Ildjarn is a mainstay of Norwegian black metal. Founder and sole member Vidar Våer started the project in 1991, following the break-up of blackened death metal band Thou Shalt Suffer.1 Forest Poetry is an hour-long exercise in the ultimate brutality of black metal: extremely lo-fi production that makes Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger look like Pink Floyd’s Echoes. Tracks are savagely arranged and often start or stop with no warning. There are untranslatable vocalizations (one would be amiss to call them lyrics), guitars like bandsaws worn down from years of grinding up cattle flesh, and drums built from petrified sticks that are only a few beats away from falling apart.
I don’t get the hype.
The ultra lo-fi aesthetic is interesting for a track or two, but then you realize there are twenty songs left with the exact same production style. It’s like listening to a YouTube rip of a Mayhem demo at 16 kbps. It’s all in the most basic form of mono mixing, so there is no space to the instruments and everything is so ultra compressed (with some minor fade-ins and -outs) that any dynamic that could be available is gone. Yes, there are a couple potentially interesting ideas – such as the thudding bass on “Deepening to Grey” – but who wants to try and unravel them when there are better bands whom you can actually hear? It’s exceptionally primitive.
Conceptually, Forest Poetry‘s aesthetic has something going for it: take black metal to its furthest extreme in the harshest way possible. This is the ultimate “bad production” without going straight into noise music. But this hyper-derivation of the black metal archetype is also the album’s biggest flaw. The concept of ultra lo-fi is borderline commonplace in the genre, and simply making it more lo-fi doesn’t really change anything for the better, especially when the actual songs don’t sound like they would be any good if one could even tell what they are.
The uniqueness that one may assign to Forest Poetry exists only in context of its historical “importance” as a part of the original scene in Norway. Were it not for that one aspect, this album would not be nearly as highly regarded, and it’d be forgotten as just another poorly-refined full-length. Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal – Aatte Hymne til Ulven i Manden is a perfect example of this aesthetic done right; Forest Poetry goes so far, it’s farcical. At twenty-two tracks, there’s also way too much of it.
For a very select few listeners, the incredible simplicity is its key to being true, authentic black metal; and taking advantage of better production values is contrary to the genre’s anti-establishment image and rhetoric. The tracks are short – much shorter than most of the songs coming out of Norway at the time – and roll along almost like a hardcore punk demo from the early eighties. It’s kind of like how some early folk rock listeners got angry at Bob Dylan for utilizing electric guitars on Bringing It All Back Home, criticizing him for – in their mind – betraying tradition for whom Dylan was spokesman by unnecessarily flairing up his set like those other rock ‘n’ roll musicians. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys his or her album at its uttermost impenetrable bleakness with what one could argue the biggest middle-finger to anyone who thinks good music necessitates a good ear, then Forest Poetry might just be up your alley.
But for the rest of us, that won’t fly. Forest Poetry is anti-human. Forest Poetry is anti-establishment. Forest Poetry is misanthropic, destructive, harsh, inaccessible, unbearable, brutal, and transcendent. I recognize the concept going on here, and to some extent I respect it. Hell, I’m glad I listened to it because it’s a foul piece of work that does make the listener think about what “black metal” even means. However, entertaining a concept need not translate into an appreciable work. Although Forest Poetry might be an icon of what black metal set out to do, it’s also an excellent example of when the genre is too kvlt for its own good and becomes an unintentional self-parody.
1. Whispered Breeze – (2:33) – ★☆☆☆☆3
2. Blackened Might – (1:38) – ☆☆☆☆☆4
3. Clashing of Swords – (2:44) – ★☆☆☆☆5
4. No Gleaming Light – (2:45) – ★☆☆☆☆
5. Blazing Eye – (1:59) – ★☆☆☆☆
6. Sinking Deep – (1:29) – ☆☆☆☆☆
7. Chill of the Night (Returning) – (3:51) – ☆☆☆☆☆
8. The Blade Flares in Red Light – (1:16) – ★☆☆☆☆
9. Deepening in Grey – (2:56) – ★★★☆☆
10. Midnight Interval – (2:13) – ★★★☆☆
11. Descending – (2:05) – ★★☆☆☆
12. Away with the Dawn – (1:03) – ☆☆☆☆☆
13. Before My Eyes Forever – (2:56) – ★★★☆☆
14. Reflecting Mountains – (1:50) – ★☆☆☆☆
15. Brother of the Forest – (2:20) – ★★☆☆☆
16. Dead Years – (2:18) – ★★☆☆☆
17. Dark December – (2:21) – ☆☆☆☆☆
18. Cold and Waste – (3:00) – ☆☆☆☆☆
19. Visions of the Earth (2nd Returning) – 2:55) – ★☆☆☆☆
20. Risen Seeds of Time – (2:36) – ★★☆☆☆6
21. Winter Embrace – (3:15) – ☆☆☆☆☆
22. No Place Nowhere – (1:49) – ★★★☆☆
1… two members of which would go on to form symphonic black metal group Emperor.
2Pun intended. Actually fuck it; that’s the whole goddamn point of it called “folk” rock.
3I can’t believe I’m doing this.
4This is almost as bad as rating individual grindcore songs.
5I could be doing so much more productive with this time. I could go on Duolingo. I could finally beat Grand Theft Auto III. I could text the hot girl I met on Tinder. Instead I’m listening to fucking Ildjarn.
6Oh my God, I can understand the words “waiting for us all” in the first lyric. That alone – two stars!