DATE OF INTERVIEW:
13th February 2015
METAL DISCOVERY: Your fourth album, ‘Mach Dich Frei’, has just been released and reasserts the distinct Finsterforst style, but how would you say your sound has progressed from that on ‘Rastlos’?
OLLI: It has just evolved. Everybody is a better musician than we were at the time of 'Rastlos', so we could simply do different stuff and pull off some things we wouldn't be able to do in the past. What has transpired is a more direct and aggressive release this time, but maybe the most obvious part is the use of clean vocals. They no longer belong to Hannes alone, but Simon, myself and our great friend Sevan add some different tunes to give the songs a different look.
(Olli Berlin on Finsterforst's use of nature to represent freedom)
"I can't think of a much better feeling than standing on a mountain top and watching the world below; to me, that's kind of the ultimate freedom."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Official Finsterforst Website:
Overtly naturist in their ethos (to clarify, we're talking about an appreciation of nature here, not naturists of the nude variety), Germany's Finsterforst coined the term 'Black Forest Metal' to describe the aesthetic underpinning their creative ventures. However, the cover artwork for their fourth full-length, 'Mach Dich Frei' (or 'Set Yourself Free'), is something of a departure for the band and has prompted much online debate, whereby they opted to abandon the forest imagery that adorned their first three albums in favour of representing the emancipation themes central to the new songs. And with its icy backdrop, the band name could easily be mistaken for Finsterfrost! The topic of band name anagrams does actually crop up in an interview with frontman Olli Berlin, but not before he provides Metal Discovery with a greater insight into 'Mach Dich Frei', as well as some profound words about analogue versus digital media...
Finsterforst - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2014 Uncredited
Official Finsterforst Facebook:
Thanks to Andy Turner for arranging the interview.
...zum Tode hin (2009)
Mach Dich Frei (2015)
MD: The track title ‘Mann gegen Mensch’, or ‘Man vs Mankind’, is a particularly intriguing one. What’s the theme of this song?
OLLI: That's tough to answer in English due to the lyrics having an underlying message that doesn't necessarily fit the brutal stuff on surface, but I'll try to sum up the idea. The lyrical self in the song unleashes his wrath among mankind and extinguishes everybody, because the human race simply no longer deserves to live. In the end he wakes up, realizes it was only a dream and he can't do anything on his own, so he is left depressed. While that sounds like we're some kind of bitter misanthropic dudes, the underlying message is much more about getting together for a change of society. While it seems impossible for anyone on his own, we have a chance if we stand together and stay the course. On the other hand I was just having some fun with all these brutal, misanthropic bands out there who are serious about stuff like that.
MD: The final song on the album is named ‘Finsterforst’, so was it important for you to have an eponymously titled track at some point during your career; in the same sense that Iron Maiden have, Black Sabbath, Motörhead, etc.? And was it important that the track to bear your band name is a lengthy, epic beast of a song?
OLLI: That just happened. While the rest of the lyrics follow some kind of a red thread in that they all deal with freedom in some form, I just couldn't write something following that idea for this song. It didn't feel right, so I delayed it and delayed it to the point where guitars, bass, drums and accordion were already recorded. I asked for a rough mix to get a better grip on the atmosphere. During one part in the middle of the song the lyrics just began to unfold before my inner eye. Without polishing much about them I just took what the song dictated and before I knew the lyrics were done and there was only one name to sum up this whole thing. Sounds pathetic and I'm normally the first one to laugh at stuff like this in interviews, but it was almost like a Zen experience. If we would have planned that I'm almost sure we wouldn't come up with the same result.
MD: The video for the album’s title track is interesting stuff, with the stark contrast between images of the natural world against a slave of the system, with one man’s apparent turmoil at being trapped within the routine of his daily grind. Then there’s his gradual realisation of such, before it ends with his emancipation through reconnecting with nature. Are you using nature here as both a literal and metaphorical representation of what freedom could and should be?
OLLI: Simply put: yes. I can't think of a much better feeling than standing on a mountain top and watching the world below; to me, that's kind of the ultimate freedom. You choose the direction and whatever is going on in that valley doesn't affect you at that point. Or watch kids when they play in the woods, there is a natural connection and suddenly they don't need all that modern stuff, a stone and a stick will do for hours. In our hectic society we often can't take enough time to feel ourselves, which is something you will automatically do when walking in a forest and stuff like that.
MD: Do you think there’s also a parallel to be drawn here with bands and record labels, in the sense of artistic endeavours versus the more corporate side of the music industry? Is it ever a struggle for you to maintain your freedom in day-to-day life?
OLLI: We are very lucky in that regard, Napalm let us do our stuff and we let them work on the promotion part. But, of course, you hear stuff from other bands who have to release an album they don't really like due to a deadline, or where the label is more or less dictating all of the other stuff like artwork and promo pictures. Napalm will tell us what they think, but they don't tell us what to do and that's how it should be. In day-to-day life, of course, there are situations where you have to make compromises and give away some of your freedom. A very simple example would be my job. I don't have the typical nine to five job, I work at nights and weekends as well. So I can't attend every party or concert I'd like to and when we play gigs I always have to talk to my boss about it, so we can find someone else to take over for me. It works, but real freedom would mean I could just go and not care, right?
MD: The album has an effective and very striking piece of artwork for the cover, and I’m guessing it’s supposed to represent a general theme of emancipation, but what is the barren, icy landscape supposed to symbolise?
OLLI: We just liked it that way. I think you could try to find meaningful explanations like the ice stands for our cold society and stuff like that. But in the end it comes down to us loving the icy landscapes Pär Olofsson can create.
