Style: Folk Metal
Release Date: 2 Aug 2019
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Finsterforst are one of those bands that you either love or you leave alone and this fifth studio album isn't going to change that. The band's name is a reference to the Black Forest of their home state of Baden-Württemberg and their music is almost as impenetrable as the same Black Forest was to many of the characters of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales. It's not remotely as densely packed as the Fleshgod Apocalypse album I reviewed back in June, but it's a formidable album nonetheless.
Part of that is the fact that this album runs almost eighty minutes long and yet features only five tracks. Never mind Wut and Fluch des Seins, which are both over ten minutes long, and Weltenbrand, which comes really close, Ecce Homo is amazingly longer than all three of those put together. I've reviewed many entire albums this year that run notably shorter than that Ecce Homo on its own! And this is folk metal, not a genre known for its long tracks.
Much of it is the structure of the songs, though. These are immersive slabs of music that aren't remotely constructed out of verse, chorus, verse. That isn't to say that there isn't melody, because there's melody everywhere; it just doesn't lend itself to visualisation of a big picture. There's variety too, plenty of it, but it's spread out over all the tracks so that it fails to help distinguish Weltenbrand from Fluch des Seins and Wut from Zerfall.
In fact, I've listened to this for much of the day and I continually fail to notice when a song ends and another begins, rendering this into one eighty minute track in five relatively similar movements. If that's not your thing, especially on a folk metal album that isn't all accordions and bagpipes and fiddles, then you're likely to hate this with a passion. If you listen to a sample, enjoy the sound and like the idea of immersing yourself in it for an hour, then this is done very well indeed. They're the Opeth of folk metal.
Me? I kind of dig it, even though it'll be a brave radio show that tries to play any of it. If they do, it ought to be Weltenbrand, which starts to make itself known after half a dozen listens, both for many heavy sections and a neatly quiet and intricate section six and a half minutes in. The production is excellent, the drums perfectly placed in the mix. The bass sets the tone and the heavy guitars aid it. The vocals are a highlight, Oliver Berlin ably mixing harsh, clean and choral styles to good effect, though he has help on the latter. Those choral parts sound like monks, sometimes being devout and sometimes clearly testing their mead.
I have a feeling that another half a dozen times through will reap rewards. There's a lot here waiting to be found and I'm already finding some of it. I doubt, however, that any but the diehard fans are going to expend the energy to explore this over weeks. And, you know what, I think Finsterforst are OK with that.