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Some of the most interesting musical hybrids have come about when unlikely forms of music were successfully combined. A perfect example is folk-metal; who would have thought that a bunch of European headbangers who were into black metal and/or death metal would be incorporating European folk melodies, European folk imagery, and traditional European folk instruments and managing to make it sound like a perfectly natural combination? Different European folk-metal bands have been influenced by different types of European folk; Kurbads finds Latvia's Skyforger putting an East European spin on folk-metal. This Latvian band has been around since 1995 and has evolved along the way; on Kurbads, their recipe is probably best described as an epic combination of black metal, death metal, thrash metal, Bathory, Iron Maiden, and East European folk. A long list of Scandinavian folk metal bands have been influenced by Nordic mythology and traditional Scandinavian folk, but Skyforger aren't from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, or Finland -- they're from Latvia -- and Latvian mythology is an important part of this 2008-2009 recording, which is aggressive and hard-hitting but never flat-out vicious. In fact, tracks like "The Devilslayer," "Curse of the Witch," "The Stone Sentinel," and "Bewitched Forest" make it clear that Skyforger are wholeheartedly melodic even though they aren't exactly easy listening. And when you really look back on the early years of headbanger music, it becomes clear that there is a historic basis for what Skyforger and other folk-metal bands have done in the '90s, 2000s, and 2010s. Late-'60s and early-'70s recordings such as "Gallows Pole," "Going to California," "Black Mountain Side," and "The Rain Song" demonstrate that Led Zeppelin were not only a great hard rock/heavy metal/blues-rock band -- they were also a great folk-rock band. So is there any reason why crunching metal guitars and acoustic folk instruments shouldn't co-exist on a more modern metal album like Kurbads? Actually, some listeners might be disappointed that this 49-minute CD doesn't make even greater use of bagpipes, whistles, and violins. But all things considered, Kurbads does an enjoyable job of putting an East European spin on folk-metal.

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