(Our guest Booker reviews the new album by Finsterforst.)
One of the unique features of this fascinating piece of technological architecture we call ‘the internet’ is the way in which information becomes searchable, indexed, codified and filed away in virtual perpetuity. And as we all know, that can be terrifying when used to spy and pry into people’s lives, or when someone logs into your Amazon account and finds out about that copy of ‘Bronies’ you bought (http://youtu.be/ohnuyqJyEW0)…… yeah, um, that happened to… a friend….
But for someone like me with more memory problems than the guy from Memento, it’s a glorious reminder of ‘how the fuck did I find out about this band?’. Case in point — I can pinpoint the first time the hammering tones of Finsterforst graced my earholes, as this post featured the ‘Nichts als Asche’ video from their previous album Rastlos. And after a few google searches, it was clear the 5-minute odd video was effectively the ‘radio edit’ version (or would that be ‘youtube edit’?) of the 12-minute opening track of the album. Color me intrigued.
Ever since, Rastlos had me hooked with its blend of folk metal, mixed with some strong orchestral influences, traditional Germanic singing, and a touch of Neue Deutsche Härte influence. And now, a touch over two years later, Finsterforst offer us the follow-up Mach Dich Frei.
What’s obvious from the get-go is that Finsterforst aren’t here to fuck around with radio-friendly songs. What I’m thinking of specifically is something similar to what we’ve all noticed about metal — it seems like a tradition to start an album with a hard-hitting, heavy track, to showcase you mean business, let the listener know they’re not listening to a pop album by cramming in as many beats, riffs, and guitar virtuosity as possible – like raising a middle finger and saying, “that’s right, we can fucking play”…. and then maybe top it off by making it just a little evil-sounding.
What I mean in Finsterforst’s case is not so much the ‘heaviness’ or flashiness of the opening track in terms of instrument virtuosity, but the length, song-writing skills and diverse musicianship on display. After a brief intro, the album launches into ‘Schicksals End’’, a 14-minute track that effectively showcases everything I would now consider archetypal Finsterforst — their penchant for penning long songs, which duck and weave through various movements; their symphonic and folk influence (including accordion as a key instrument in the band line-up); the strong presence of a solid driving beat; and the mix of black metal and harmonised clean vocals that characterizes their sound.
The song is basically verse and chorus-less, and instead meanders through an array of musical segments that never wear out their welcome, but neither feel like rushed transitions, there for the sake of variety; each element contributes to a coherent sonic journey, covering Persian-sounding brass lines, tribal-ish drum interludes, black metal flurries, some folk-sounding lute-type of instrument, and sections with more rock-ish beats. By the time the chants in the final minutes of the song kick in and tempt you to sing along, it’s hard to believe this has all been contained within just the first track of album.
Although I’m not familiar with their earlier pre-Rastlos works, what is clear from what I’ve heard and read in interviews is that they’ve progressed from an earlier, much lighter (in both sound and seriousness of subject matter), upbeat folksy-style of metal into a blend with heavier guitars, and where perhaps the most immediate classification that would spring to mind would be symphonic metal with folk influences, rather than the other way around. And, if anything, on Mach Dich Frei it feels like the orchestral elements have come even more to the fore, forming key parts of the melodic lines and song structures, a la SepticFlesh or Shade Empire, rather than background symphonic coloration to a core metal sound.
There’s also a change in musical palette – while Rastlos featured more ‘folk-sounding’ wind instruments (Sevan Kirder, ex-Eluveitie, played tin whistle and German flute), Mach Dich Frei has a greater incorporation of brass and horn lines. While this brass sound is found throughout the album, nowhere is it more prominent than in ‘Zeit für Hass’, where one of the main ‘riffs’ is provided by a brass section offering up a line featuring glissando and syncopation, giving the song what could be characterised as a metal big-band sound. In terms of the guitar work, some segments — such as at the start of ‘Schicksals End’, ‘Seit für Hass’, or the last track ‘Finsterforst’ — bring a blues-rock and almost hillbilly feel to places on the album.
The vocals on the album vary between a raspy, black metal delivery, to harmonised layers of clean singing and chants reminiscent of traditional German folk, to what I struggle to define as maybe “strong, bellowed clean singing” – as seen in the chorus of the track ‘Mach Dich Frei’ below. At times, such as in the verses of ‘Seit für Hass’, the vocal delivery quickens to border on some kind of black metal rap (although I’m hesitant to even use that word, such is the divisiveness of the genre).
Just as with previous albums, Finsterforst close off Mach Dich Frei with an above-20 minute track (also titled ‘Finsterforst’). Indeed, with tracks like ‘Abfart’ and ‘In Auge des Sturms’ as only brief instrumental interludes (as is also ‘Reise zum…’, albeit at five minutes), there are only really five songs on the album, and yet it clocks in at 74 minutes. The fact that this doesn’t feel at all slow or drawn out is testament to Finsterforst’s ability to craft long-form tracks that morph, change and remain interesting.
Mach Dich Frei is by no means a Rastlos V2, but the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, and I think it’s a safe bet that fans of the former album will be well-pleased with this new offering. In fact, a sudden change would be completely out of character with the band’s evolution to date — Finsterforst have clearly worked and grown over the 2000’s to arrive at their current sound, and what they’ve achieved is a full, multi-faceted, unique sound in the world of folk and symphonic metal.
Mach Dich Frei is out via Napalm Records on the 10th of February in the U.S. It’s out already in the EU.