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Hypnotic atmosphere - 90%

andreipianoman, January 18th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Independent

Black Forest is a young band taking the "Wintersun genre" as a starting point for their work. From the guitar style to the vocals and use of orchestra, it is pretty clear that this new group draws a lot of inspiration from the Finnish melodic death, symphonic, power oriented genre that has grown in recent years with bands like Wintersun, Ensiferum, Frosttide, Whispered and so on. It would seem that as more bands choose this path, things would start getting redundant and obsolete, but Black Forest have found a very unusual and distinctive way of giving it a new face and making it their own.

Dream is a very satisfying and concise album that is made to stand out. The way I see it, what brings its unique print forward is the fact that although they've used most of the elements in the previously mentioned "epic" metal genre, it all comes around to making the music immersive and atmospheric as opposed to the expected glorious and majestic effect. It doesn't feel that much energetic as it is hypnotic and relaxing. The cover artwork should be the first to indicate this. Although a bit "too pink" it is a very good way of understanding what this album is trying to express and I feel that there is a very strong connection between the artwork, title and the music itself.

From the very first notes, the intention becomes clear as a swirling piano run embodies the falling petals on the artwork and a mystical synth and orchestra background starts building around you and withering all signs of reality away. It almost feels like you're caught in some sort of weird spell. As the metal elements kick in, the full soundscape is on full display and remains this way throughout the record. The guitars are all fast and dynamic although a bit buried under all the orchestra and the drumming sets a pretty power metal-ish pace over which the distinctive Jari vocal style completes the recipe. Moving through ups and downs, more mellow parts and more dynamic elements, the Austrian group have no difficulty in keeping you wired into their music with each song feeling slightly better than the previous.

The composition is arguably not very good if you are to judge in comparison to similar bands that came before. Every instrument could just appear as Wintersun only less. However, they still come off as pretty skilled musicians and the technicality is undeniably impressive. The guitars go through fast riffing, beautiful melodies and shreddy solos that maintain a powerful sense of fluidity. The drums also stand out every now and then with some pretty impactful strums on the pedals but usually stay on the background and keep the rhythm flowing. The bass I'm afraid is not too relevant as it is a bit too buried in the mix and hard to distinguish but easier to just feel its depth. And this is where I fell they're gone a little wrong... While the production is excellent in portraying the image they had in mind, it does take away from the quality of the sound. I'm not sure if this came out of lack of material possibilities or if its just an honest mistake but it does feel slightly flawed. However, it doesn't take away too much from the experience and I assure you that Dream is still a very enjoyable album.

Another "bug" I would say is the track listing at the beginning of the album with two intro tracks (Prelude and Intro) where the second one is obviously just a part of the following song, Darkened, and it shouldn't have been separated in order to maintain a better flow to the album. Also as the songs are connected, Dream doesn't really come as the best choice for listening to individual songs and works better as a full stream. Moonlight is the only song that I enjoy listening to separately as it doesn't feel cut out, but it's not my favorite. That would have to be the title track as it seems to add more diversity, taking a darker tone, with an eerie sense in the keyboard and symphonic elements as well as a more cinematic vibe.

The instrumental outro "Memories" is also a crucial piece to the puzzle as after all the songs seemed to keep building a deeper and more intense atmosphere, this one works very well to detensify. It's soothing, relaxing, very melodic and eases your way out of the fantasy realm that you've been kept in throughout the record.

In the end, most of this album's flaws aren't enough to take their toll on the experience and as it's been kept at a humble 34 minutes run-time, it comes around as an easy and very enjoyable listen that I strongly recommend. There is a lot of potential in this group and I hope they keep evolving and getting even better but for now, they really deserve the recognition.

Of dreams and surpassing the teacher. - 92%

hells_unicorn, December 4th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Independent

One of the best ways to measure the impact of any precedent is through the follow up work of its emulators, and say what one might about the iconic yet controversial debut and eponymous opus of Jari Mäenpää's labor of love Wintersun, it has several respectable ones to consider. In addition to the alleged cult leader having a highly skilled set of disciples churning out respectable slabs of atmospheric and highly ambitious melodic death metal of late, one would be remiss to gloss over the staying power as with 14 years having now passed, new acts are paying homage to it in their own unique way to this very day. Case and point is the recently born Austrian six-piece Black Forest, which has taken up the Wintersun cause with its own assortment of individual quirks and caveats, resulting in a fairly formidable yet compact collection of dense and nuanced compositions dubbed Dream that somehow manages to take Jari's northern sense of nature-based meditation and reflection to an even more sonically vivid conclusion.

