without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
The second part of the greatest trilogy from legendery norwegian band is one of most favourite in my album collection. We can even compare these classical BM releases with the Tolkien's trilogy "The Lord Of The Ring" by their greatness and significance to black metal (many band and artist names are taken from the book about Mordor, probably because Tolkien narrates about the dark sides of human soul and imperfection of being). But the importance of Forgotten Woods to black metal, during the second wave, is also absolutely incontestable.
In my opinion this outstanding trilogy is equal and I cannot single out the best. "Sjel Av Natten" is just the logical continuation of "As The Wolves Gather" and "The Curse Of Mankind" is the logical completion of both previous. Their last work "Race of Cain" has another point and deeply differs from the preceding, but there's no matter. But they still have their own unique style, which nobody can repeat (there were some attempts like Woods Of Infinity's "Hejda", but this one was only poor exuse for FW). They proved it once again in Joyless with album "Unlimited Hate". By the way, there are some "covers" on their consequent side-project on "Sjel Av Natten".
In short, everything is the same as on their previous masterpiece. The vocals are as harsh, the riffs are still raw, melodies are outstanding at the same way, so, everything is as great as on "As The Wolves Gather". But after the listening to "Sjel Av Natten" you will never have an impression that you heard something identical with the early release. That is the main virtue of the Greatest: to save the resembling sound, being original and special at the same time and avoid the reiteration. So, Forgotten Woods still has a little bit distorted sound with rough vocals, amazing raw guitars, scarcely noticeable basses and brilliantly done drum work with ringing cymbals.
"Sjel Av Natten" has three original songs, two untitled tracks from some demo releases and strange hidden track, which lasts 16 seconds. The first song, which bears the name of the album is sustained in "usual" FW's style. But on the second song I want to go into detail. Honestly, I wonder how can people create such masterpieces. It starts with unspeakable melody (which could be compared only with melody inSolstafir's "I Myself The Visionary Head") accompanied with beautiful raw vocals, which totally staggers you. This riff recurs a few times during the song. Also in the middle of the track we can hear extremely beautiful solo, lasting for approximately 1-1,5 minutes. The riff about which I was talking above completes the song and absolutely finishes you off. The next song is the superb example of greatness and magnificence of Forgotten Woods.
"Sjel Av Natten" is the real classics of black metal and it is obligatory for listening and buying this EP from Forgotten Woods. Even if you don't like them, you should have this one at least out of regard for the great band.
For as long as music has existed, there has always been some segment of it--however small, marginal, or obscure (forgotten?)--that has belonged to the night. From ancient pastoral music to the vivacious, synthetic libidoloop soundtrack of tomorrow's nightclubs, it is there...somewhere. Classical, blues, jazz, country, folk, rock, punk, electro...even pop, or anything else that one might feasibly conceive of, all harbor at least some small number of expressions--a few artists, a few albums, a few songs, perhaps even just a few notes--inspired by, dedicated to, or otherwise redolent of the night. The character, nature, and subject matter of these expressions are of many variations; as numerous as are the stars that hang in the night sky. Mystery; vitality; serenity. The hidden; the open; the free. Dreams and nightmares; peace and unrest ; beginnings and endings. Absolute shrieking terror, religious awe, unrelenting bloodlust, and young love. All of this and so much more...a panoply of what one might call "nocturnal emissions of the soul."
Of course, such odes are far more anomalous in some musical traditions than in others. Metal is no stranger to the night. Indeed, if anything, it belongs far more to the night than to the day, flourishing under the moon rather than the tactless, boorish sun. All true forms of metal are at home in the night, though some are more given to earnestly exploring its depths and portents than are others. Death, doom, and particularly black metal regularly treat directly with the night--what it means, what it stands for, how it feels, or perhaps simply what lurks within it. Yes, metal abounds with recountances of starlitten sabbaths, tales of the tenebrously vibrant "life" that graveyards, tombs, and crypts see at night, odes to old castles by moonlight, and spirited retellings of Satan's many naughty nocturnal nightcaps in the nunnery down the block, to name but a few; each a picture painted or story told with sound. But even if metal is closer to the night than most other traditions, its expressions, too, are but particular shades--mere molecules--of the night. Even in metal, pieces that truly capture the essence of the night itself are exceedingly rare.
