Forlesen Depict “Harrowed Earth” Through Kaleidoscopic Darkness (Early Track Stream + Interview)
I've seen lots of websites and news outlets call West Coast doom metal quartet Forlesen a lot of things–dark ambient, slowcore, "epic doom metal," and a few other things. Allow me to tell you this: those sites are wrong. Well, mostly wrong, but primarily in the sense that Forlesen's music defies singular categorization. When a reviewer is asked to do this, they flail. Always. I've heard some music called hilarious things, but the point here is simple: Forlesen is many things at once. On new single "Harrowed Earth," Forlesen is, at least mostly, a black metal band, but also a doom metal band, and those "band" ideas resurface in portions of the album, but those other genres people listed up above? They make appearances, too. This could be seen as a lack of identity by others, but Forlesen's own music is smooth and cohesive, always hitting its marks and shifting dynamically with ease. Listen to "Harrowed Earth" and read an interview with songwriter and vocalist Ascalaphus below.
I'm curious about Forlesen's relationship with metal music. Though the album has definite moments of heaviness, there is, to cite something you've said elsewhere, a fleeting nature to it. Do you feel that, even though The Beast of metal is part of the equation, Forlesen is a metal band in totality?
It’s a good question. I think that’s a matter of map vs. territory. Or terrain, if you will, which is one way of interpreting the album title. I enjoy that we exist within a threshold. It suits the nature and themes of the music. On one hand, I’m very conscious of reference points and mindful of what the essential form of a genre I draw influence from is and I want to honor the spirit of that. On the other, I’m not interested in conforming to genre expectations or limitations and actually expressly want to break beyond them and go somewhere new. Swans for instance have made some of the heaviest music ever, but most people wouldn’t call them a metal band, certainly not themselves. Black Sabbath didn’t call themselves heavy metal to start, someone else invented the term. They were just clawing open new sonic space, drawing from their own influences and following their own muse. But since you’re asking me, I am a metalhead, unabashedly. It’s one of many things I am. But I make metal and Forlesen is the expression of that. There's just a lot of other stuff in there clearly.
What types of terrain do you look to traverse with Forlesen?
Ha! Broadly, I guess you could call it the blues. Heavy and generally dark and sad, transporting music. Following and traversing the same current that's present in both Low and doom metal or Mount Eerie and black metal (for instance), but hopefully going some place new with it. Also the terrain where the cosmic/spiritual meets the personal.
Interesting that you would use a genre whose name is also a color to describe an album whose title is also colorful (blues, black terrain, et cetera). In the sense of both, we end up with darker color tones. Would you describe Black Terrain as visual music in that regard?
I definitely would. Both visual and kinesthetic–I mean, obviously we all feel music. But I want it to be music that it feels like you can walk around in. Or, conversely, that can be really claustrophobic. But there's a visual component to that. I've seen a lot of people describe it as music to lay back with your eyes closed to. A psychedelic quality, in the Floydian sense. Immersive. Working with Benjamin Vierling has been great in that regard.
The Vierling cover art is also very striking and very obviously tells a story. Is Black Terrain a concept album?
Not in the King Diamond sense of things. But it centers around themes of dissolution and entropy from the personal to the universal and particularly the way that those overlap - the great in the small and vice versa. Akin to tarot cards in that regard. That is, there is the cosmic or metaphysical construct, and there's how we experience it in our life.
If each track is like a card in Black Terrain's tarot deck, how does each of these four songs tackle the physical-metaphysical union you've described?
It's difficult to find the right words to speak to this because of the nature of the dichotomy… because it's all personal/physical and that's the path we take toward the transcendent. But "Strega" begins from the personal, vulnerable, physical, and immediate. The first lyric about washing a blanket… I wrote that and the main harmonium line together and that was the seed of the album. It felt unsafe to be that raw and unobfuscated. I took that as a sign that I needed to keep going. Hopefully in being that personal, it actually becomes more universal on a human level. And from there, it feels like the point of focus opens up into a universe. And not just that, but it becomes like a dream. The person you are describing is not just the person, it is everything they represent, it is every occurrence of them, it is the way they live in you. "And like straw becomes a flame/these chasms open up in the mundane."
"Black Terrain" (the song) musically is a continuation of the dream thread, or chasm one is falling into, that began in Strega. The lyrics on that are Bezaelith's and I don't wish to speak for her, but they again reflect a relationship of the personal and universal - gazing into the abyss of the night sky and it looking back into you.
"Harrowed Earth" again has this intersection of the physical/metaphysical, but whereas "Strega" began in fairly naked, personal language, now it has become externalized and shifted out of the first person perspective. In this depersonalization, it begins to more closely resemble the forms which it describes, which to me at least feel decidedly infernal. The music of course matches. Whatever your beliefs, the Hell of suffering is accessible to all.
By "Saturnine," things have become fully cosmic, but it feels like a full circle. Saturn and all that He symbolizes - time, boundaries, entropy, death. That which refuses to let go destroying what would seek its own sovereignty beneath it. The beast devouring its young. These metaphysical embodiments show themselves everywhere of course, and in its universality, it is abundantly personal.
Did you find yourself writing most of this album on harmonium and voice first?
This was only the case with the first section of "Strega." It's the only part of the album with harmonium. The moment that the first lyrics describe was happening and I felt like I somehow needed to do something with it, so I captured it, but the writing process varies. Sometimes I have lyrics and know I need a certain sort of music beneath it and eventually I figure out what that is. Sometimes it's the other way around. That was one of the rarer instances where they happened pretty much simultaneously, though stuff gets refined over time–refined and expanded. Also, while I'm speaking about the creative process, I want to acknowledge the huge role my bandmates play helping to shape the final sound of the album.
It's interesting to hear there's a dual music-lyrics thing going on where both dictate its pair instead of being lopsided towards one. Do you often find yourself staggering between lyrics and music during the creative process?
It varies. It’s typically fairly organic. I imagine I’m like a lot of songwriters–a seed of an idea germinates and suggests something else, sometimes that’s linear, sometimes it’s vertical. To give you a picture, I’m working on a song for the next album right now where I’d had the lyrics mostly written for months from a period where I was making a point to do a lot of writing. Out of maybe 100 things I wrote, these were the ones that felt like they had legs. I had an idea for what the music beneath would be like, but as I went to make it, it kept shifting. It was clear that there was music there beneath the words, but it was about uncovering it. One day while out for a walk, the way in showed itself. And then in the process of recording, suddenly there’s new words coming for a song I thought was finished lyrically, and more music to go along with it. I thought it was going to be our shortest song yet, but it’s actually turning out to be the longest!
I guess a shorter way of answering your question would have been "yes."
This organic songwriting approach you take definitely lends itself to Forlesen's more progressive nature. Much like the first question, do you think Forlesen is "progressive" (in the genre sense)?
I think we are, but I don't know if we bear a lot of the trappings of the genre. I think that again comes down to map vs territory. If someone means that in the Pink Floyd sense, then yes. If someone means that in the Yes sense, then Pink Floyd.
Bezaelith and Petit Albert are both huge King Crimson fans.
Is there anything about Black Terrain which you'd like to say which we haven't discussed yet?
I alluded to the role the rest of the band plays before, but Petit Albert is new on this recording. He did a lot of really subtle work on the album including bowed guitar...things that you don't necessarily know what you're hearing, but it adds a lot to the final texture.
Aside from that, I just want to say thank you! You asked questions that required me to really think a lot about the album and the music. This has been a pleasure.
Black Terrain releases October 28th via I, Voidhanger Records.