by Niklas Göransson
Resounding from the vaults of the outrageously underrated comes the plodding melancholy of Norwegian black metal veterans Forgotten Woods. Bass player and lyricist R shares his thoughts and memories from twenty-six years of disinterested obscurity.
FORGOTTEN WOODS are not known for having had much contact with the outside black metal scene, even back in the nineties. I can’t recall ever hearing anyone claim to have been in touch with them.
– And I doubt you ever will, says bass player and lyricist R, they were few and far between. At some point everything became noise, which then faded into background ambience until I discovered how to tune out altogether. At this point, it’s just me and my people.
Didn’t you ever meet up with like-minded from other cities, or travel for gigs?
– What most seem incapable of grasping is that there was never any desire to interact with what you so boldly term ‘like-minded’. I’ll put it this way, I’m certainly friendly enough if you somehow end up talking to me. That said – unless you’re immediate family there’s neither need nor want to interact. I’m being polite, you are nothing but noise. I am not interested.
R adds that he’s attended a grand total of five metal shows in his entire life.
– Concerts where I naturally wouldn’t be recognised either way, because nobody knew who the fuck I was. I went to other shows sometimes, but at the time there wasn’t a whole lot going on in Norway besides metal and shitty rock.
While already listening to the music, R and his circle of recluses found their way into the underground black metal scene as a result of FORGOTTEN WOODS guitar player Olav being acquainted with the ENSLAVED members.
– I remember going to Ivar‘s house, for some goddamn reason, and that very day he’d received a tape from Aarseth (MAYHEM) containing an instrumental rough mix of ”De Mysteriis dom Sathanas”. So I was probably one of the first people to hear that album, albeit in unfinished form. Still smashing.
Were you acquainted with Euronymous yourself?
– I once spoke with him over the phone for about an hour, and that’s the full extent of it. He seemed alright to me, but a brief call obviously tells you nothing about a man’s character.
This makes me curious if R and his cohorts were aware of what was going on in the Norwegian black metal scene – church burnings, murder, and so forth, before it all came crashing down in the late summer of 1993.
– Um… let me put it this way; despite having quite limited contact with the scene, we knew all of it immediately – who had done what and when, everything you mention and more. News travelled at ridiculous speed and certain individuals were far too keen on boasting. I’m sure a ton of people knew, criminal masterminds they were not.
He says the only thing they didn’t instantly know was who killed Euronymous. There was significant police probing into the scene following the MAYHEM guitarist’s murder, and I’d like to know if R and friends were dragged into the aftermath.
– Yes, we got called in for questioning and wasted a few hours of the detective’s time drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes – not a terribly exciting anecdote. Other than that we had no issues with any of it.
FORGOTTEN WOODS are set to release a digipack reissue containing their 1994 debut album “As the Wolves Gather”, the following year’s mini-LP “Sjel av natten”, as well a retrospective essay penned by R. In his reminiscent musings, he proclaims himself entirely devoid of nostalgia as far as both these classic records and the musicians involved in their creation are concerned. While I can understand not longing back to one’s headspace of the time, I’d be surprised if there isn’t at least some sense of accomplishment.
– None. For instance, holding the physical copy of “As the Wolves Gather” in my hand for the first time was just like any other fleeting moment. It seemed trivial even then, FORGOTTEN WOODS was never about that. As far as I’m concerned, we did it for ourselves and ourselves only. It was an outlet for the mind to dance to – it had to be that way, because that’s what emerged. Not still-life painting, sowing or gardening; creating music and the accompanying verses.
After three albums over a thirteen-year span I’d wager that his fellow musicians have at least significantly contributed to the man he turned out to be, given how much time they must have spent together in formative years.
– I wouldn’t wager too much on that if I were you, although I’m sure it’s true to some extent – a very small one, around 1991 to ’93 perhaps. By the time we worked on “Sjel av Natten”, two years later, we no longer spent much time together outside of rehearsals. That’s certainly not to say good times weren’t had, especially in the beginning. Dumb fourteen-fifteen year-olds trying to put a band together, drinking and listening to music.
R adds that if he was to play some MOTÖRHEAD or KREATOR at this very moment, it’s not entirely unthinkable that he’d get a little bit drunk from sheer carnal memory.
– In reality, there were always only two members of FORGOTTEN WOODS. I’m not trying to diminish anyone’s role but it was pretty clear from the very beginning. I think that once we’d found our direction and sound, both of us had similar visions for where we wanted to take our art. In the band as a whole we had somewhat different priorities, which as time went by would come to grow poles apart. We mostly got along just fine, but I’d say it was the seriousness with which the subject matter was taken that wavered.
This disparagement in dedication tickles my curiosity, since the band’s conceptual essence was never entirely clear to me.
– The French poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote what roughly translates to ‘we must be absolutely modern’. This is how I regard FORGOTTEN WOODS – absolutely modern. Ever changing, slithering forward and acquiring new mass; always growing. To be sure, the foundation was overtly misanthropic and branched out to include a healthy adversity towards religion, blind tolerance and other human illnesses. Constantly pacing forward under endless alteration, and now it’s that and more.
Much of the lyrics give a somewhat existentially cynical impression, and I suppose I can see how everyone might not be passionate about nihilism.
– Perhaps they do, but I don’t view that as a negative. In fact, I’d consider it a positive – FORGOTTEN WOODS is a benign force in this world, a resounding ‘fuck you’ from the abyss.
