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Back in action after a decade of silence, Forgotten Woods offer a third album of fairly simplistic raw black metal not too dissimilar from their previous efforts in stylistic character, despite certain pronounced incorporations of riffs and rhythms from punk and rock music, and a generally expanded sense of musical exploration albeit within a distinctly defined soundpicture. Perhaps the most significant shift is the change in lyrical topic, from the mystery of natural darkness and explorations of spiritual manifestations of nature, to a decidedly more political/social direction championing fascism and social Darwinism over liberal egalitarian Christianized democracy, a subject which, while intelligently and even poetically considered, doesn’t always reflect in the music with the expressive character one would expect.
Simple riff constructions guide these songs to various degrees of extension and structural involvement, played loosely, with noticeable enthusiasm for guitar noise, somewhat reminiscent of the late-80s/early-90s noisy guitar rock bands like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., not in style of riffs and melodic formation, but in blatant celebration of pure sound distortion, often heard behind or between formal riffs and lead lines. This more experimental approach to guitar, which occasionally leans toward the curiously playful, adds textural dimension to this otherwise quite basic display, though when the guitarists get too locked into a dissonant idea to the point of unnecessary repetition it can produce a slightly annoying effect, usually countered by a following melodic lead (see the bizarre blackened indie-rock tune “One Day” for alternating instances of this feature).
Vibrating rhythm in a pulse of its own current, bass fills out the sound behind guitars with an emphasis on the divisions within structure rather than a hope of distinction, more felt than heard in the driving attack or groove of rhythm. Drums are played with a similar loose abandon as the guitars, not terribly distinct, but steady in the drummer's flexibility in basic rock beats as well as whipping blasts, at times, particularly in “Jedem das Seine / Erasing the Fuckhead Majority”, reinforcing the authoritarian theme with totalitarian beats bashed out with primal energy of human percussive compulsion. Rough and scruffy vocals are delivered with a seeming disregard for formal arrangement which benefits their expressive presence, growling and grunting in various ranges of tone and emphasis, completely unconcerned with the clarity of articulation, at times letting out an alarming squawk the likes of which a pterodactyl might have made while swooping in for a kill (see again “One Day”, final vocal remark before last verse).
“Far beyond your wildest imagination
we’ll create a kingdom to ruin all entire nations.
Embraced by darkness we’ll gather the purest of evil
to ruin the face of the earth and control our suffering world.”
Not as interesting in structure as in raw tonal presence and relation between melody and rhythm, these songs make their mark through expressive eccentricity and near-psychedelic twists of familiar themes. There is diversity in song forms, ranging from quick blasts of DarkThrone-style grimly cold black metal (“A Landmine Reprisal”, “Jedem das Seine / Erasing the Fuckhead Majority”) to longer workouts like “Here, in the Obsession” and “Third Eye (New Creature)” featuring unexpected extended diversions from the defining musical theme; a sudden lengthy clean guitar reflection vaguely echoing the main melodic riff in the former, and an overlong and poorly placed sample of a debate between Christian talk-show host Bob Larson and an advocate of police state politics in the latter. The composition is engaging if not masterful, with enough interesting ideas arranged to both maintain anticipation and momentum, while mostly avoiding the monotony of expectant formulation.
The punk influence shows itself most clearly in the one-two bounce-beat and vocal rhythm at the beginning of “Here, in the Obsession”, but creeps up in less pronounced events throughout the disc. There are a few riffs and rhythms that are taken right out of 1970s rock of the mildly psychedelic persuasion, most definitively in “Nightly Paradise”, when they quickly cut from blasting black metal to an unapologetic grooving rock riff complete with rock ‘n’ roll guitar solo. “The Principle and The Whip” features folk-style percussion, clean guitars, and lead female vocals in the creation of a song differing in tone and presence from the rest of the disc, but manages to find a harmonious location in the album’s order, due to some extent to its following the contemplative clean guitar closure of “Here, in the Obsession”, which gives it a sense of continuity in the track sequence. The music is unmistakably in the tradition of early Norse black metal at its core, even with these occasional detours into punk, rock, and folk territories, and the band’s general expressive oddness gives them a distinct sense of individuality and makes for an intriguing if not entirely compelling listening experience.
The sound, as much an aesthetic statement as the music, is utterly raw, dirty, and organic, as if the band ripped this thing out in one live take in a garage, including occasional dips in volume and noticeable mistakes in performance. This can be quite a strange and demented album at times, even during its more conventional moments; it sounds wrong and fucked up in its basic constitution, no doubt receiving some of that quality from its less than cohesive design, as well as to a somewhat lesser degree the bizarre but thought-stimulating, thematically representative images of the CD packaging. While it may be a more interestingly curious listen than the band’s previous two albums, nothing here contains the mystery and atmosphere of those efforts, and it is largely due to this that, as good as it is within the context of its own conception, Race of Cain will not inspire as many repeat listens.
