One of the best metal hordes hailing from Latvia is ready to bring down the hammer with their fourth studio album, proudly dedicated to their vast and beautiful homeland.
Founded in 2014 in the cold woods of Latvia, more specifically in the city of Daugavpils, located in south-eastern Latvia, the unstoppable horde known as Varang Nord combines harsh Death Metal riffs with epic accordion chants, creating a unique blend of northern Folk, Pagan and Viking Metal while praising a mighty battle, a bloody sacrifice to the Old Gods and a joyful northern feast with endless mugs of ale. Now in 2021, the band comprised of Maksims “Wolf” Popovs on vocals and guitar, Jelena Kalniša on vocals and accordion, Javgenijs Selivanovs also on the guitar, Danila Lopuha on bass and vocals, Vjačeslavs Janens on percussion and vocals, and Aigars Zeiza on drums returns to the battlefield with Pārķiuņa Uomurs, or “thunder’s hammer” in English, their fourth studio album, proudly dedicated to their homeland, the power and beauty of its nature and the depth of its cultural roots. Produced by the band and recorded at their personal studio, and mixed and mastered by Gints Lundbergs at Sound Division Studios, Pārķiuņa Uomurs is also the band’s first-ever album where all lyrics are written in the Latgalian language (an eastern dialect of Latvian), giving it an even more personal and organic feel.
A war is about to begin in the epic intro Pi Tuoļim Krostym, getting us ready for our bloodthirsty destiny to the sound of Stuojīs!, where the accordion by Jelena and the blast beats by Aigars make a superb paradox, offering Maksims everything he needs to roar like a true barbarian while Jelena brings a touch of finesse and melancholy with her clean vocals. Cīņis Gors, a battle anthem capturing the spirit of hard, long sea travels and conquests Northmen have been involved in, is a fun and inspiring Pagan and Viking Metal tune where the background elements by guest Yuri Borin walk hand in hand with the slashing guitars by Maksims and Javgenijs; and let’s keep banging our heads to Pārķiuņa Uomurs, another solid composition by this Latvian horde with Danila, Vjačeslavs and Aigars making the earth tremble with their imposing kitchen, whereas their warlike metal feast goes on in Dzeļža Ryuda, again presenting a headbanging, prancing rhythm led by Jelena’s wicked accordion, not to mention the awesome job done by Maksims with his evil growls.
It’s time then for a journey through the melancholic realms of old school Pagan Metal spearheaded by Jelena’s vocals in Svietņeica, accompanied by the rhythmic beats by Aigars and all somber background sounds, while Maksims roars deeply and more enraged in Uperiešona, a classic Viking Metal extravaganza the likes of Amon Amarth that will please all fans of the genre, with Danila crushing his bass guitar while Maksims and Javgenijs bring fire to the music with their riffage. And let’s prance around the fire pit together with those Latvian marauders in Syt Pa Seyi, a Pagan Metal feast perfect for their live performances with Aigars once again kicking some ass behind his drum set. Then mesmerizing accordion sounds, infernal and thunderous bass jabs and blast beats, and troll-like vocals set the tone in Troļļs, the epitome of Latvian Folk Metal where all band members are on absolute fire from start to finish, followed by Karaveiri, another good composition by those talented metallers (albeit not as dynamic nor creative as its predecessors) that flows into the atmospheric, acoustic outro Ceļš Da Sātai, bringing peace to our hearts after such intense battle.
Having said all that, I guess I don’t need to tell you that the time has come to grab your sword and shield, and join Varang Nord in the battlefield to the sound of their new opus, right? In order to do that, you can stream the album in full on Spotify, or prove you’re a true warrior from the North and purchase a copy of the album from Dead Pulse or from Apple Music. Also, don’t forget to follow the band on Facebook, on VKontakte and on Instagram for all things Varang Nord, and to subscribe to their YouTube channel for more of their epic music and videos. Varang Nord are not just another band recommended for fans of bands the likes of Ensiferum, Amon Amarth and Turisas, but a fantastic Latvian institution that truly deserves our appreciation for their contribution to heavy music. And let those talented Latvians bring down the hammer on us all!
Best moments of the album: Cīņis Gors, Uperiešona, Syt Pa Seyi and Trolls.
Drawing upon ancient mythology while at the same time looking at the current state of the world, this newborn multi-cultural metal act is ready to attack armed with the fusion of melody and fury from their debut release.
