The first time I heard Finsterforst, I was half asleep in the back of a friend’s car at some unknown and godsforsaken hour of the morning, driving through the dark on a trans-Europe road trip en route to Wacken Open Air. I vividly remember cracking my eyes open, seeing only the road and the night, listening enchanted as the melodies washed over me and making a mental note that I had to find out who was playing on the stereo…


It was arguably the perfect way to discover this remarkable German band, whose huge, dark, sweeping folk-metal soundscapes retain their sense of adventure and mystery even in full daylight and sitting safely at home. For those unfamiliar with them, their sound is rooted in black metal, filled out with a layered blend of guitars and extensively orchestrated keyboards. Accordion, whistle and other traditional instruments contribute the “folk” element, while the vocals, sung entirely in German, alternate harsh sections with high or choral-style clean parts. Despite a change of singer, Rastlos, their third album, picks up pretty much exactly where its predecessor …zum Tode hin left off, though feeling subtly darker in tone; there are a lot of similar melody lines and the continuity with the older material is clear, though without being unnecessarily repetitive.


I don’t really feel I can single out favourite tracks here, as this is very much an album and not merely a collection of songs – it’s made to be listened to all in one or not at all. Casual listening, Finsterforst are not. One little detail that I do love, though, is a stealth Bathory influence that’s made its way in here almost completely unfiltered; about two and a half minutes into opener “Nichts als Asches” there’s a single, piercing three-note guitar lick that I swear to the gods made me think for a second that Quorthon himself had risen from the grave to contribute it. There’s more in “Fremd”, too, and it’s a perfect fit, as Finsterforst’s majestic, melancholy sound harks back very strongly to the original kings of viking metal.


And indeed, like Bathory themselves and many others since, Finsterforst don’t sound as though they’re trying to capture their heritage or their homeland’s traditional music with academic accuracy. Rather, they’re harking back to a golden age that never quite existed, a parallel past born from myth, legend, folklore and pure imagination. The whole folk/viking/pagan metal genre could be summed up as an attempt to play the kind of metal that would have existed if our pagan forefathers had had electric guitars at the time, and Finsterforst have pulled it off: filled with pride, yearning, beauty and sorrow, Rastlos is an anthem for the twilight, music to be played at the funerals of the gods. Every bit the album I was hoping for – and if you haven’t encountered Finsterforst’s particular brand of magic yet, it’s the perfect introduction. [10/10 – KIT RATHENAR]