By Jonathan Smith
Rastlos, the latest release from Germany’s Finsterforst, comes off like a complete concert experience in and of itself. At a sprawling 75 minutes, it includes everything from an atmospheric opening to a moody instrumental climax, with the band keeping things moving at a steady pace until they break out one final encore. Though the album is unnecessarily long, its quality rewards those who can make the time to sit down with it.
This is my experience with Finsterforst. Based purely on this album alone they mostly remind me of Moonsorrow (particularly their own 2011 epic Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa). Like many of their fellow German bands who dapple in folk-tinged metal, they occasionally draw on more traditional instruments (an accordion and wind instruments can be heard here and there). However, the vast majority of the album is composed of crunching rhythm guitars and black metal riffs, a mixture of shrieked and soaring clean vocals (courtesy of vocalists Sebastian Scherrer and Oliver Berlin), and epic horns galore. I can’t say that Finsterforst are totally original, but they make up for any lack of creativity by bringing a contagious passion to a style of metal that has rarely resonated with me in recent years. They make a powerful case for the sheer grandeur of their music, which is pretty significant considering that the band sings mostly about the forest and the abuse of nature. There are no drinking halls, viking battles, and hymns to ancient traditions within earshot.
Rastlos is epic in more ways than one. Apparently a concept tale about a single individual’s life, its narrative side is largely lost on those who don’t understand German. However, the music speaks for itself, and it does so with a flow that links the songs together while allowing a few of them to stand out on their own. The main tracks are all over ten minutes in length, and the two instrumental tracks provide much needed breathing room before the band dives back into fray. Opening track “Nichts als Asche” begins with a low rumble and reaches its peak with Scherrer’s passionate singing. Low horns usher in “Fremd,” and after another wave of metal passes by, the band eases into “Am Scheideweg.” Middle track “Stirbt Zuletzt” is the least memorable song found on Rastlos, and it’s quickly overshadowed by the bombastic weight of “Ein Lichtschein.” “Rast” is the second and final instrumental track. It drifts from the rumble of previous song into the soft calls of a cuckoo bird and rolling thunder, and it would be a good a place as any to close the album. However, Finsterforst roar back with a final piece, “Flammenrausch,” which, as good as it is, seems to unnecessarily extend the album’s length. It is just often as skippable as it is listenable, but simply because by that point the band has already proven their latest releases’ overall worth. Rastlos is one of the best albums of its kind that I have heard in years.