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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.