Nature. Immortality. Man. These are the things intrinsically entwined and yet they are infinitely separate. They help define each other but they are uniquely separated from everything around them. They are things that are defined not by what they are, but what they are not. How they are related is a heavy topic to think about, it’s not often that black metal goes into such philosophical weeds but that’s exactly what Astral Winter has done with their latest album “Forest of Silence.” The theme of nature vs man, the dichotomy of these two primordial forces and how they interact is key to understanding the album and why it was made. The thing that links them? Immortality, both perception and desire.
Musically speaking, Forest of Silence and Astral Winter represent the very boundary at which a band can be considered symphonic black metal without diving into Dimmu Borgir territory. This one-man band plays right up against the firmament in which he can still say he is black metal and he is symphonic, in fact in some places the music is downright orchestral. Keyboard is kind of a dirty word in black metal, at least to those that see the melody of the piano and its family as effeminate. Such an idea is outdated, backward, and musically close minded and Forest of Silence is proof of that. Outside of Emperor no one has ever been able to master both the sound of the keyboard and the sound of black metal. It’s tricky because one cannot devote too much attention to one of the other lest the sound shift more to one those nullifying the power of the other. It’s hard but it’s not impossible as Astral Winter shows us. Each half of the music, the keyboard versus the guitar, have to have their moments in the sun (or whatever) while the other fills in the sound behind them. If they are to exist together they cannot overpower each other. I have heard so many bands use the keyboard and attempt to play black metal crash and burn because they place far too much emphasis on the keyboard throughout the album that it becomes a synth album.
Not so with Forest of Silence, the keyboard is the centerpiece of the entire album for sure but it does not hog the spotlight nor does it overpower the rest of the musical elements. Each instrument, rather than played altogether to represent the whole of the story, is played separately and uniquely, each of them representing a specific element or character within the story of the album. That is one of the advantages to being a one-man project, you play the instruments separately and in turn they have their own agency within the music. The guitar melodies are intricate and delicate when accompanying the keyboard but when they are given the lead they are crushing, virulent, and chaotic. If pressed I would say that they represent man in this saga. They are vibrant and capable of soaring harmonies but they are also capable of slow, burning, and shadowy riffs. Astral Winter knows their instruments and their capabilities well. Dimmu Borgir is clearly and influence here but Forest of Silence stays clear of the overproduced, synthetic sound. The only qualm I have with the sound is that the wind sounds are samples rather than field recordings and I feel that in an album like this a field recoding of wind would have worked better but it’s only a minor issue that might have more to do with my tastes than anything else.
Man versus nature and the quest, the desire, for immortality. Man will search forever for a way to stay alive, attempting to bend the rules of physics or escape the confines of time altogether but man will never be able to understand immortality for the same reason nature will never be able to grasp the concept of mortality. Nature is infinite, as infinite as the world allows at least, and something that is infinite cannot comprehend something that has limits because it has never had limits and cannot conceive of what it would mean to have them.
Conversely something with limits, something that can only exist within a set of limits, cannot conceive of what it means to exist without them because it has never experienced it. Humanity can look at math, at numbers and gaze into a form of infinity and we can be overwhelmed by it, our minds are not quite engineered to understand what it means to exist forever in the space of a moment, a fraction of life between 1 and 2.
That is what Forest of Silence tries to tell us, the adversarial yet symbiotic relationship between man and nature over something that cannot be comprehended by either because they have never seen the other side and never will. We exist in unison yet we will forever try to kill each other.
Forest of Silence is a great album. It has some spectacular keyboard centric black metal that throws curve balls like choirs at the listener and melodies whose emotional impact the listener cannot deny. Its theme, likewise, cannot be overlooked or overstated. The message of Forest of Silence is as important as the music, it is worthy of thought and speculation.
Listen and support!