Forgotten Woods have always drawn from older influences. Their earlier works return to pre-metal elements of 1960’s rock with organic productions and expansive song structures that almost seem improvised. “Race of Cain” is still going back in time, but it marks a significant departure from the band’s other works. Instead of going back to the Velvet Underground, the album re-discovers the roots of black metal. Think Burzum’s “War” or early Countess. It’s simple, catchy, fist-pumping music, but the personality the band brings to “Race of Cain” keeps it from being derivative.
However, the album suffers some of the same pitfalls of earlier black metal that are just not appropriate for 2007. After an irritating noise intro, the production quality here shows itself to be even worse than their ten-year-old albums. It is quite clearly a deliberate calculation on the part of the artists, and it goes along with the “fuck off” mentality of the album. “Race of Cain,” as a whole, just feels sloppy, though some might find a certain charming quality in that. It is undoubtedly a flawed album, but it’s flawed by design.
The production becomes a problem when it isn’t internally consistent. The tracks give the impression that they were recorded at different times, almost like Gorgoroth’s “Destroyer.” For example, “Land Mine Reprisal” sounds much worse than “One Day,” and it’s disorienting when one follows the other. The guitars in “Land Mind Reprisal” are muddy and wishy-washy, and the blastbeats make them sounds more so. “One Day” is clearer, a slower head-bobbing song pushed along by a simple guitar line. “Intolerance Is the New Law” even shifts gear halfway-through. The first half has the typical garage sound that Forgotten Woods has established, but then the song turns to a much better quality. Why wasn’t the whole album of this quality if it sounds much better?
The vocals suffer the most from the production. It’s true that the vocals of Forgotten Woods have always been an acquired taste. “Race of Cain” abandons the cavernous echo and high-pitched howls of earlier releases for underwhelming, mid-ranged rasps. For the most part, they are unmoving, bland, and were recorded badly. In the context of the music, they have to sound this way. Forgotten Woods made it their mission to resurrect older forms, but in this case it’s a bit restrictive.
Though “Race of Cain” may be internally fractured, the album is united by a right-wing theme of sadomasochism. Politics aside, this is where the band’s playful personality comes through. “The Principle and the Whip” is the “With Swans I’ll Share My Thirst” of the album. It is an oddball of a song, driven by mumbled female vocals and obscured by fuzzy guitars. A marked shift to the melancholy, the song most reflects the quirky cover art in that it comes across as a sadomasochistic love song.
In fact, Forgotten Woods does the theme very well, and it’s what keeps the album from degenerating into an anachronistic take on early black metal. “Third Eye” covers many years of musical evolution. It starts off with incredible energy and an easy head-banging beat like Burzum’s “War.” Then, the music shifts into a style reminiscent of the band’s earlier outputs—sweeping melodies, extended drum fills, and a pensive mid-paced tempo. The cries of “Sieg Heil!” shouldn’t bother the listener because they’re more of an aesthetic appeal, rather than a political one. Forgotten Woods are channeling the energy of intolerant regimes for art’s sake. “Third Eye” is interrupted by a radio discussion between Boyd Rice, a fascist folk and industrial musician, and Bob Larson, a fanatical Christian. Though a bit lengthy, it is an enlightening moment that really expresses what “Race of Cain” is about.
The primary mode of the album is one of self-conscious nostalgia. It recalls the enthusiasm of early black metal, just as it recalls the violence of history. However, it is not at all pretentious. Forgotten Woods adhere to simplicity without being unoriginal. “Race of Cain” assumes something between a jester costume and knee-high military boots. This image may be an eccentric, flawed one, but the album itself is both eccentric and flawed.
This entire CD is flowing over with nihilism and misanthropy, the way it should be. But unlike so many bands today that are over the top with their mainstream satanism (Dimmu Borgir), Forgotten Woods offers up a true piece of raw nihilistic art.
The intro starts out the CD with highly overdriven tones layered, with a mechanical voice chanting bits of Christian dogma; "a being so pure ..... God is love ... God is love..." Perfect atmosphere to get this CD going. It is an unsettling track, and does a great job at showing the hypocrisy which underlies main stream Christianity.
The guitars are raw but fully audible, interwoven simple riff structures but still managing to create great melody and memorable moments in each track. The drums are un-triggered, and complement the song structures rather than being overly complex, nor do they rampage full speed ahead with constant blast beats like so many black metal bands these days. The songs are filled with a lot of different non musical "noises", giving a kind or mechanized feel. Mechanized not in the way of Zyklon but more sublime, reflecting the rawness of modern society with its pre-packaged religion for the masses.
Also notable is, Third Eye (New Creature); featuring clips of one of the sickest Christian preachers, Bob Larson. The man is a lunatic, and does a fantastic job at showing anyone with ears to hear, the hypocrisy of not only Christianity but all religion.
I would not pass this CD up, it is a great part of any black metal fans collection. The rawness and primitive of it makes it one of the most memorable black metal CD's around. The recording is perfect for the style, staying raw without sacrificing audibility of the instruments. Give this CD a few listens, you must actively listen to fully appreciate all nuances of it, this is not background music.