Combining the melodic approach and broad appeal of Metallica with the ferocity and thematic invention of Sepultura, Basingstoke, UK-based Power/Thrash Metal outfit Helestios is ready to conquer the world of heavy music with their debut album titled Your Pain Tastes Good, a reminder of how metal stays true to itself and its fans, reflecting the reality of life and urging people to think for themselves and move forward positively. Formed in early 2020 by Henrijs Leja on vocals and guitar, Stelios Aggelis on lead guitar, Agnis Aldiņš on bass and Ian den Boer on drums, all skillful musicians hailing from Latvia, Greece and Netherlands, Helestios are both the power and the fury we need to inspire us, with their new album offering our ears both traditional metal riffing and melodic structure as well as more aggressive and atmospheric tones, and with its lyrics drawing upon ancient mythology while at the same time looking at the state of the world around us right now.
Wicked vocalizations and the slashing riffs by Henrijs and Stelios ignite Helestios’ metal machine in Sacrifice, blending the fury of the Groove Metal by Lamb of God with the Power Metal by bands like Gamma Ray and Primal Fear, whereas Black Storm, a churning sea of riffs and tales told in the ancient mythologies of Syria and Egypt, sounds and feels as modern as the opening track with Ian dictating the rhythm with his classic beats accompanied by the thunderous bass by Agnis and the deep roars by Henrijs, keeping the album at a high level of animosity and rage. And let’s keep banging our heads together with those four metallers in Downgraded World, presenting another amazing job done by the band’s guitar duo with their incendiary riffs and solos and all spiced up by the powerful vocal performance by Henrijs; and Back to Where it Starts offers us all more of their solid fusion of Thrash and Power Metal, albeit not as exciting as its predecessors. It still showcases a great work done by the stringed trio with their venomous riffage and rumbling bass, though.
The title-track Your Pain Tastes Good begins in an ominous manner before exploding into another round of Helestios’ infuriated metal music, again bringing forward a nice mix of harsh growls and clean vocals while Ian adds tons of progressiveness and intricacy to the music with his beats. Then it’s time for a metal onslaught spearheaded by the flammable guitars by Henrijs an Stelios in All Attack, a modern-day Thrash Metal extravaganza with hints of Death and Groove Metal written in support of the Belorussian people who have spent recent months fighting to overthrow what many see as one of the last tyrannies of Europe. Put differently, it can’t get any heavier nor darker than this, I might say. And the quartet continues to slam their instruments in great fashion in You Are Free, where its headbanging rhythm is nicely boosted by Ian’s massive drums while also bringing forward very melodic lines exploding from their guitars and vocals. And last but not least, hypnotizing guitars kick off their final breath of Thrash Metal entitled Return to Baalbek, with Henrijs sounding truly demonic on vocals, therefore resulting in the perfect soundtrack for slamming into the circle pit in an amazing hybrid of sheer aggressiveness and soulful melodies.
In a nutshell, although Helestios might be a brand new name in the metal community, each band member know exactly what they are doing in Your Pain Tastes Good, sounding as polished, professional, focused and aggressive as any of the big names of the Thrash and Power Metal scene. Hence, don’t forget to show this talented, multi-cultural metal act your support by following them on Facebook and on Instagram, by subscribing to their YouTube channel, by streaming more of their powerful music on Spotify, and by grabbing your copy of their top-notch debut album from different locations sooner than you can say the word “pain”. Helestios’ fusion of melody and fury will surely please all fans of Heavy Metal in general, leaving us eager for more of their thrilling creations and, of course, putting a huge smile on our faces for knowing underground metal music in the UK is alive and kicking as usual.
Best moments of the album: Sacrifice, All Attack and Return to Baalbek.
Worst moments of the album:Back to Where it Starts.
Released in 2020 Independent
Track listing 1. Sacrifice 4:46
2. Black Storm 3:08
3. Downgraded World 4:05
4. Back to Where it Starts 3:39
5. Your Pain Tastes Good 5:45
6. All Attack 3:57
7. You Are Free 3:44
8. Return to Baalbek 5:11
Henrijs Leja – vocals, guitar
Stelios Aggelis – lead guitar
Agnis Aldiņš – bass
Ian den Boer – drums
It’s time to self-destruct, survive and thrive together with the most dynamic, hardworking and promising unity of the Latvian metal scene.