While making little secret for its utter affinity for the aforementioned Finnish outfit, this band's multi-instrumentalist and assumed principle figure Thomas Reichhart has a few unique tricks up his sleeve to breath a healthy degree of distinctiveness into this creature. Though Jari himself has been a fair bit obsessed with symphonic detailing in his latter day works with Wintersun (he credits it with the massive gap in time between the debut and Time I), this album is even more of a symphonic creature, lavishing in lush orchestral landscapes and a particularly virtuosic display in the piano and harp department that occasionally reminisces on the astounding and consequential contributions to the melodeath sound as heard on Skyfire's Timeless Departure. Other noteworthy influences that creep out of the woodwork during the array of instrumental movements within this grand symphony include the film score tendencies of French composer turned symphonic power metal writer Peter Crowley and German epic folk purveyors Equilibrium, albeit without the drinking song and schlager moments.

Structured as more of a theatrical event than a traditional metal outing, Dream walks a thin line between being a full length endeavor and simply being a compact EP with some extra interlude material at the fringes. Things unfold with a series of two introductions in "Prelude" and "Intro" respectively, the former being a lofty symphonic overture of sorts with a continuous volley of flowing piano and harp notes like gusts of wind and waves of water dashing against each other, while the latter introduces the rest of the band in a heavier and shorter light with the lead guitar unleashing rapid volleys of notes like water and wind combined and the rhythm section brings on the thunder. Once the proper songs with proper melodeath growls ensue, this album's affinity for the Wintersun debut becomes far more apparent, complete with the obligatory assortment of breakneck drumming and frenzied lead guitar displays that one wished Jari and Kai had stuck to on said band's latter day offerings, yet with a less exaggerated tone and a greater emphasis on atmosphere.

When discounting the subtle nuances in stylistic devices at play on here relative to its prime object of emulation, one might also be quick to note a slightly different approach in general execution. This is perhaps most apparent in vocalist Fabian Moik's approach, which trades out any clean sung elements or glass-shattering Halford screams for a more traditional dual approach of frosty harshness and an occasionally deeper and more Amon Amarth inspired bark, most notably during the somewhat Neo-classically tinged and more moderately frenetic "Dawn". Likewise, the songwriting takes on a bit more of a tasteful and memorable array of chaos and splendor during its longer works in line with somewhat older students of the Wintersun way like Brymir and Frosttide. This is perhaps best illustrated in the utterly astounding and magical excursion into nocturnal mystery "Moonlight", which takes the keyboard-soaked character of early Skyfire and the deep layered, dreamy feel of Insomnium and hybridizes it perfectly with the flash and flair of Jari's magnum opus song "Starchild".

Terms like masterpiece and new classic tend to get thrown around more and more of late, but if Black Forest establishes anything here, it is that those terms are not necessarily being employed inappropriately in every case. Though relatively short in scope and a bit unorthodox in its overall architecture, this is one of those truly spellbinding musical experiences unique to the more technical fringes of melodic death and folk metal that manages to be both a grower and a shower all in one. It doesn't quite edge out the album from which it draws the majority of its influence, nor does it quite surpass the historic shot heard round the world that was Timeless Departure, but it showcases a young fold of musicians that may well be capable of doing so in the near future. It's ultimately a bit more tied to the recent movie soundtrack craze that many symphonic bands have been caught up in since the beginning of the current decade than the classics, but it will appeal to any fan of the Finnish scene since the early 2000s and the scattered adherents throughout the rest of Northern Europe.

Later published to The Metal Observer (www.metal-observer.com) on March 1, 2019.

Well it's Dreamy - 84%

Livingwave17, August 4th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Independent

Black Forest is a very new band that came into existence seemingly out of nowhere on a Wintersun fan group a few months ago. They hail from the city of Vienna and come to give us their vision of modern epic melodic death metal. Similarities can be found with the likes of the aforementioned Wintersun as well as other epic metal acts such as Insomnium, Frosttide, or Ensiferum. Attempting to make a name in this field, the young Austrians have released on March 3rd 2018 a modest and compact debut of 7 tracks and just 34 minutes in length. Having a personal affinity for this sort of music I decided to give this band a go and see if they are worthwhile.

