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One of the more fascinating bands in the universe of Eastern European black metal is Hate Forest. That’s because of the band’s recording a large amount of very different kinds of black metal and ambient during their 10 or so years of activity, before mastermind Roman Saenko decided to finish up Hate Forest and move on with his new project, the even stranger Blood of Kingu. Within the whole of Hate Forest’s career, few releases are as complete in their coverage of the band’s evolution as is the To Twilight Thickets compilation, which is basically two demos put together: the black metal The Curse and the ambient Temple Forest, two releases which are as different in genre as they are in quality.
First come the eight tracks of The Curse and, frankly, they’re pretty damn disappointing. If there’s one sloppy, stereotypical Hate Forest release, it’s definitely this one. The music on this demo consists of monotonous black metal which tends to go at a slow-to-medium pace from beginning to end. The riffs are acceptable but never truly memorable, and the production’s relative weakness makes sure that the whole guitar part sounds blurred at the best of times, having that typical “very distant” sound so common to the bad kind of poorly produced black metal, although admittedly this was originally recorded as a rehearsal tape. The drumming is a little better, sounding relatively muffled as well but pretty good, and giving the whole thing a bit of atmosphere to work with. Additionally, it’s actually varied.
Finally we come to what is the most distinctive Hate Forest characteristic: the vocals. The guys (almost all members seem to have done vocals at some point, so naming who it might be seems kind of useless) of Hate Forest like to run against established black metal tradition, instead focusing on doing a very low, very death metal-like growl. While the idea itself is definitely not bad, on this particular release it’s a letdown because of the utter monotony of it all. In the end, this portion of the compilation is decent black metal, especially considering that it’s a rehearsal tape, but I rarely find myself running back to it for some quality listening, due to the inherent boredom, missing quality and the presence of much better music, including almost everywhere else in the band’s discography.
I am, however, glad to say that the second part of this compilation, the ambient Temple Forest, is a considerably more enjoyable and impressive piece of work. This does everything an ambient release is supposed to do with style and brilliance. First of all, the sound is blissful. None of the poor production which plagues the black metal portion of the compilation; this demo sounds professionally recorded. The music is very simple, based on keyboard melodies and the thick, dark and primordial atmosphere provided by their correct usage in the hands of a competent musician like Roman Saenko. The soundscapes present herein sound like a more abstract version of the folk-themed ambient created by the same artist under the Dark Ages project. Temple Forest is excellent because, like all good ambient, it evokes many strong emotions and images in the listener’s mind. The words what come to mind while listening to this are mystical, dark, unknown and alien, in the extraterrestrial sense. I don’t know why, but for some reason this demo makes me think of aliens in a forest in a secluded part of Eastern Europe, perhaps connected to ancient, pre-Christian themes as well. Those are the themes and feelings evoked by the very soothing and somehow synthetic keyboard melodies. This, more than any of the actual metal found here, is what truly gives credit to Hate Forest’s members’ true musical talents.
To Twilight Thickets is a very straightforward release. It’s divided into two equal sections, one metal and the other one, ambient. The former is mediocre and unremarkable, while the latter is simply brilliant and essential as the metal-associated ambient that it is. This entire compilation is still worth obtaining over the separate Temple Forest portion, if only for the extra Hate Forest historical value of having the black metal portion.