Following up their 2022 debut album Apparitions of the Golden Horned, the New England-based black metal band Forest Thrall are set to release a second album entitled Amidst Pines on September 1st via Death Prayer Records, and we’re happily premiering it in full today.
Like a trip through previously un-visited ancient woods, the album follows a continually turning path that reveals unexpected sights, not all of them of earthly origin. There is a “backwoods” and “folkloric” quality to some of the music’s ingredients, but it also rakes the senses like rusted blades. Sometimes it sounds primitive and sometimes surprisingly elegant, sometimes diabolically deranged and sometimes spellbinding. The one thing the music isn’t is mundane or dull.
Including an Intro piece, the new album includes six tracks. That opening guitar instrumental sets the stage in soft and somber tones, creating a woodland mood of introspection, connecting to the album’s title. It seems to capture a wandering and moody mind, alone and perhaps a bit troubled.
The sense of troubles persist as a shriek of feedback connects the Intro to the first full song, “From The Edge Of Woodland Temples“. There, the drums thump like a slow heart but the moderately distorted riffing seems to channel a simmering anger, and the lead guitar wails in shrill tones that sound bereft. As the drums begin to hammer more vigorously, the words pour out in caustic, tormented shrieks and strummed chords build a fever.
The torment boils over in throbbing bass tones and battering drums, but mainly in the layered lead-guitar swarms, which seem to scream in confusion and despair. The vibrant bass lines and searing vocals still give an edge of anger to the music, and the frantic guitar permutations become mesmerizing. There’s even a sense of haughtiness that eventually comes through in the drums’ solemn pounding and the raking guitars, though the music also becomes hallucinatory in its final phase.
As displayed in that long song, the album’s sound quality is almost rough enough, and the vocals abrasive enough, to establish a kinship with raw black metal more so than the tree-hugging atmospheric varieties which the album title might imply, but the piercing quality of the leads stands out, and even with the relatively lo-fi production the music is discernibly more elaborate than what’s often found in black metal’s rawest haunts.
Those contrasts make Amidst Pines difficult to classify simply, and the contrasts become even more evident over the remaining four songs. “Of Rifle, Axe and Blade“, as its name implies, has the savage energy of a war charge, and this time the vivid reverberations of those piercing lead guitars (which get stuck in the head very fast) create a connection to ancient times, so much so that it wouldn’t be out of place to consider the song a kindred spirit to medieval black metal.
But the riffing and drumming also shift into more feral, cruel, and demented sensations — and the guitars also dance like a devilish fiddle, driving a glorious whirl of peasants (or witches and warlocks) around a blazing bonfire.
By now, as you listen, it will come as no surprise that the changes and contrasts continue. Introduced by sounds of thunder and the shimmer of synths, the picking and thumping in the mesmerizing title song — which functions as an instrumental interlude — sound like an old folk tune crafted in the gloom of unmapped woods.
On the other hand, “Hiraeth” unfolds like a grim march. The steady footfalls of the drums are accompanied by sizzling guitars that seem beleaguered, and of course by the scalding acid bath of the vocals. The music sounds downtrodden, but the riffing again transforms, channeling a kind of bleak determination.
The pace of that song slows even further, and the guitars’ whistling tones give it a haunting, otherworldly cast — just before the drums start pounding, the bass starts throbbing, and the riffing becomes a diabolical convulsion.
But again, more changes lie ahead. The music begins to chime and slowly swirl, creating sensations of wonder that are enthralling (pun intended), backed by other more frantic aural effects that bring to mind a flock of birds.
One song left, and it’s another long one. If you’re like me you’ll be wondering what Forest Thrall will do next, because it’s already quite clear that the band’s songwriting on the album is multi-faceted and full of surprises.
At first, the music of “Freedom Through Perdition” romps and rocks, with a kind of primeval energy — wild enough to be dangerous, and with a sinister and sorcerous atmosphere created by the eerie ring of the guitar. Things get profoundly more sinister as the song proceeds, as if you’ve taken a turn in the path that leads through a veil into demonic realms.
But again, with yet another highly infectious riff leading the way, the music begins to revel, spinning and whirling while the vocals scratch at the ears like thorns, and then it surges ahead in a flurry of blasting drums and maniacally ecstatic, layered-guitar riffing, briefly interrupted by another guitar instrumental that brings backwoods folklore to the fore.
And so, to return to where we began, Amidst Pines turns out to be quite a remarkable musical journey through wild woods and gnarled underbrush, encountering old abandoned shacks and paranormal visitations along the way, some wondrous and some poisonous, and no assurance you’ll find your way back home.
Death Prayer will release Forest Thrall‘s new album on limited vinyl and across all major streaming platforms on September 1st. Find pre-order opportunities and more info via the links below.