The album kicks off with a sampled instrumental prelude that will instantly bring that northern dreamy atmosphere into place. Around 3 minutes of orchestrations introduce the album with a harmonious collection of synths, piano and strings effects similar to what you can find in symphonic metal. The follow-up is a one minute intro of riffing that shows the technical and virtuous skills of the guitars with some chugs followed by a beautiful guitar duel. In the third track the screams come in completing the soundscape with the harsh voice and the lyrical idea of the album. I loved the way these 3 tracks start the album, immersing you into the music and into the concept gradually, just adding layer after layer until they fill up the recipe. It’s a great way to for the band to show us their version of epic metal and it is very similar to most of what you can find in this genre but it does have its own personality as well.

What this band has done is take a well-known and successful recipe and try to make it their own. At the risk of getting lost in the crowd, they have mostly succeeded, creating a new face to this genre and it’s not the best but it is new. The riffs are based on fast chugging sounds and some more melodic sounds but the leads are the sweet part of the guitar work. A bit of neo-classical baroque vibe can be felt within the solos and melodies, and coming on top of the orchestral background, it creates a really dreamy atmosphere, However, it’s still powerful due to the heavier riffing and the harsh vocals. The voice is a higher pitched scream, similar to the voice of Jouni Valjakka from Whispered, and it is accompanied by the occasional low growl. It’s quite a sorrowful interpretation and it blends nicely with the instrumental.

Now, this is a very small band, so don’t expect a huge wall of samples or any extreme hi-fi magic here. Compared to what other albums in the field do, Black Forest’s debut sounds like it was mixed in a shed. Probably the weakest point of the album is the low-fi mix that buries the bass under the guitars and synths and doesn’t exactly make this album sound big. The guitars and growls could use more depth and the drums might be samples, not sure about it though. In this genre, you expect a very powerful and clear sound, but that is expensive and hard to achieve, so while the songs are good in terms of composition, they are not entirely valued by the mix. The album sounds a bit flimsy for the epic tag. Overall it is quite satisfying but the occasional “This needs more power" keeps coming to mind.

This band may not be “The Most” at anything because the task that they have set themselves is a tricky one. However they surpass some of their contenders in the songwriting department. Unlike Insomnium’s albums, this one defies predictability a bit more, and it is a lot more emotional than the latest Ensiferum. You know what to expect as an overall sound, but there are some bridges, interludes and solos that spark one’s interest a lot, showing a lot of creativity. For example, in the song ‘Moonlight’ after two verses and choruses, the song suddenly dims into a soft melancholic part that evolves into a beautiful solo, before returning to the chorus. They do suffer from a few verse chorus repetitions and it also feels a bit uninspired that many songs end with the tempo slowing down, but these flashes of creative input really make up for it. Another creative aspect is how all songs are connected, so while streaming the album you can’t even tell where one song ends and another begins. This makes for an even more inspired idea, when you see the lyrics. The whole album is a journey within a dream, where somebody wakes up in a darkened forest and throughout the album tries to find his way out. The lyrics give meaning to the music, creating a mystical atmosphere, a lot like diving into a dream. And all the natural elements that the concept describes seem to come alive in songs like “Darkened” “Dawn”, “Moonlight” or the title track. It’s a really cool contrast alternating between nostalgic and uplifting vibes and I really like the way it is represented in the cover artwork, with the owl and the falling leaves. This album has a very nocturnal yet refreshing vibe to it and it just feels soothing. The exit from this “Dream” is yet another instrumental tune, following just a single melodic idea, through piano, synths & violins accompanied by a clean guitar. This last track titled “Memories” is a really cool album closer touching on the edge of folk music.

It’s not like this band has redefined the epic metal field, but they have created a valid record and I see a lot of potential here, They may suffer from a bit of a lack of originality and an unwanted low-fi sound, but they hit all the good marks on the songwriting side and even surpass some of their “competition” when it comes to sending emotion. I’m not overly excited about this album but this band has captured my interest enough for me to follow them and see their future work. I see big potential here and I invite you to check out and support this band yourself. At the links below you can listen to their music and put to the test what I have said, but I’m confident that I wasn’t wrong.

Enjoy!

https://blackforestmetal.bandcamp.com/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLmaRE9hi_g
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0to-WImG0o