Fans of black metal’s infamous second-wave have long had to put up with intolerance and hatred of others within a genre that should be all about outsiderism and punching up instead of down. In recent years, however, bands on the left of the political spectrum have become more commonplace, with many matching if not surpassing the quality of already existing black metal. Seas Of Winter, who impressed with their debut EP Dead Forest in 2019, are one such act, and their debut full-length fully delivers on their promise.
With a broad range of influences, incorporating everything from the crusty vibes of post-2005 Darkthrone through to more experimental and hypnotic extremity, Seas Of Winter’s take on the genre is refined and ruthlessly effective. Instead of cartoonish Satanism, the record tackles the real issues plaguing today’s society – the rise of fascism, the growing divide between rich and poor and, of course, the destruction of the natural world around us. Once again paying homage to late Mayhem frontman Pelle “Dead” Ohlin, who acts as the record’s narrator, Forest Aflame is a brilliant but also conceptually intriguing album, so we reached out to the band for a track-by-track breakdown to accompany an exclusive stream (ahead of its release on Friday), so you can dive into its themes as you listen.
Espi: While I definitely wanted to focus more of my attention on my leftist politics with this album, it was important to me to also include at least one song about Pelle [“Dead”] Ohlin in a similar fashion to the way I sang about him on the last album. On the last album, Pelle became this almost mythical figure that was standing by my side as the narrator as we our watched our planet crumbling to ash, so on this album – which I consider a prequel to the EP – I wanted him to appear as a deliverer of the message that the world is ending. As for the song title, someone on Tumblr was very upset that Ghost have a song called ‘Life Eternal’ because that’s Pelle’s song and only he should be allowed to have a song with that title. So I played off of that.
Mike: The main, recurring riff in this song is one that I wrote ages ago and never got around to actually using for anything. It’s really just a run up and down an E minor chord with a single note moved around but I kinda like it. I’m not convinced the little stop-and-start transition part in this one works that well but I’m stuck with it now. On the Dead Forest EP I recorded three guitar tracks for each song: two rhythms (left and right) and a lead in the middle. For this album I was looking for a slightly more modern sound so I quadruple-tracked the rhythms and double-tracked the leads. I think the best black metal avoids sounding TOO raw but retains a degree of it, so I tried to meet somewhere in the middle.
Placing The Blame: A Tribute To Our Corporate Leaders
Mike: This song is made up of a handful of different riffs I never finished that I sort of just moved into the same key and mashed together. Does it work? I have no idea, but I think the last section came out pretty well. The guitars drop out at one point because I remember Espi talking on Twitter one time about how you don’t hear enough solo bass lines in black metal, so I included that part as a little treat.
Espi: I did a signpost title for this song because it’s one of the most metaphorical ones on the album, with the lions being a metaphor for the rich and the gazelle being the other 99%. I delve into the idea that the lions don’t even have to really do anything to feast, because the gazelles will turn on each other for them – this is a reference to articles like the asthma inhaler one, which seeks to place blame on the average person so that we will attack one another for things that don’t really have a huge impact on the climate, allowing the CEOs to continue using fossil fuels while the rest of us are too busy attacking one another.
The Rich Get Richer
Espi: In a general sense, this song is about the rich capitalists who don’t really have to worry about the apocalyptic climate change disaster because they no doubt have plans already in motion to hop into spaceships the moment everything gets too bad here. But in a more specific sense, it’s about Jeff Bezos. When I saw that he donated less than a sex worker to help fight the fires in Australia, I was livid. When I found out that Amazon was firing employees for even speaking about climate change, I was even more livid. He can call himself a philanthropist and get brownie points while simultaneously being one of the biggest contributors to climate change, and it disgusts me.
Mike: I wrote this song in a single sitting. Can you tell? One of my favourite qualities in a lot of black metal is the “hypnotic” style of riffing, where you almost lose track of the song and just get sucked into it. This song is an example of that style, I think. I’m generally a bit of a minimalist with my songwriting so I don’t mind when a single riff or two just repeat over and over.
Only Climate Change is Real
Espi: This was the first song I wrote for the new album, and though I knew I wanted to venture off into other areas with this album, it was crucial to me that I kept climate change at the forefront, as I believe it to be the most critical issue of our modern lives. The thought randomly popped into my head to take “only death is real”, a well-known phrase among the black metal scene, and change it to “only climate change is real” to really send the message home.
Mike: The lead guitar is an old piece I wrote a while back, which I put over the top of a new and extremely ugly chord progression. It also features what I think is the only d-beat on the album, because all black metal releases should have at least one. Beyond that, it’s a pretty simple song, musically.
All Cats Are Beautiful
Mike: I wrote this while experimenting with what I think is the harmonic minor scale (I don’t know a lot about music, if that wasn’t obvious). My sort of musical concept for this album was that it would transition from more traditionally “melodic” into more dissonance as it progressed. I’m not really sure where the weird ending section of this song came from, but I like it.
Espi: I decided to do the cute, dog-whistle version of ACAB instead of the actual meaning of the phrase because I love cats and couldn’t help myself. The message of the song is just that, though: ACAB.
Seeking Solace In Hopelessness
Mike: I was really influenced by Hetroertzen’s Exaltation Of Wisdom on this album. I’m not gonna say it’s the most well-written release I’ve ever heard, but the production and atmosphere are absolutely fantastic. This song is sort of my attempt to capture a similar sound, with a sort of bleak, cavernous series of riffs.
Espi: I wrote this while in a state of complete hopelessness, as the title suggests. I wrote it the night Qasem Soleimani was assassinated, while watching the fires raging in Australia. Everything just felt so out of control and depressing. I didn’t know what else to do except write a song about it. In the knowledge that I could do nothing to change it, I found a sense of peace.
Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, Age 16
Mike: This one was influenced by Usnea’s ultra-bleak album Random Cosmic Violence, which I adore. It’s pretty simple, musically, but I’m rather fond of the ending riff. Absolute depression and misery repeating over and over before abrupt annihilation.
Espi: The second I saw the footage of Carlos in his cell and saw how horribly he was treated, I knew I needed to write a song about it. I had already planned to write a song focusing on immigration, border control, and ICE, but after seeing that, I specifically wanted to dedicate this song to his memory. It was heartbreaking to both write and sing, but I think this is the most important song on the album.
Forest Aflame is out 6th March on Akashic Envoy Records. Click here to order on digital and here to pick up the tape and/or shirt. $3 from each tape and $5 from each tape & shirt bundle sold will be donated to an Australian bushfire emergency fund (organisation TBD).
Words: George Parr