Written by Westin
Forlesen – Black Terrain
> Doom/drone metal
> Oregon, US
> Releasing October 28
> I, Voidhanger Records
I am sitting behind my house on my back porch. A soft autumn breeze dances through the bushes and across my feet. Most everything around me is still green, but some trees have already begun yellowing, and yet one more is stark red, a deeply isolated explosion of colour in a monochromatic sea of foliage. The sun beats down directly overhead, so close and drifting closer in our autumnal elliptical journey, but it does not carry the warmth of summer. Instead it carries a dry and curling heat, the heat of a seasonal world that is slowly dying before the coming winter. It is inevitable, slowly crawling towards us with chilled fingers that for now only caress in beautiful hues that remind me of what I’m watching fall to decay and slumber. With headphones on, volume to max, planted directly in the path of Sol, and within view of the trees, I am listening to Forlesen.
Formed back in 2016, Forlesen comprises former Botanist members Ascalaphous and Bezaelith (who is also currently in Lotus Thief) sharing guitar, bass, vocal, and synth duties, Lotus Thief member Petit Albert covering additional guitars, Hammond organ, and backing vocals, rounded out by drummer Maleus, formerly of Kayo Dot and Maudlin of the Well. They released their prior album Hierophant Violent in 2020 and have returned now this year with another ambitious project in Black Terrain, a nearly hour long four-track album with guest/session performer Leila Abdul-Rauf playing glockenspiel and trumpet.
Black Terrain opens on the mountainous “Strega”, a nineteen minute epic of glacial doom that begins with a barely audible dirge that slowly builds into a ballad of beautiful vocal harmonies that match the pace of the guitars. After a long build the song settles into a groovy, rhythmic doom riff that carries enough momentum to feel like the song gains traction after being dragged through muck, yet still remains within that powerfully repetitive and drawn out drone mindset to give a sense of permanent continuity between transition points. Malleus’ drumming on the entire album has to be commended, but I particularly want to highlight it on “Strega” for his ability to masterfully control the tempo and intensity of sections and transition points; fumbled beats or misplaced cymbals could easily derail the carefully constructed emotional ecosystem that Forlesen is crafting out of mud and wind. Two-thirds of the way through the track, Bezaelith takes over the primary vocal duties that slowly become layered with her haunting, painfully gorgeous singing and an echoing whisper of herself that mirrors in soft self-harmony. The lyrics in this back end of the song become particularly poetic, as she ponders the transition of life and death and its mirroring in the evolution of the self through personal growth, as highlighted in “And if to mourn the living, I must become the dead. Do you remember what you were, must I forget?” This layering and emotional excavation build up to crescendo marked by a wrought black metal screech from (I’m assuming) Ascalaphous as the guitars kick into overdrive, powering through expressive melody and fuzzed out mids to slowly draw back down to the valleys of our beginning.
The follow up title track “Black Terrain” continues in a similar but even more singular direction, with one repeated drum groove playing at consistent intervals through the entire track with no variation or fill. The song starts with a monotonous background dirge that sounds to me like wind on the horizon, with Bezaelith’s barely audible vocalizing slowly chanting upwards until she starts singing in full, but still restrained tones. This song is constructed around the build-up of layers of various effects and instruments and the transitions that come from their addition and removal over the core dirge and drum pattern that never cease or alter. It is a sister-track to “Strega” in continuing the ideas from before, but spreading them out more and giving the listener a breather from the emotional journey of the prior song in a more flattened and contained manner.
I am unprepared for the pure black metal that greets me instantly on “Harrowed Earth” – I was drifting, wandering through mindscapes and suddenly plunged into the deep of winter that I previously could only glimpse hints of at the edges of trees and in the dwindling warmth of wind. This is the extreme dark point of the album, the valley between mountains where I am on the verge of drowning in the anguish of screeches and barely legible lyrics like “suicide” and “pitch black” that peak out from shadows in the night. Musically it feels like a genius switchup from the ponderous slab of the front half into an extremely sharp and angular knife in the gut to remind you that Black Terrain is not bringing you along on a purely contemplative walk through the woods but instead is going to leave you there to die, lost in the copse of cedar and fir, left buried beneath pine needles and abandoned birds’ nests, forgotten in the vast wilderness of experience, if you know not how to survive the return trip. Halfway through, “Harrowed Earth” drops the black metal entirely and returns to the slow momentum of doom and drone. Various vocal harmonies, riffs, instrumentals and minimal beat keeping slowly reassemble themselves and awaken (or reanimate) to trudge onwards, moving forward, upward towards the final peak.
“Saturnine” (aptly named for a gloomy disposition) closes out Black Terrain as Forlesen trek through yet another mountain, an eighteen minute coalescence of everything that has created my experience thus far. I encourage you strongly to experience this for yourself and take of it what you will, because the journey for me has ended. The final notes are drifting out and winding down, the valley and the mountains are behind me. I take my headphones off. Sol has retreated behind the trees, now invisible in the backlit shadowing of evening that lights everything up in gold, peach and indigo. The wind still dances gently on the grass, a bird cries, the terrain of my life is unchanged but marching ever onward towards that inevitable winter. No one speaks a word.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Forlesen are not musicians but musical story tellers, masters of tone and rhythm and control, crafting sonic journeys into deeply moving territories of unspeakable experience. This album is an expertly constructed rendition of doom and drone that highlights the members decades of combined experience belying this projects relative newness. Everything about Black Terrain comes together to create one of the most viscerally satisfying albums I have heard throughout the entire year.