Rare, but extant. Sjel av Natten is such a piece. This EP, in its roughly thirty minutes, fleetingly encapsulates all that the is the night. Not as a range of moods and shades, but a single one...the one that in some way encompasses all of the countless others. This is not simply of the night; in a sense, it is the night, discrete from any simple qualifier. Its sound is not readily classified as either pessimistic or optimistic; neither malevolent nor benevolent; and certainly nothing so fleeting and as "evil" or "good."
The quality of the recording itself reminds of nothing quite so much as a laid back old rock record--sounding something like an America cut with a bit of additional electric bite and more percussive presence, perhaps. Simple, yet spacious. The main electric, anything but domineering or showy, is a smooth not-quite-blur, like the sound of a stream over aeon-rounded stones in its bed, or perhaps like the night wind. A relatively gentle, even lulling, sound. This is not to say that the electric strings take after the "hypnodrone" approach--not at all. Much as a night wind will often neither buffet like a fist nor carve like a knife, but rather suddenly snake its way through chinks in one's clothing, bringing a slight chill; or sinuously and suddenly change direction and intensity, stroking one about the face playfully, but stirringly; so too do these usually minor-key, often slyly rock-tinged guitar melodies have a way of becoming the center of attention when one least expects it. Initially, the riffs will sort of introduce themselves to you and then fade into the background--the electrics work at the bottom of the mix most of the time--only to occasionally glide forth with a graceful doomy sweep, perhaps accompanied by a clean, clear lead, though these are used very sparingly. Indeed, the album has no one particular "lead instrument." The role is at times taken up by the lead electric, at times by the ever-shifting acoustic accompaniment, and quite often by the bass. The latter is played in a versatile style, alternating between providing a mist-cloaked firmament for the airier electrics and acoustics to work against, and itself leading the way with cool, clean, decidedly "vintage" melodies, clear and eloquent, yet subtle and restrained.
The string section as a whole is lower in the mix than the drum track, which might seem odd, but it functions quite well--drumming is primarily a simple, steady rock-based beat (there is not a single full-fledged blast to be found here, although parts of "Hvor Vinteren Rår" come close), adorned with modest yet quite classy rolls and fills here and there for emphasis. The final element, the vocals, are of the (what would now be called 'traditional') throaty shrieking style popularized by Varg Vikerness, though Torkelsen sounds a bit more restrained (perhaps refined) than Vikerness, and he tends to enunciate more clearly. There is very little variation in this department outside of some occasional echo--nor does there need to be. Memorable lyrics, a unique voice, a bizarre or over-the-top style, and general vocal-chord-Kama-Sutra may all be well and good in their own right, but not one of them is a perfect substitute for genuine feeling and conviction, which Torkelsen exudes in spades.
Like the recording itself, the sense of composition is both quite natural and remarkably spacious. As with the night, all is in harmony; each performance fully individuated yet engaged in a constant (if subtle) interplay with all of the others...The main electric the susurrus of the night wind through the trees and valleys and over the mountaintops; the expressive bass sounding through and sometimes above, as the howl of the wolf; acoustic guitars waxing, waning, and sometimes flourishing, as the songs of the nightbirds; the elusive lead electric cutting through the melodious din now and again, as the higher, more capricious voice of the coyote...The humble, yet steadfast drumming as the passing of time, carrying the whole interminably forward, all underlying Torkelsen's vocal reflection of the "mind at night." Each of the three lengthy songs is centered on a distinct melody/theme augmented by a few subsidiary melodies. Always instantly and eminently captivating in and of themselves, these central melodies are introduced early on, and then alternately emphasized and de-emphasized as the song progresses; sometimes downplayed or paused for a folksy set-piece, moody black metal dirge, or closer look at one of the sub-melodies, and at other times highlighted as all of the melodic themes come into alignment with a sublime sense of timing. While it's plain to see (hear, rather) that the three songs are part of one focused work, each is quite distinct from its cohorts--the expansive metal sweep and immaculate pacing of "Sjel av Natten"; the indescribably haunting "En Natt Med Storm Og Ravners Skrik", with its chill bass-lead theme, ghostly clean humming, and striking lead; and the darkly wistful focus of the alternately dreary and energetic "Hvor Vinteren Rår"--boundlessness, mystery, and nostalgia, respectively.
