I'll shamelessly admit it: The only two Ukrainian black metal bands I've ever heard of is Hate Forest and Drudkh, both bands funnily enough being the same product of Roman Saenko's creative output. That said, I doubt any other Ukrainian black metal group have been as influential on black metal as these two aforementioned groups, given that those two names are the first to appear when the subject is talked about in various forums. The vast difference between Hate Forest and Drudkh however, is that the former only developed four albums over a near-decade period, whereas the latter still technically exists
With all this said, I'll get straight to the point of the review of Hate forest's third and arguably most adventurous effort, Battlefields
. Different in tone, structure and concept compared to the band's first two full-length albums, Battlefields
from the get-go presents itself as more of a story told over seven chapters, rather than an album made up of four short folk-laden pieces and three actual songs. The overall structure of the album is fittingly precise and much like a cycle: Battlefields
begins and ends with a sub-two minute ambient/folk piece, and fits three lengthier songs into their seemingly correct positions. Had each and every track been placed elsewhere, it would probably have become a bit of a jumbled mess, and especially achieved complaints of how seemingly imbalanced the structure would appear. You see, this is always going to be the sort of album that I'll give every bit of attention to, even if the musicianship is lacklustre and uninspiring. Notwithstanding the musical or conceptual focus, Battlefields
was arranged by its creators with the very same mindset as when piecing a jigsaw together: It all makes sense.
However, the content always triumphs over the trivial matter of how an album is merely pieced together. Debatable as that point may be, Hate Forest really excelled themselves in this album, but also took a few risks in the process. Depending on how well-versed you are in all different styles of black metal, or even how much you like the sub-genre, Battlefields
may seem like a waste of time. The three lengthier songs, "With Fire and Iron", "Our Fading Horizons" and "Glare Over Slavonic Lands" are all like cycles of repeated albeit interesting ideas, whilst in the process exploring several different aspects of the same sound. When listening to each song, the word "steady" always seems to come to mind. The songs are progressive (in structure, not style) from the get-go, building to a climactic finish which somehow makes the songs stronger than they at first appeared. Above all, these don't feel like musical songs, rather soundtracks to a seemingly endless battle and how it affects different characters. For example, the final folk-inspired piece, "Поминальна", consists of a female woman chanting her pain over having lost a loved one in battle, whereas earlier in the record, "Проведу я русалочку" presents a collective of women chanting the same verses and harmonising with one another to create what is perhaps a preparatory ritual for war. Unless you known the Ukrainian language however, you won't know exactly what the lyrics are here, and it's even more obscure given that lyrics for most of Hate Forest's songs were never distributed.
There is a lot more to Battlefields
than what I have mentioned, but it is best left to the listener to work out for themselves which aspect of Hate Forest's third record is the most effective, provided they get something of interest out of it. This is the sort of album which will doubtlessly remain in the underground chambers of black metal's seemingly endless library, but if you do ever come across it, it's advised to at least give it a go. Be in the mindset however that this is no musical record in the traditional sense. Unfortunately, it is rivalled both in style and impression by its predecessor Purity
, if we're talking about the band's best record, but that isn't to say it isn't as interesting or unique.