Review Summary: Taking several notes from the Norwegians this album creates a great atmosphere that any seasoned black metal fan should enjoy. Highly recommended for Blazebirth Hall and early 90s Norwegian fans.
Forest is one of the major bands in the prolific Russian group of black metal bands in the 90s known as Blazebirth Hall. The band is headed by Kaldrad who handled everything except for drums, and was also a member of Branikald, who along with Forest were two of the biggest bands in the BBH circle. Note that big here is a relative term as none of these bands ever gathered much recognition beyond the underground. This is due partially to the sheer rawness of their recordings and also due to some of the political affiliations of the bands that possibly made the big labels avoid them. Kaldrad himself was in trouble with the law and incarcerated for racially motivated crimes at one point.
The music of Forest is very raw, the production being extremely lo-fi, worse than any of the major albums that the Norwegians produced in the 90s. If one were to search for an album with comparable production in the Norwegian scene at the time Nattens Madrigal comes to mind. The guitar sound is extremely thin and treble-y, giving the guitars an icy quality. The drums are a wash of cymbals, and rhythmically only the snare really keeps time and tempo, lending the listener some orientation as to the rhythm and speed of the song. Bass is very hard to make out and basically a non-factor, sometimes glimpses of it can be heard but it doesn't do much here. I could even be mistaking what I think is the bass for a low guitar line combined with the kick drum, which gives you an idea of the overall importance it has on this album.
Musically the drumming and guitars are fairly akin to early Darkthrone, drumming sounding close to Transilvanian Hunger and the guitar riffing and production sounding closer to Under A Funeral Moon. The drums blast away relentlessly at a fast tempo (around 160-170 bpm by the best of my estimates) and are generally not too varied but pretty consistent. The thing they are really lacking is fills to keep the listener somewhat in the loop with where in the structure the song is, and guitar riff transitions are sometimes subtle because the drums give no indication that the song is approaching a new section. The riffs themselves are a wash of sound, with the actual melodies and progressions hidden under a layer of static sounding distortion. Come to think of it the guitar sound here also reminds of the treble-y qualities that Filosofem had (in addition to Nattens Madrigal). The riffs themselves however are not as memorable and serve more to combine with the drums to create a chaotic and cold stage for the vocals.
Vocally this album distinguishes itself from the Norwegians, not least perhaps because of the difference in language and pronunciation. The vocals are not shrieked or growled or of any overly harsh nature but rather sound like an anguished shouting with a good amount of reverb / delay applied. One exception is the last track which features clean vocals which are not very melodic but more in the style of a chant. One all of the songs the vocals are not sparse either but generally are present for at least half of a songs playing time which gives some variety to the riffs which create a monotonous, trance inducing layer that is common to black metal.
This general formula makes the album something best appreciated for atmospheric qualities rather than for stand out melodies or musicianship. The heart of the album is in the musical mural that the drums and guitars style and production create, while the vocals give some variation and structural interest. I should note that the version I am reviewing is the ISO666 CD release which seems to be the same quality as the original self-released album. I don't know if other releases have remastered the album and changed the quality at all, though I think these changes would not affect the overall atmosphere enough to change the listening experience. This also means that I do not have access to any of the English translations of the lyrics on this album and as such cannot comment on their quality, or the nature of their content, though as I stated the band does hold some uncommon/unpopular views which may offend, consider yourself warned. At the same time the atmosphere created here is stellar and should be enjoyed by fans of the early 90s Norwegian scene, and while the production is certainly raw it is not nearly near the worst that can be heard in the black metal genre.