While folk metal may revel in being the life and soul of the party, its slightly more bookish cousin pagan metal is more likely to be found attempting to educate listeners about cultural heritage and ancient lore than waving a plastic sword around and extolling the virtues of wenches and mead. German septet Finsterforst (Dark Forest) may wear war paint but apart from that they’re gimmick free and are more interested in taking the listener on a journey of discovery via the medium of epic-length songs, full-blooded metal passion and a hearty sense of ambition.
With a crystal-clear production that allows every instrument to breathe and an impressively nuanced approach to songwriting, fourth full-length Mach Dich Frei (Napalm) which translates as ‘set yourself free’, carries on the epic and stirring tradition begun on debut release Weltenkraft (World Chaos Production) back in 2007. Influenced by the likes of Moonsorrow and Falkenbach, the band offer a variety of styles over the course of eight lengthy tracks, from the mid-paced stomp of ‘Zeit für Hass’ to the more hook-driven refrains of the title track, all the while ensuring that while grandiose may be the order of the day, things never get out of hand.
Traditional instrumentation plays a big part in the record with the braying horns of keyboardist Sebastian Scherrer in particular lending proceedings a cinematic feel. The guttural Teutonic lyrics of vocalist Oliver Berlin may soar over the heads of many listeners but his delivery is full of passion and grit, while the dual guitar attack switches tempos with ease, no better demonstrated on twenty-three minute closing track ‘Finsterforst’ which features everything from classy melodic interplay to snarling black metal whilst remaining exciting and authentic throughout.
Although a seventy-three minute album will be far too long for many listeners, the sheer quality of songwriting on Mach Dich Frei is enough to warrant many repeated spins and the band deserve every success in reward for their efforts to inform and entertain.