In the mid 90’s I did some, or rather a lot, of tape trading. Receiving lists and tapes from across half the globe, dubbing and sending tapes back – these activities gave me some of my formative musical experiences. Once, I found something very exciting on a very extensive list maintained by an American. It was Satyricon’s debut demo All Evil, about which I had previously heard nothing, since this was before Discogs and the Internet. I naturally requested it to be dubbed unto the next C90 to be sent my way, and as soon as it arrived I jammed it into my boyroom boom box. What I heard was surprising, yet awesome.
A melancholic, mournful guitar riff over slowish drums, an even more melancholic and mournful bass line, hysterical vocals with an echo effect that just went on forever… I was very satisfied, even though the track listing didn’t match up with the music that followed or the number of tracks. Now, if you’ve heard Satyricon’s All Evil, in fact a self-titled demo that just got to be called that because of the first and last song, you might not recognize the aforementioned description. That makes sense, because as you may have guessed from the headline of this review, the “demo” wasn’t Satyricon at all. It was a couple of Forgotten Woods tracks, including the brilliant “Eclipsed”, that had been put together, mislabeled and then spread between trade lists under the wrong name.
“Eclipsed” is one of those rather few black metal songs that stand perfectly on their own, incarnating something beautiful and great, difficult to pinpoint. In this, it is similar to Emperor’s “I am the Black Wizards”, Burzum’s “Det Som Engang Var” and Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger”, though the sound is very different. And just like “Eclipsed” opened my fake Satyricon demo, it opens the latest and most official reissue of Forgotten Wood’s 1994 album As The Wolves Gather, combined with the EP Sjel Av Natten, compiled on a Digipak CD and released by ATMF. Apparently, there is some sort of conflict with the original label No Colours, but we won’t get involved with any of that here. Black Metal and drama really don’t go well together (just kidding, of course they do, but we’re still not getting involved).
While none of the other tracks reach quite the peak that “Eclipse” constitutes (possibly with the exception of the title track off of Sjel av Natten, which is also magnificent), this is an excellent CD. Had this been released today, it would without a doubt be described as “post black metal”, but really it’s just black metal. Black metal with some strange elements, to be sure, and in no way cliched or cookie cutter, but black metal all the same. The combination of riffing typical of the genre with almost rock’n roll elements, always peppered with wistful guitar melodies and those rabid, echo-drenched vocals – these things were all awesome in the 90’s, and they’re just as awesome today.
Another point that cannot be stressed enough is the fantastic bass work, which probably was unique for the period. Rather than just being a futile attempt to add some low spectrum to a treble dominated guitar wall, as was often the bass player’s role in older black metal bands, on these recordings it is used as an active instrument in its own right. At least as far as the bass goes, Forgotten Woods were the Iron Maiden of 90’s black metal.
The somewhat minimalist production serves only to create a sort of musical intimacy, with each drum beat and strumming of the strings connecting right to the listener. While not as in-your-face with its “trueness” as many other Norwegian acts, these recordings remain two somewhat underrated gems of original, True Norwegian Black Metal.
If you’re a bit older, you are probably already well aware of all of this, but if you’re not, now is the time to familiarize yourself with Forgotten Woods. The album will be released on May 5th, but is already available for pre-order.