If you’ve never heard of any metal bands hailing from the Republic of Latvia, a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, you should definitely take a shot at Riga-based Death, Thrash and Groove Metal unity MĀRA, who has just unleashed upon humanity the excellent EP entitled Self-Destruct. Survive. Thrive!, the follow-up to their highly-acclaimed 2018 debut EP Therapy For An Empath. Formed in 2018, the group spearheaded by the ravishing Māra Lisenko together with her bandmates Denis Melnik on the guitars, Dmitry Lisenko on bass and Alberts Mednis on drums has been making a name for themselves since their inception, having already played in several summer festivals and toured all across Europe, also supporting renowned metal acts the likes of Sepultura, Krisiun and Satyricon. In their newborn spawn Self-Destruct. Survive. Thrive!, the quartet offers more of their trademark metallic and industrialized sounds, with each one of the album’s songs bringing a true and self-experienced storyline, therefore inviting us all to find out more about the band and, above all, about ourselves, all embraced by the stylish artwork by Latvian artist Gundega Bārzdaine (Mad Meow Art).
As we face the intro titled Mīļā Māra, or “Dear Māra” in English (as if she was going to start writing a letter to herself), a shamanic and enfolding atmosphere sets the stage for Leaking Guilt, starting in a serene manner guided by gentle piano notes before morphing into visceral and futuristic Melodic Death Metal. Furthermore, Denis is infernal with his riffs, accompanied by the thunderous beats by Alberts and of course by Māra’s sharp fusion of clean vocals and demented roars; followed by Beauty Of Humanity, featuring the iconic Björn Strid (Soilwork) as a guest vocalist and presenting lyrics about the decay of mankind (“Brutal truth / Smashes your face against the wall / Cut enough wounds open / To feast on your blood / You’re dragged behind a car / Barely alive / Still asked to smile and hide all your pain”). It’s indeed an electrifying hybrid of Death and Groove Metal, with Dmitry extracting sheer savagery from his rumbling bass.
Then putting the pedal to the metal the quartet pierces our minds with their Arch Enemy-inspired extravaganza titled Religionipulation, by far my favorite track of the EP where Māra is on fire with her enraged growls and gnarls while Denis and Dmitry smash their stringed weapons in great fashion. And an eerie atmosphere ignites the dark and heavy Life Kills (Fear), bringing forward psychological words blasted by Māra (“Eternity passes / Me, blood and the ground / Thoughts of the existence / Rhetoric questions echo / Silence suppresses / Voices in the head scream / Begging for a help / Voice never follows”) while Dmitry adds endless groove and energy to the music with his bass punches. Lastly, featuring guest bassist Jeff Hughell from Six Feet Under, Don’t Look Back In Grief sounds perfect for breaking your neck headbanging, with Māra’s she-demon vocals being once again captivating from start to finish in their fast, furious and modern Death Metal feast.
MĀRA have already been rated #1 for “Brutal Female Fronted Metal” and have scored in the top 6 best EP releases of 2018 with their debut album, which also won the “Album of the Year” award at the 2018 Latvian Metal Music Awards, not to mention that their relentless frontwoman has topped many “Best Female Metal Vocalists” polls in the past couple of years as well as won the “Best Vocalist” award at that same 2018 ceremony. Having said that, it’s more than obvious that the band will continue to pave their path to stardom with Self-Destruct. Survive. Thrive!, which you can stream in full on Spotify and purchase from the band’s own BandCamp page or from Apple Music, an album that might be short in duration with only 21 minutes of music, but that carries an endless amount of energy, feeling and groove spiced up by meaningful and clever lyrics. Hence, don’t forget to follow MĀRA on Facebook, on Instagram and on YouTube, proving you have what it takes to self-destruct, survive and thrive together with Māra and the boys.
Best moments of the album: Religionipulation and Life Kills (Fear).
Worst moments of the album: None.
