Nestled in the Southwest corner of Germany, Schwarzwald (Black Forest) provides writing inspiration to its native musical counterpart, Finsterforst (Dark Forest). Playing exactly the style of metal one would expect from their name, Finsterforst have been plugging their epic, folksy wares to the masses with four full-lengths now, and Mach Dich Frei does not stray far from their established formula. There are problems, but it is very solid and enjoyable, drawing on Moonsorrow and Wintersun in crafting epic and heavy soundscapes.
I would usually go on to qualify this key strength by briefly describing the key flaw, as an overall description in the introduction. However, allow me to expand on a few flaws which can be summarised very neatly. Imagine, if you will indulge me, my mother. She will concede nothing in any argument, and I’ve always said she would make an excellent politician for her unparalleled ability to avoid difficult questions and divert to other topics. It really is uncanny. Now, going on a long car journey with her can be quite an ordeal. She will be navigating, I will be driving, and sometimes reaching the destination eludes her map-reading skills. We will drive aimlessly for several hours, before she begins pointing out arbitrary landmarks and flora. A gnarled forest. A colourful skyline. A time-ravaged church. She will insist she still knows where we are and where we’re going, but we won’t arrive without having explored everything within a 50 mile radius and approximately five hours late. By the end, I’m wishing the journey to be over due to its sheer length, even if the individual places are quite eye-catching.
This protracted metaphor applies well to Mach Dich Frei. Aside from being unnecessarily long, a few of the songs don’t feel like they’ve meaningfully progressed – like a drive with my dear mum, where travelling in the correct direction is seemingly overrated. “Schicksals End” and “Zeit für Hass” both end with more of the same rather than a big pay-off, which is an issue with music striving for grandiosity. More, they try to distract from this core lack of development by integrating as many different sounds as they can. The opening five and a half minutes of “Schicksals End” feature airy and thick, effectively layered guitar tones, chug, groove, snarled vox, clean shouts, synths with backing chants, horns, an accordion and even some oriental percussion at one point. While these are all entertaining, and it doesn’t feel disjointed, it’s surplus to what I came for – much like the exploration of all the forests and skylines and churches.
By the time you reach “Finsterforst,” the closer, you will be feeling that you’ve had your fill – but its 24-minute length says otherwise. I do not mean to say that the music itself is poor – in fact, taking each song individually, it’s accomplished stuff, with highlight sections in each. The hard rocking lead and savage vox at 2:20 in “Zeit für Hass” is awesome, as is the epic vocal harmony at the mid-point of “Mach Dich Frei,” and the crescendo into full-power blackened aggression at 16:30 in “Finsterforst.” Finsterforst demonstrates great technical ability and awareness of many styles, even if some feel shoe-horned. Glorious fist-pumping and classical pomp abound, and the different tracks all have something to offer. It’s just far too long when taken all together.
With regard to production, though the interludes clock in higher, the full songs register a measly dynamic range of 4. On such music as this, which thrives on its ability to construct an epic soundscape, this is borderline unacceptable and doesn’t so much shoot itself in the foot, as nuke the foot and every forest and church within a 50 mile radius. While it may be acceptable on simpler melodies, the scope of the compositions here necessitates greater sonic depth and definition. Audio peaking is plainly audible at the start of “Finsterforst,” and it even affects my favourite, “Mach Dich Frei,” which does not have the space to fully envelope you in its multiple streams and layers.
This was a difficult one to rate. On one hand, the music is technically competent and very engaging – many of these songs are very enjoyable. On the other, these do not work so well when stitched together into a full record, and the production leaves a lot to be desired. There’s far too much material here for one release, and the pacing is off on a few of the tracks, which exacerbates the issue. I hope to reflect this duality in the score I have given – but numerical values are an inadequate way to judge art, hence the 669 above words. Nonetheless, this comes recommended to folk aficionados. Just consume it in small sips for full appreciation.