Having seen some very glowing reviews about the comeback album by Forgotten Woods, I was keen to find out for myself whether it's as good as what people say. The album's title may be a reference to a poem "Race du Cain" by the 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire in which the privileged descendants of Abel are overthrown by the offspring of his brother Cain; but whereas Cain's children in the poem represent the oppressed and the ostracised who reclaim their rights and dignity, on this album the Race of Cain become the superhumans whose destiny is to rule the Race of Abel, those pampered sheeple masses addicted to their electronic toys, junk food diets, trash pop culture, feel-good religion and SUV's who deserve their fate of slavery. Fascism and knowing your proper place in the new fixed order of things are posited as the natural society of humans and democracy and notions of equality become relics of a past deluded historical age.
The music itself is mostly raw punk-sounding melodic black metal of a not very outstanding kind with ragged vocals and rough edge to the guitar tones. Apart from the wild and furious "A Landmine Reprisal",and the instrumental fast parts of "Here, in the Obsession" and "Nightly Paradise", the black metal here can be fairly ordinary and even stodgy as on "One Day', the first proper BM track which sounds as though the guys are playing on autopilot. Melodies on some tracks like "Third Eye (New Creature)" don't seem original or particularly inspired.
The standard lifts with "The Principle and the Whip" which features female singing, some pleasant rocking folksy rhythms and a good beginning with flying guitar riffs but even here I get the impression that some of the guitar-playing and even the guitar sound itself have come straight out of an old 1960's or 1970's rock song with very little change or reinterpretation. Oh yeah, now I see, that's supposed to be the "psychedelic" aspect of this album: I had thought when the reviews were talking about the album being psychedelic they were referrring to trancey, mind-bending, jaw-dropping freaky music bits that distort your sense of time and space. The one bit of the album that is anything like my idea of "psychedelic" is the seesaw guitar bit in "Nightly Paradise", that's a really great piece of mindfuck music but unfortunately the only piece.
Now the really important track is "Third Eye (New Creature)" which features repeated choruses of "Sieg Heil!" and a long middle section which is an excerpt from the US radio show "Talkback with Bob Larson" in which the eponymous Christian preacher interviews (or mostly argues with) an avowed Social Darwinist. Any Australians reading this may like to know this preacher is the same guy who tried to exorcise demons from the Australian prankster journalist John Safran in the last episode of the latter's 8-part comedy documentary series "John Safran Vs God" in which the cheeky fellow investigated a number of religions and cults and apparently collected enough exotic spiritual influences that he needed a clean-out. I myself haven't seen this episode but I hear it's an incredible half-hour slab of Australian TV. I also found out that Bob Larson did conduct exorcisms on his radio show (and once invited Glen Benton as a guest but I think the other guy declined - Deicide fans, be thankful he did!) so I sure wonder what we could have ended up with if Larson had tried to purge his Social Darwinist guest of his beliefs - we might have had a real clash of values of the Race of Abel and the Race of Cain here!
Anyway as it is, the excerpt is not very riveting listening with the guys interrupting each other and wandering all over the place, gabbling about teenage pregnancy and HIV among other things, and it takes too long to get to the part where the guest admits he is in favour of a police state which is the whole point of having it on the album.
This is quite a good record but it's not adventurous and for a comeback people who know Forgotten Woods are entitled to expect more. Had this been a debut by a new band I'd have rated it more. I have the impression that Forgotten Woods had their eye on a more mainstream hard rock or post-rock audience with this recording in case they decide to make their comeback permanent. A lot of the guitar-playing sounds like it's just straight commercial hard rock and some of the drumming is like that too. Quite often in the same track - "The Principle and the Whip" and "Nightly Paradise" are good examples - the mediocre deja vu stuff sits side-by-side with the unusual but brief bits and guitar breaks.
This is only my opinion by the way but I think that with an album like this where the theme is about supporting or justifying an elite of superhumans ruling over the masses, the music really should be extreme, musically, lyrically or in atmosphere. I don't mean melodramatic or theatrical - I'm thinking more about the musicians really going out on a limb to produce the best music they can as if their lives depended on it and listeners being able to hear and feel the passion and energy. "Race of Cain" actually comes across as too well-behaved and controlled for a recording of this kind.
This album really surprised me. This is not your typical reunion album. Forgotten Woods have regressed back into demo territory with a very raw and nihilistic album. A few long (anti)religious samples set the tone and the music straddles somewhere in between "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" Darkthrone and possibly some of the faster Opthalamia riffs. The vocals remind me quite a bit of Norway's old Abysmal.
I think it is a wonderful statement from this band that they chose to reemerge into the scene with such an unpolished album as their previous efforts were moving in a more smooth hypnotic direction. Perhaps that is what causes its tone to seem even more nihilistic than your typical raw black metal album.
Press releases point towards moments of psychedelia but I will admit that I do not find that to be readily apparent in a scene with Lurker of Chalice's and Nachtmystium's. There are some whining and howling solo parts. Perhaps the discomfort and shock of the garage recording has a psychological effect more akin to psychedelic states than the prog references of the aforementioned bands.
At any rate, it is wonderful to see this band again and wonderful to see them offering up something that clearly was not designed to appease anyone. Kudos.