The spectre of primordial forest has long haunted the human imagination. The imagery of dense, ancient trees and half-glimpsed shadows is a regular source of inspiration for artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians. There is something about forests that speak to us of fears long buried, of things that we choose not to remember, almost as if when our pagan ancestors left the groves and hollows they left a part of themselves behind.
Horror genres have obviously gotten a lot of mileage out of this subject, with recent examples including David Bruckner’s The Ritual (based on Adam Nevill’s black metal influenced novel) and Ben Wheatley’s In The Earth. Bands as diverse as The Cure, Cathedral and Snapped Ankles have all ploughed a similarly sinister furrow and of course a black metal band can’t resist an obligatory photo shoot in their local woods.
This mix of the scary and the spiritual is undoubtedly what has attracted underground music legend Greg Anderson (SUNN O))), Goatsnake, Engine Kid) to the subject as the focus for his debut album under the solo moniker The Lord. A record which blends cinematic instrumental music, dark ambient and Anderson’s trademark guitar work, Forest Nocturne was inspired by his love of woodland hikes and his feeling that trees represent a link between ourselves and our ancient past.
Theopener ‘Theme’ may lull some listeners into a false sense of familiarity with its grinding repeating riff reminiscent of early Swedish death metal. However as it goes on it becomes clear that, despite the heavy distortion, this is a riff with more in common with a film score than The Left hand Path. ‘Church of Herrmann’ drives this home. An eerie yet gentle pipe organ melody starts the track, sounding like it’s being played in an empty cathedral, before dramatic horns and a wave of feedback kick in. The piece is very much emblematic of the album as a whole. While not ambient music exactly, it undeniably conjures up an evocative atmosphere drawing you to a place (spiritually rather than psychically) far away from the modern world, into a hinterland between the past and the present. The album’s stunning artwork, by legendary death metal album cover maestro Dan Seagrave, features a demonic looking temple in the middle of an apocalyptic forest and when you hear ‘Church of Herrmann’ you picture the music coming from the dim light in its doorway.
‘Lefthand Lullaby’ parts I and II are an affecting centrepiece, with the first featuring some truly disturbing keyboard work similar to Italian prog/synth band Goblin (their scores for Dario Argento’s 70’s horror movies loom large here) before part II mutates into a brutal instrumental metal track which actually calls to mind Holst’s ‘Mars: Bringer of War’ from The Planets. ‘Forest Wake’ and ‘Decidious’ are respectively a frantic guitar work out and a moody ambient piece, while the epic ‘Old Growth’ is the closest the album comes to the drone metal of Anderson’s day job.
Speaking of SUNN O))), Forest Nocturne’s sole track to include vocals, ‘Triumph of the Oak’, features regular collaborator and Mayhem frontman Attila Csihar. A track that manages to be both heavy and mediative, ’Triumph of Oak’ feels like the victory cry of the woods, calling her children back after whatever man made apocalypse we have coming down the pipeline washes away our so called modern world. A blackening with the green, to follow Niall Scott’s article in Melancology.
Forest Nocturne is clearly a deeply personal album for Greg Anderson, and the care he has put into shines through. This is a unique listening experience that will appeal to fans of Anderson’s other projects, as well as those who have a taste for the shadowy side of instrumental music.
Forest Nocturne is out now via Southern Lord Records and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader