Ever since its bleak and bloody inception, the thorny branches of black metal have spread and grown in a tangled plethora of ever more twisted and devillishly inventive directions. One such murky offshoot has sprung up deep in the shadows of Germany’s Black Forest in the shape of eight-member collective Finsterforst, rising like a dark power over the sweeping, pine-carpeted hills, chocolate-box villages and lofty peaks that characterise the region. Inspired by the sublime, natural wonder of these their native climes, the group blend fluttering folk melodies with the harsh, roaring vocals and dusky atmospherics of modern, post black metal to create their unique and inspirational heathen sound. Dark Matter caught up with lead guitarist Simon Schillinger, who also contributes his beautiful compositions and gorgeous, plaintive choir vocals to Finsterforst’s wistful offerings, to discuss the remarkable evolution of the band from their first pagan frivolities to the lengthy, complex and utterly engrossing elegies of their latest release.
Founded in 2004, Finsterforst didn’t really hit their stride until they found a drummer and started playing live. Since then, they’ve released an impressive five studio full-length albums and two EPs, each a perfectly forged gem of Black Forest craftsmanship. Their 2019 album, 'Zerfall', is a testament to the freedom afforded by the imaginative scope of progressive metal and for Simon, this is the record that has really defined the unique Finsterforst style. “Having the newest release in mind, I think the sound of the production in general has a real ‘Finsterforst-stamp‘ on it. We reached this level during the last couple of albums, as the music developed more and more into something deeper and heavier. We still use the accordion, and in addition we present a bigger variety of melodic vocals – solo and choirs.“
The band describe their sound as Black Forest Metal, but there is no particular reason for this apart from geography and Simon rejects any attempts to assign genre to the richly-woven tapestry of synth-infused percussion, crashing waterfall riffage and towering, orchestral backdrops. “We simply call it this because the band itself comes from the Black Forest. Honestly, it is kind of an annoying theme to discuss which music is what genre and all that. So we simply shortened it for ourselves. People can call it Pagan, Post, Folk, Black or whatever metal – we don't really care.“
Similarly, although the music is inspired by the rich heritage of the region, Simon insists that its interpretation is entirely up to the listener and the focus is on evoking emotion rather than conveying any particular meaning. “I don't know really about myths or legends, but if I have the Black Forest in mind, then I certainly can reflect its appearance in our tracks. Deep, dark and beautiful. But not with any particular instruments. It is simply the complete atmosphere that transports the listener to a certain mood – the imagery is totally up to you guys.“ Indeed, the lyrics are always a bit of an afterthought and the subject-matter is very loosely conceived. “The themes are about wrath, the decay of mankind and society. The lyrics always are written after the music is composed.“
Similarly, Simon rejects any comparisons with other metal bands and has not been influenced musically in any way. “I can only say that during the writing process of 'Zerfall' I did not listen to much metal music. Honestly, nearly none. And I also do not follow any movements.“ For Simon, the most important thing when composing his music is the encouragement of those around him. “My significant other was my biggest support then and I can say that she definitely fed my compositions very much. Let's say, without her, this album wouldn't be as great as it is!“
From humble beginnings as a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears young metalheads who just wanted to have a blast and embrace the pagan lifestyle, over the years Finsterforst have worked hard to polish their rough-cut style into the tautly-honed, stony brilliance of today. “We are completely different from what we were like 14 years ago. The first releases had this ‘jumpy‘ folkish-whatever feeling, more for those pagan-hype-kids who wanted to drink from their mead horns and pretend to be a Viking! Don't get me wrong, we loved it and it was an amazing time. But through the years following we have personally evolved in many ways. As it is with anything you do, you simply make some progress if you practise and gather experience. No matter if it is for playing your instrument or composing music – you simply get a bit more mature and automatically learn a lot of stuff. Our music got bigger and heavier and the productions also became way more complex, including huge synthetic and orchestral arrangements.“
Judging by all the silly videos on their Facebook feed, being on the road with Finsterforst still looks like a lot of fun, however and the Dark Matter team are sorely tempted to try and stow away in the tour bus next time they hit the UK. “Holy hell, a lot of stupid stuff happens if you give this bunch enough beer. Our bass player eventually starts hitting the cup against his forehead, David will not stop laughing or roll down a hill and Sebastian won't stop talking until everybody falls asleep – including himself. But we have to be honest, we are getting older!“ But with age has come wisdom and a deepening maturity. For Simon, their latest album is the culmination of everything they’ve done so far. “Our finest work is definitely 'Zerfall'. The work, passion and result of it can't be compared with any previous releases.“ Simon’s time with Finsterforst has for him been a real adventure, gathering in momentum with every album and live performance and balancing raucous tomfoolery with the more serious business of music. “We put out seven releases and had a shit load of gigs and tours throughout the whole of Europe. I think we can't really point out particular highlights. We entered the stages of many big festivals and simply often had ridiculous laughs backstage, since we all are quite some chaotic idiots.“
And the band still very much endorse their exaggerated pagan roots. Eschewing the usual, done-to-death black metal corpse paint look, Finsterforst instead resemble a hardy wood-cutting gang from the land of cuckoo clocks and Kirschwasser; hairy, splattered in mud and sporting lumberjack shirts. And like any red-blooded, brawny logger, the band enjoy a diet suitably dominated by hard spirits and meat-rich, traditional Germanic fare. “As some people already might know, we are very big fans of pork-knuckles, spare-ribs, steaks and grilled sausages – and salad! In the Iguana Studios, Christoph Brandes (our engineer/producer) and I kind of found Whiskey Sour as our drink whenever we are mixing an album.“ When not gorging on massive platefuls of red meat, Simon enjoys devouring the beauty of the natural landscape. “I enjoy going out with my dog and finding peace and quiet in the Black Forest somewhere.“
As for what’s next for this industrious, indefatigable crew, Simon muses “There will be a tour with Skyforger this Autumn. We still have to see what the next year will bring gig-wise. About new material I can't say really much so far besides the fact that I am thinking about starting to compose again soon. We'll see where the journey goes!“ Simon’s final big-hearted message to his fans is as spirited and passionate as the band’s energetic approach to their art. “Be kind to your people and yourself. Try to enjoy life besides the worries we all have!“ Let’s hope we’ll be hearing more from the Finsterforst camp again very soon.