MD: The artwork’s obviously a very different aesthetic from that on your first three albums, which seems to have prompted a lot of debate. Did you have any apprehensions about abandoning the forest scenes, or do you regard this as simply part of the band’s natural progression?
OLLI: There was a lot of debate within the band as well, haha. But we wanted to go in a different direction and find some way to illustrate freedom without using the ever same breaking chains stuff. When it comes to abandoning the forest scenes, it just happened because the lyrics wouldn't fit that image. In terms of natural progression, I don't really know. Nature will always be a topic with us and maybe we will go back to some kind of forest scene with the next album, but only if there is a connection to the lyrics. You try to come up with a total package, so the artwork has to fit the topic of the album.
MD: You declare on your website: “The era of Black Forest Metal has begun!” Do you have a special affinity with Schwarzwald whereby you derive creative inspiration from its natural beauty?
OLLI: Except for me, all guys come from the area. Simon is deeply inspired by nature when writing songs and we all like to get in the woods to get a fresh breathe and relax. So Schwarzwald is a source of creativity for us and we have strong ties to it.
MD: I guess there’s always a danger that any kind of branding like that eventually becomes adopted as yet another metal subgenre. For example, Stateside industrial metallers Hanzel und Gretyl named their last album ‘Black Forest Metal’, although I’m presuming that’s just coincidence. Does it bother you when other bands highjack the Black Forest Metal tag?
OLLI: Not really. If they are successful with it, it can do nothing but make us more known at the same time. There will always be some internet smart ass saying 'You know where Black Forest Metal comes from?' With the contrast in style, Hanzel and Gretyl won't take anything away from us, so we are cool with it. But did they really hijack it? Do they even know about us? Whatever the case, they seem to have a good sense of humor and so do we. Maybe we could tour together, wouldn't that be an awesome package people would really have to chew on? To us, the 'Black Forest Metal' label is meant to separate us from the Folk/Pagan scene because we don't see ourselves in that genre. Finsterforst has never been about Northern mythology and while we respect the bands who put their heart into that, we won't go there.
MD: You asked the question on your Facebook page back in October last year: “Just out of curiosity: Who of you likes Vinyls? Or do you prefer CDs? Or Digital?” Were you surprised by the responses? And just out of curiosity (!!), what’s your own preference?
OLLI: To be honest, that question was to see if there are enough vinyl-lovers out there to take the financial risks of doing vinyl. While we'd love to do it, it is very costly, especially since we can't go to the cheapest company and we want to deliver great quality. We'd have to do a double LP with four sides and 'Finsterforst' with its 24 minutes is a little tricky in terms of sound quality. My personal preference is actually vinyl, though digital of course is the easiest to handle. But vinyl has that special feel to it with the big cover and sound quality. Vinyl also demands more appreciation in terms of taking care of the records, and I think that appreciation for art gets lost with everything being available with a few clicks.
MD: You had your 10 year anniversary show in Freiburg at the end of January – how was the occasion, and did you mix up the setlist a bit more with some older, rarely played material perhaps?
OLLI: That might have been my favourite gig with Finsterforst so far. While Wacken was mighty because there were thousands in attendance, that anniversary and release gig was just special, kind of a family affair. The other bands, Ordoerir, The Privateer, Firtan and Evertale are all great friends, our sound guy Frank came straight from the 70000 Tons of Metal ship to mix our show and, of course, there were a lot of friends in the audience. Heck, even the Mensa Bar is a special place for us since Tobi worked there while studying and they treat us like family. And Sevan joined us for the first time, which was really cool. We played three songs from 'Mach Dich Frei' and it's always special to play a song live for the first time and see the reaction of people. But, of course, we mixed it up; we played a 90 minute set with songs from every album and even the EP. We ended the show with playing 'Untergang' and 'Finsterforst' which is as epic and big as it gets I think. All in all it was a close to a perfect night.
MD: You’re playing the Paganfest shows in March, but just the extended ones, which makes it a little bit of a disjointed tour for you. How come you weren’t invited onto the full tour?
OLLI: That is a question you would have to ask the guys from Rock The Nation. We don't know, but we're happy to be there for the extended shows and hopefully we'll leave an impression that will make them book us for the whole thing next time.
MD: Taking a look at the Paganfest lineup, there’s quite a lot of stylistic disparity between each of the bands, although many people are still happy to believe there exists a Pagan Metal subgenre. Do you think it’s a fallacy to regard there being such a subgenre at all?
OLLI: When I started attending concerts in the 90s the tour packages were far more interesting because the disparity was much bigger. You actually got to know another style every time you went to a concert. I discovered so many bands I would never have listened to if the business was the way it is today. So I'm really cool with different styles on a tour. When it comes to people thinking everything on Paganfest actually is Pagan Metal, that's ok. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. We sure as hell don't want any part of that Pagan label and I think some other bands on the tour might feel the same way. But most people need these labels to make sense of what they are listening to and of course bands need these labels to promote themselves. Personally, I'm going with Abbath: to me it's all just fucking Rock'n'Roll.
MD: Finally, are you aware that your band name is an anagram of ‘First to Ferns’, which I guess is quite apt for the forest imagery? Interestingly, it’s also an anagram of ‘No First Frets’, ‘Sort Ten Riffs’ and ‘Ferns for Tits’…
OLLI: We weren't aware of that, but the 'Sort ten riffs' thing sounds like another amazingly boring Facebook game to bother your friends. And maybe we could do a girlie with the 'Ferns for Tits' thing. We'll talk about royalties later ;-)
MD: Thanks for your time and best of luck with the album and touring.
OLLI: Thanks a lot! Hope to see a lot of you crazy British dudes in the future! Don't miss us at Warhorns Festival, come over and say hello!