Those interested few of you who missed this treasure the first time around can still find it in the form of Forgotten Woods' boxset Baklengs mot Stupet, which I understand collects 99% of the band's recorded material to date. But remember...it doesn't need you. It doesn't need me. It doesn't need anybody, even those very few who might reasonably be said to "belong" to it. But for these magical thirty minutes, the night will, perhaps paradoxically, welcome you into its eternally aloof and ever-mysterious realm.
Having resurrected themselves (although you could say they never really went away, they just continued plying their trade as Joyless), released a comeback album and recorded its follow-up for release in 2008, Forgotten Woods who are centred around Olav Berland and Rune Vedaa have seen fit to haul out some of their earlier demos and recordings for a new lease on life. Now you can get "Sjel av Natten" as part of a triple album set or you can get it on its own as a re-release on Total Holocaust Records with three bonus tracks (two untitled and the third just not mentioned on the cd sleeve). So if you only discovered FW through the "Race of Cain" comeback album as I did, well now you are spoiled for choice and can check out this early 1994 recording to get some idea of how far FW have come since those early days.
The songs on this release display a fair number of influences and even sound a bit post-metal at times; certainly they cannot be pinned down to one style that can describe them all unless you're talking very generally about "hard rock" which could mean almost anything these days. In a sense then, with regard to their attitude to creating music, the Forgotten Woods of today have not moved far from their beginnings. From the start the title track itself moves from technical death metal lite to a mid-paced hard rock style and back with some jazzy trimmings with the black metal influence apparent mainly in the Burzum-like vocal croak. Occasionally we'll have jaunty passages of melodic clean-toned hard rock guitar with crisp sharp drumming - aack, this is enough to melt the panda paint from our faces.
I ought to mention that all the songs here are sung in Norwegian and the printed lyrics appear in that language only so I can't claim to have any idea of what FW are singing about. With my total non-existent knowledge of Norwegian, I shall go out on a limb and suggest that the BM-like track "En Natt med Storm og Ravners Skrik" makes me think of something like "A Night of Storm and Raven's Shriek": whatever it is in words, in music this is a fine flowing song with a sparkling guitar tone and a strong folkish flavour in its melody and vocals. The ambience is melancholy and maybe nostalgic and there is a salty sea air there, not to mention a seasickness effect in the repetition of the main melody.
"Hvor Vinteren Raar" tends to be a hodge-podge of BM, melodic hard rock, a bit technical death metal here, some folky influences there with various fusions going on at once, it seems. The musicians at times don't appear to be following a particular plan of attack, they play as the mood takes them so the song ends up a wandering patchwork. An improvisational jazz influence may well be at work here.
The two untitled tracks reveal another side to FW as a garage rock band with melodic tendencies. There's no singing in either song and both are basically rock jams with some imrprovisation. The rhythms are meaty and bouncy and almost teeter on dance music / boogie territory. The second unnamed track especially has a raw sound that almost makes the music more like noise rock than anything resembling BM.
A very short hidden track has been snuck in right at the end: it's a spoken word field recording which doesn't add anything much to the rest of the release. Perhaps this tidbit was included to emphasise an artistic continuity from the Forgotten Woods of 1994 to the band as it is now.
Yes, these days the guys may deal in subject matter more complex than foul winter weather and animals crying in the dark and the level of musicianship and technical sophistication in the studio may be greater but I think FW want to reassure us that they've still got the old Forgotten Woods spirit that will stay strong and hale though the band's line-up may change quite often. Certainly back in 1994 they had an open attitude to absorbing and combining elements from different music genres and their musicianship already was sharp and technical and the band of today has been able to pick up where it left off in the late 1990's. Let's hope then that the guys are able to fulfill the early FW promise in their second incarnation.