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As the Wolves Gather (1994)

As the Wolves Gather is the first full-length album from the relatively obscure Norwegian black metal act, Forgotten Woods. Released on No Colours Records in 1994, this album is probably not what listeners might expect, at first glance. While emerging during the same year as Transilvanian Hunger, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, In the Nightside Eclipse and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, this shares very little in common with any of these records, with the exception of Burzum. The material on this album is mostly mid-paced black metal with a very sorrowful atmosphere.

The songwriting is very interesting, and the less minimalist approach allows for the songs to breathe more, in a similar style to the early Burzum records. The mournful guitar riffs are sometimes accentuated by acoustic passages and sombre lead solos that add depth to the music. All of the songs are mid-paced and this better enables the band to create the gloomy and depressive feeling that they are going for. The band resists the urge to follow their peers and to utilize the fast tremolo melodies and blast beats. Instead, there are times when the music crawls at an even slower pace, dragging the listener through miserable fields of broken glass and razor wire. This succeeds in conveying a sense of despair and emptiness, through the melancholic and epic melodies and varied arrangements. The guitar riffs do well to build on one another, carrying the song forward and taking the listener on a journey through torment. The percussion compliments the melodies well, only doing enough to get by and never becoming overactive.

The production suits this type of music quite well, as the sound is pretty clear and less claustrophobic than a lot of other black metal albums from the time period. It is certainly not overproduced, by any means, still retaining an underground feeling, but the instruments are afforded a level of clarity that is uncharacteristic of similar bands. This also helps the acoustic bits and the lead solos to feel more natural, whenever they appear. The guitars assume the dominant role, though the drums are not buried at all. The vocals are in a style reminiscent of Varg's early work, consisting of a lot of shrieks and anguished screams that are aided by the liberal use of reverb, but not in a way that comes off as forced. Everything comes together in a logical manner and the result is quite memorable.

As the Wolves Gather may not be a well-known record, but it is certainly worth the time to seek out and explore. While it is somewhat simplistic, it never becomes boring or predictable. Even the lengthier tracks manage to include enough elements to keep the listener interested. The style of mournful and epic black metal found here should appeal to fans of the first few Burzum records, as well as bands like Strid and even early Katatonia. Forgotten Woods certainly pulled this style off far better than many others that attempted to do so.
(12 Oct. 2011)

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