30 Oct 2022 - Stephan
Ambient, Doom, Black Metal | I, Voidhanger | Release date: 28 Oct 2022
Applying the usual résumé math isn’t the worst choice to guess the sound of a band consisting of two Lotus Thief members as well as musicians with past stints in dulcimer “green” metal entity Botanist and Toby Driver’s avant-garde chameleon Kayo Dot. However in case of Forlesen forming the pure cross total of brought along influences can only be an efficient technique if you add and stress at least one variant in particular: doom.
Even without any excitement for mathematics at least the result should electrify any fan of that genre, because what you get is nothing short of the most memorable substitute for the dearly missed SubRosa you could wish for, even without featuring any violins. Yet synths, harmonium and organ provide enough additional richness in melody and texture beyond the metal setup to justify this comparison. Which shouldn’t be the greatest surprise, since Lotus Thief for a big part (I’m mostly familiar with the middle release Gramarye) can be understood as a more ceremonial ‘Post-Black Metal meets Opeth’ version of the Salt Lake City doomers anyway.
Interestingly though the two lotus thiefs Petit Albert and Bezaelith, whose clear lofty lead voice stands out as the most recognizable common element of both bands, are not even the composers in Forlesen. That credit goes to former botanist Ascaphalus. The average song length of almost a quarter of an hour surely isn’t a feature he picked up by the way, but instead cultivated for this project.
Black Terrain as a whole however doesn’t feel like a sequence of four songs, but rather an experience in maybe a dozen movements spread over those four tracks, with each of those movements introducing a new idea to the whole. And while I hope we’ll agree that everything I’ve established about this album so far is true, it is actually only the prevailing truth for its first half.
The nineteen minutes long opener “Strega” welcomes the listener with Funeral Doom-gravitas, an intriguing ensemble of harmonizing voices, cinematic moments and an overall feeling of perfectly balanced grandiosity. Sharing its title with a rare SubRosa album from 2008 it fittingly is in the solemn parts of this piece where the similarities are - in the best way - most uncanny. Don’t fall in love with the elevating lead guitars of the climax too madly though! Instead stay open for what else lies ahead - because no moment on this album will be reprised as a carbon copy. That being said there’s also no need to worry, since the temple of cathartic bombast will be opened for prayer meetings again.
The following title track is a parade example of my ‘movements vs. songs’ argument. Completely forgoing the instant accessibility through hymnic verses and majestic melodies now, these slowly ascending nine minutes of ambient noises, distant vocalizations and patiently droning guitar aren’t meant to stand alone as a single, yet rather serve as a dramatic build-up before Forlesen suddenly turn the switch and indeed enter ‘black terrain’: “Harrowed Earth” bursts into a [spoiler alert] unexpected ferocious Black Metal thunderstorm. The frenzy endures long but not forever, because somehow at one point the band thinks [next spoiler alert] that it’s time to maintain the gnarling Sludge Metal bass, but juxtapose it with vocals and guitars right out of the Roger Waters songbook. And this blackened PinkFloydgaze proves to be a brilliant idea.
The next ten minutes, first half of the closer “Saturnine”, belong to two of the purest movements of Black Terrain with atmospherically meandering ambient, supported by trumpet and glockenspiel performances of guest Leila Abdul-Rauf, and its short but satisfying Drone Metal resolution, before the band closes the circle and returns to the catchiness of “Strega”. With clerical choir vocals and an elevating undertone Forlesen lift us up high into the stratosphere and release us into the beautiful void. Whether we keep floating or drop down back to Earth - the journey was worth it!
Released by I, Voidhanger Records, Black Terrain is already the band’s second album. Just to avoid an overkill of information during writing I haven’t listened to their 2020 debut Hierophant Violent (on Hypnotic Dirge Records) yet. But now that this is done you can bet that I will do so. These gifted doom storytellers deserve all the attention we can possibly muster.