Released in 2020 Independent
Track listing 1. Intro (Mīļā Māra) 1:01
2. Leaking Guilt 3:44
3. Beauty Of Humanity 4:06
4. Religionipulation 3:44
5. Life Kills (Fear) 4:30
6. Don’t Look Back In Grief 4:14
Band members Māra Lisenko – vocals
Denis Melnik – guitars
Dmitry Lisenko – bass
Alberts Mednis – drums
Guest musicians Björn Strid – additional vocals on “Beauty Of Humanity”
Jeff Hughell – additional bass on “Don’t Look Back In Grief”
Artur Georgadze – synths and audio effects
Get ready to be absolutely stunned by the sick growling, screaming and roaring blasted by our metal lady of the month of September, a true metalhead who loves all types of extreme music from the bottom of her Latvian heart, with her music being highly recommended for diehard fans of renowned acts like Aborted, Cryptopsy, Cattle Decapitation, Decapitated, Bloodbath and Hideous Divinity, among several others, who are always in pursuit of new names in the scene and who also love a feminine touch amidst such level of devastation. Hailing from Riga, Latvia’s capital, set on the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the River Daugava, but currently residing in the metal heaven known as the Federal Republic of Germany, here comes the ferocious she-wolf Māra Lisenko, the indomitable growler for some of the best bands of the past few years coming from the Baltics, those being Ocularis Infernum and MĀRA.
Having studied vocals at Vocaltech – Thames Valley University (currently known as University of West London) in 2007 in the UK, as well as with some of the most prestigious vocal coaches worldwide such as rock and metal vocal coach Melissa Cross, rockstar vocal coach Mark Baxter, and “Death Metal Phoniatrician” Dr. Enrico H Di Lorenzo (Hideous Divinity), Māra is an extremely versatile vocalist, being able to sing from the most brutal and gory growls to fragile, emotional clean vocals. In addition, although she started to sing in bands and tour around Europe in 2003, her singing career started way earlier than that, when she was still a three-year old girl, mainly because her own mother was a choir leader and inspired her to follow a similar path. A self-starter and an autodidact, our dauntless growler is also a vocal coach, having taught several aggressive as well as melodic vocal techniques and training since 2011, and also offering studio session work for bands who need professional sounding vocals for their recordings (and you can get more details about her services by clicking HERE or HERE). In one of her interviews, she said all the energy in her singing and screaming is driven by her real-life experiences and emotions, never about fictional topics, which in her opinion makes it a lot easier for her to transform those feelings into ass-kicking vocals.
During hear early years as a professional vocalist, she was part of two distinct Latvian bands named Defame (which I couldn’t find any information online) and Karmafree, with whom she won a couple of awards, those being Best Vocalist in a band contest named “Rīgas Dzintars” with Karmafree in 2011, and a Grand Prix with Defame at Sinepes Un Medus in 2005. Karmafree, which is still active by the way, is an alternative bass and vocal duo comprised of Māra on vocals and her husband Dmitry Lisenko on bass formed in 2010 in London, England, playing many festivals and releasing a self-titled demo and video entitled Fresh Millionaire before the duo returned to their homeland Latvia. In 2012 they released their first EP, named Illusions, along with a music video for the song Fragile; after their debut album, Karmafree released a series of singles, with songs like Invisible, Validate Me and #SSDD beautifully representing the evolution of the project, their social and political fights, and of course Māra’s fantastic vocal range. You can listen to a lot more of the music by Karmafree on their official YouTube channel, as well as on their BandCamp page.
It was back in 2015 when Māra was able to present herself to a much broader audience after joining a Riga-based Melodic/Symphonic Death/Black Metal band named Ocularis Infernum, who have been on the road since 2002 but who had released only one demo and one EP before she became their frontwoman. Under the stage name of Māra Sekhmet, she released in 2017 together with the band’s founders Andris and Magnuss the excellent Expired Utopia (which you can purchase from their own BandCamp page or listen in full on Spotify), exploring themes like darkness, occultism and paganism, always embraced by a symphonic and Stygian aura inspired by renowned acts such as Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth. I personally loved listening to every single second of Expired Utopia, and if you’re also a fan of this fusion of extreme and symphonic music you can have a taste of the band’s darkness and of Māra’s refined gnarls and powerful clean vocals by listening to the songs A Confession Of Defeat and Lost Forest. There’s nothing on the band’s official Facebook page about an upcoming album, concerts nor anything like that since the end of 2018, but let’s hope they’re just taking a break and that the world can enjoy more of the music by Ocularis Infernum in a not-so-distant future.
