Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Hate Forest - Battlefields

Ukrainian black metal is something that inherently requires a sort of suspension of disbelief; even at its most measured, it's a style that thrives off the sort of musical melodrama that would put many off. But that being said, bands like Forest or Dub Buk are pretty easy to deal with since they have such powerful music to back up the inherent sort of ridiculousness of their style. But then there's other bands, primarily spearheaded in my mind by Roman Saenko, whose musical talents are tertiary to the sort of message-based, imagistic music of bands like Drudkh or Hate Forest. "Battlefields" in particular is an example of the style totally overwhelming the content of an album; when you listen to "Battlefields," you're not listening to an album. You're listening to a STATEMENT, and whether you appreciate it or not is almost entirely based on how much you buy into that Statement, capitalization very necessary. It's like trying to listen to Iskra without being a whiny trust-fund anarchist. It doesn't work.

Like all of Roman's music, Hate Forest doesn't exactly thrive on an excess of musical activity within the songs. Hell, it almost seems to thrive off the exact opposite: endurance tests supposedly designed to build "atmosphere" but in my mind are more about self-indulgent exercises in the same. "Battlefields" is composed of a few lengthy, minimal black metal tracks broken up by Ukrainian vocal-only traditionals (as I said, this album is a Statement) that no one actually cares to listen to in real life. They're sort of a scam; the sort of thing dropped into a black metal album to make it seem more immediately relevant and important than it actually is, and unsurprisingly, a lot of people think that, despite how naturally incongruous and completely meaningless to a non-Ukrainian audience they are, they most certainly Mean Something Important. Granted, no one listening to this album actually speaks Russian, but they're foreign, so they mean something, right? Right? Of course they do- they're Traditional and Reference The Traditional Cultural Roots Of This Music. A quick note: if you ever read that phrase in a review about a folk/black metal album, run.

Of course, "Battlefields" isn't actually a folk-influenced album (apart from the meaningless traditionals); it's a pretty boring, static ambient black metal album with unusually clanging sound effects and a distinct lack of riffs. Just how similar this is to Drudkh in construction is pretty incredible, actually; both bands feature songs composed of about two actual riffs each, swathed in murky, reverb-drenched production, and mostly require the "atmosphere" to carry them. Unfortunately, I've always believed that atmosphere is something generated by the music itself, not something you dollop on top of otherwise plain music like a condiment, and that's exactly what Hate Forest does here. A black metal track on this album: ten minutes long (this means it's epic,) composed of buzzing tremolo riffs and blast beats/double bass or grimly martial passages of chugging and war toms pounding away, and occasionally some synthesized orchestral instruments overhead. The songs never actually progress anywhere; they're designed to sound traditional, warlike, and dark, but just a static element of each of those rather than a narrative piece that actually proceeds anywhere. Frankly, this music is so empty that the album could probably feature a blank CDr and come across in exactly the same manner. The music isn't what you're buying this for, after all.

There's a lot of good Ukrainian black metal, but there's also a lot of terrible shit from that scene too, and "Battlefields" is a pretty distinct entry into that latter category. Devoid of character, content, artistry, or anything but an empty sense of stylized aesthetics, it's the sort of thing you think defines you as an open-minded and serious black metal listener when you're fifteen years old. After that, I can't think of a reason to listen to this.

4 comments:

  1. right on! I do really like some of Hate Forest's earlier stuff, but have never been able to get into this one. Love the bit about how genuine atmosphere is something that arises from the music, rather than something to be imparted through a series of extramusical symbols and cues.

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  2. I last listened to this album like three years ago, and I remember it sucking then too. Hate Forest have a couple of good albums, namely Purity and Sorrow, which do a decent job of building on the constant blasting style of Battles in the North, but Battlefields is pretty fucking boring. The needless folk interludes remind me of that worthless twelve minute intro to the first Nargaroth album, and that's never a good thing.

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  3. Holy shit. Noktorn and I actually share a similar opinion on something.

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  4. I think you confuse Russia and Ukraine. Forest is Russian, and those crazy traditional songs on Battlefields are in Ukrainian. As a Russian I actually do not understand either what they are about or why they are there. However, it does not mean that I dislike Ukrainian music or culture.
    But generally, I agree with you, as usual you make good points.

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