that shit simply does not interest us, there are much more interesting things to do in one’s life. The world is big place and that's why therefore there are many customs and traditions, which can seem strange at first sight.
We have had problems in Germany that we cannot put our flag on, also the very fresh news are that after two weeks we go onto our second European tour, that includes 5 countries. And in Hamburg, as they saw our logo, they said ‘no way’ to arrange that gig. They were scared of crazy NS fans. Initially all was ok. So, I guess, all depends from people minds.
What do you think about mixing politics with art? What about the facts that Baltic bands use a lot of National Socialist ideas in their lyrics?
I can’t see anything wrong with that. If musician is upset about politics, then why somebody would stop him to write songs about that?
I guess Dead Kennedies are bright example for active political band, still they had great tunes. Art can come in various forms, politics is some kind of art too.
Personally I hate politicians, they always lie to get elected, nothing much. In Latvia, Romania or USA, they all are the same. About Baltic NS bands you are very certainly misinformed. I know only one HC band with NS attitude, DIKTATURA from Lithuania. I know that in Russia and Ukraine are such bands, but not here, that’s for sure. I would know that.
Latvia has been part of the European Union since May 2004. Did you vote for the Union or against it? What do you think about the whole EU?
I voted against EU. Not so long ago we were into another “union” and I want to get away with those unions. Unfortunately this is already a fact that we step inside EU, time will show what is better.
You give a lot of concerts. What was the most exotic place where you had been playing and the funniest story that happened to SKYFORGER?
I don’t know – exotic place hehe. We have been playing in various shitholes, literally everywhere. The only place I still want to play is church.
I cannot tell you the funniest story; there are so many! Every time we go on gigs/tours we have a good time, we like to drink and have good time, and funny things happens as a rule. Ok! That was a small tour through the three cities of Finland: Helsinki, Kuopio and Turku. The shows in Helsinki and Turku were really good and we found a lot of new good friends, especially guys from THYRFING (in this tour we were together with THYRFING, LUCIFERASE and BARATHRUM).
The story that I can tell you isn't so good and funny: we wonder why, but we always meet some bad persons who make us all the tour or gig feel bad. And there of course was another one guy in Finland who picked on us, sometimes like a big friend, but sometimes started to threaten us till all this shit ended in backstage in Helsinki club with bloodshed. This guy attacked us and we were forced to beat him and only after this he walked away and the conflict was later solved positively for everybody.
But from other hand I can say that there is always more cool and funny stories, we are band that is positively minded and we always love to make fun, drink hard and joke.
One funny moment was when we entered in Turku. We drove our own small minivan fully packed with people, big beer cans, instruments, listening to some heavy metal. One of us wanted very badly to piss (but it was not me!) and we could not find any decent place to park a car. There's traffic lights, there's passengers etc... So finally he opened the doors and wanted to jump out, which was dangerous, so he later drunkenly made attempts to piss through the open doors of going van, and all native people just watched silently when we pissed by in the car... haha. I'm sure there could be many such moments when start to give back memories.
I saw on pictures that you wore different traditional costumes on every cover. Do you wear those on concerts, too?
Yes, that’s right. We wear the ancient pagan clothes on the stage to full fill our stage image and also to live up to the events we are telling to the listener. We try to play the gigs as much as strong we have and image is also one of the tools to take the man to the Journey into those times we are singing about. These clothes are authentic to the origin times, also jewellery. Also important is that they are made by our fans, quite expensive presents.
Last year you had almost played in Romania. Is it possible for you to come around this year?
I don’t know. If all stars stand for this, then we can come, but at this stage it is impossible to say whether we can make it this year.
But very certainly we would like to take to your region – Hungary, Romania etc. All depends from native promoters, if they are interested into invite us, then we can think about that.
Like in the other ex-Soviet countries, do Latvians have a traditional alcoholic drink? If yes, what is it? Is that what you drink, or you have other favourites?
Very easy – beer and vodka. We have had beer as national drink since ages, but vodka came with Russians, so now we have very nice vodka too. My fave beers are Latvian made – ‘Bauskas Gaišais’ and ‘Tērvetes Alus’; these are light beers and are brewed by centuries old traditions.
We have many sorts of beer and I don’t fear this word: I can say that these beers are much better that usual European beers- Heineken, Budweiser etc. These are overpriced, unnatural, disgusting piss. That’s a problem with big companies, which produce it for masses and don’t care about individual customer.
I read in lot of books about Riga, please tell me something interesting about your city?
Well, Riga the city is founded in 1202 year by German traders. Since then it has have very old, interesting history. I doubt that I can tell you all that now, you should look in some books.
Nowadays in Riga lives more than million people, we have quite small metal scene, not so much bands are here. We have some small metal shops here, a couple of distros and metal gigs about once in two months. So, nothing special in ‘heavy metal’ terms.
Your demo tape “Semigall's Warchant” was the first pagan metal act in Latvia. As veterans of the Latvian pagan scene how do you see its evolution? Tell me something about the new Latvian pagan metal bands.
Again I have to disappoint you. We are the only pagan metal band here. Mostly all bands play black metal.
The situation with metal bands here is not very well, most of the older bands are dead now, because people get married or get another interests, maybe simply work a regular job and have no time to run a band.
From new bands there are such young band – URSKUMUG, they will release their demo album soon, and it promises to be good sympho-black metal, at least from what I’ve heard until now, so check them out. In Latvia we don’t play much, maybe 4-5 gigs a year. That’s because we are grown out of our small land and we need to get out to next level.
The scene here is still growing a bit, but you know, Latvia is small land and there are not many bands around in these days. That is the situation.
Would you like to live in XII-XIII centuries if you had such possibility, and how would you imagine your life then?
I would gladly agree to live back then, and my hottest dream would be to fight against German crusaders. That would be my favourite time, if I can choose. No way for another time!
Thanks for the interview. If you have anything else to say, please do it here! And if possible, please say hello to our readers in Latvian!
Ok, I say greetings to all your readers, we soon go out on tour, would be nice to se you on gigs! Also our new folk music album is out now, available through our homepage. If you have interest for SKYFORGER, visit: www.skyforger.lv for latest activities of band. That be all, nothing much to add. Hail and Kill!