Right now, Māra’s main project is her own solo band named MĀRA, a Latvian/German four-piece outfit established in 2018 that plays a modern and sharp amalgamation of Death, Thrash, Alternative and Groove Metal. Currently based in two countries – Germany and Latvia – MĀRA have already played tours and summer festivals all across Europe since their inception, visiting countries like Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Germany, France and obviously Latvia, and opening for some of the biggest exponents of Extreme Metal such as Sepultura, Krisiun and Satyricon. So far Māra and her henchmen, including her aforementioned husband Dmitry on bass, released in 2018 their debut EP entitled Therapy For An Empath, which you can purchase from their BandCamp page or listen to in full on YouTube, and three music videos for the songs Sell Your Soul, Label Me Insane and Blameshifter, having already won Album Of The Year (with Therapy For An Empath, of course) and Best Vocalist at the Latvian Metal Music Awards 2018. Moreover, you can enjoy MĀRA’s incendiary performance at the Latvian Metal Music Awards 2018, which was held at an underground extreme music club in Riga named Melnā Piektdiena, playing the song Label Me Insane live during the event. As you might have already noticed, the name of the band was taken directly from her own name Māra, a very traditional Latvian girl name and, according to Māra herself, in Latvian folklore it’s also the name of a goddess, carrying a lot of strength rooted very deep in where the band comes from, also using Māra’s cross as their logo, a powerful Latvian magic sign.
Regarding her main idols in music, you just need to think of most classic Death, Thrash, Black and Groove Metal bands like Sepultura, Morbid Angel, Slayer, Carcass, Aborted, Cryptopsy and so on, with Max Cavalera (Sepultura, Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy) being perhaps her biggest idol as a vocalist. Māra even mentioned during an interview that one of her dreams as a musician would be to sing either Territory or Roots Bloody Roots together with Max as a very distinct and powerful duet, showing her total admiration and respect for a man that has undoubtedly revolutionized the way extreme vocalists sing all over the world. Not only that, you can also check all her passion for extreme music and vocalists on her official YouTube channel, where she uploads her own vocal covers for some of the heaviest and most awesome songs of all time, as for example Slipknot’s Psychosocial and The Heretic Anthem, Lamb Of God’s Laid To Rest and Sepultura’s Territory, with Slipknot having a huge influence on her vocal style and taste for music according to Māra herself, in special their 2001 masterpiece Iowa. As a matter of fact, she released her cover version for The Herectic Anthem on the same day Slipkont launched their brand new album We Are Not Your Kind this year, proving how much she loves and follows the band led by Corey Taylor. On a side note, our skillful vocalist also said that all metalheads from Latvia who dedicate a lot of their time to keep the local metal scene going, doing it just for their love for metal with basically no financial reward, also inspire her a lot in life, once again showing Māra has and will always have a beautiful connection with her homeland.
Māra also seems to be crazy four touring and performing live, as she mentioned in an interview that she could simply live out of touring. She enjoys visiting different countries, meeting and playing for different people, and learning about metal scenes everywhere she goes. She has already played in several European countries, and I’m pretty sure she can’t wait to expand her horizons to places like North and South America, Japan and Australia. As aforementioned, Māra and her husband Dmitry are currently residing in Germany (while the other band members, guitarist Denis Melnik and drummer Alberts Mednis, still live in Riga), and the reason why they decided to do that was purely due to music. She said that while metal in Latvia is considered underground and the opportunities for metal bands and artists there are very limited (albeit the internet can be very helpful in terms of worldwide exposure), even taking into account the metal scene in Latvia is healthy and friendly, Germany is the place to be for any type of metal band, complementing by saying that the fact her band is located in two different countries ended up helping them book gigs in more than one country. In addition to that, she said there are no metal radio stations in Latvia, and there are only 4 or 5 metal-oriented pubs in the entire country where local and touring bands can play. Well, let’s say that Māra is one of the most hardworking metal musicians (if not the most) hailing from Latvia that’s trying to change that, putting her beloved homeland on the global metal map even living in Germany.
Last but not least, when asked if she also sings and writes in her mother tongue Latvian and in any other language rather than English, she said although English is her preferred language because she wants her lyrics and messages to be understood by as many people as possible, she also sings and writes lyrics in Latvian and Russian depending on the project she’s working on, as sometimes she feels she wants to communicate only with Latvian and Russian speaking people. In case you want to enjoy about one hour of Māra talking about her career, her goals, her personal life and many other topics in English, I highly recommend you take a shot at an interview she gave to Dani Zed Extreme Music Reviews & Liveshows via Skype a couple of months ago. How lucky is Dani Zed for having the utmost pleasure of talking to such nice and talented metal woman for an extended period of time like that? We need to thank him for uploading the interview on YouTube, and obviously keep supporting Māra on her quest for extreme music in Lativa, in Germany, and anywhere else in the world where powerful and visceral female roars like hers are truly appreciated.