If memory serves me correctly – the corpse paint, spikes and so forth were abandoned at a rather early stage.
– Corpse paint was for one demo, and I believe that was sufficient to get over the idea. One lives and one learns. We didn’t need it either way… we were such pale and sickly looking youths.
It could be said that some of the subsequent band photography boasts of a more disinterested bohemian feel, rather than of cursing the heavens.
– Disinterested bohemian is pretty good, I like that, sounds like a JOYLESS album. A conscious statement? Very doubtful. Probably more a matter of not seeing the point in doing something we’d gain nothing from. However, I’m not oblivious to the fact that some photos in the reissues come across as a little… relaxed. They were taken at our rehearsal place and at Jarle’s (FORGOTTEN WOODS’ first vocalist) house, before we even recorded ”As the Wolves Gather” – just hanging out, they’re not promo photos at all. Marketing material and promotion in general was and is a nuisance, luckily it became rather minimal after some time.
Why did you never play live?
– For us this was never an issue, as far as I can recall it wasn’t even discussed. To this day I don’t think black metal should be performed in a live setting, in front of just anyone. Simple as that. Call me old fashioned, but in its purest form it should be experienced only by the individual.
The digipack notes mention quite a few things that were unmotivational for the band, though not a word of what actually kept them going. It was obviously not for recognition from proletariat nor peers, or a fervour to promote any kind of spiritual agenda.
– This question makes no sense to me. What kept us going? FORGOTTEN WOODS is still going, and will keep going. It’s a force all unto itself, constantly moving and shifting – slowly, like a glacier. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that simply because we’re not releasing anything, there’s no music being composed and no words written. Most of our work never made it to a recording at all, I have volumes of unused writings. The desire to create is always there, the need to record is not.
Shortly after their 2007 re-emergence with “The Race of Cain”, FORGOTTEN WOODS announced an additional upcoming record called “PIG”.
– “PIG” was more of a working title for some time; “Intolerance Div.” was the actual title we worked with, but that could have also changed on a whim. In retrospect, I prefer “PIG”. It was ready to be recorded – I think we had seven songs completed with that project in mind. Things happened and we didn’t get around to it in time.
How would it have sounded?
– Like a more natural follow-up to “The Curse of Mankind” (1996), without going back to the roots of course. Perhaps more of a really early JOYLESS feel to it, pre-”Unlimited Hate” and that stuff, infused with whatever was happening at the time. Regardless, FORGOTTEN WOODS never split up.
Dares one hope for this material to find its way to a recording studio at some point, I wonder.
– Four or five years ago Olav sent me an email – my preferred method of communication, asking if it was time for us to record again. I told him to go ahead but that I wouldn’t be able to partake, seeing as I’m nowhere near Norway these days. I even offered to provide lyrics and possibly a few songs on short notice.
Alas, Olav didn’t seem too keen on the idea of recording without R, and the band has been dormant since.
– I understand where he’s coming from, but to me it hardly matters who performs on the album as long as it’s done in accordance with the key players’ intentions. For instance, I don’t think anyone in the band performed on every single song on “Race of Cain” – and this didn’t matter one bit. Once FORGOTTEN WOODS rears its ugly head again, it might be with some material from that period. It all comes down to what the general mood is at the time.
This makes me curious if the line-up remains the same as on “Race of Cain”.
– Members come and go, mostly go – it’s not especially important. While I’m still very pleased with how that album turned out I feel there were too many cooks involved, an abundance of toes to avoid stepping on. Too many compromises, and this will never happen again.
Ah, I was getting to this. I read how the inclusion of a song called “Third Eye (New Creature)” led to the severance of FORGOTTEN WOODS’ multi-year collaboration with German underground label No Colours Records.
– Indeed, something about a couple of sentences rubbing them the wrong way. I offered them detailed explanations but Germans are so sensitive. Dealing with labels was always Olav‘s responsibility – I had very little to do with them since the beginning, it would only have frustrated me. This was not the first issue we had with No Colours, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Fortunately, they had taken special care pertaining to certain aspects of their contract.
– The financial arrangement, which was somewhat dubious to put it mildly, we could overlook for the most part. What actually mattered, to me anyway, was having one hundred percent artistic control and always retaining the rights to our material. This was always non-negotiable.
The composition in question features a clearly audible phrase that, unless one actually reads the lyric, could potentially cause some alarm since its utterance is punishable by jail-time in several European countries.
– I thought nothing of it – business as usual to me. No Colours didn’t care so much for it however. I suppose I could have understood their objections in theory, had it not been for the blatant double standards. A label with several openly right-wing bands on their roster should not clamp down on lyrics essentially proclaiming the exact opposite, despite imagery used.
So there was no compromise to be found?
– I of course declined to change the lyrics. Myself and Olav were in complete agreement in our refusal to take the track off the album, and No Colours in turn declined to release anything including ”Third Eye”. Thanks to the clauses we negotiated, this constituted a contractual violation of creative integrity so we took our recording and walked away. Always protect your art.
Shortly following their departure from No Colours, FORGOTTEN WOODS found a new home in Italian label Aeternitas Tenebrarum Musicae Fundamentum.
– ATMF consists of individuals who employ reason and logic, who understood our concept entirely and have no issue with any of it whatsoever. We’ve been with them ever since, and they will of course handle the reissues as well – good people. To avoid potential confusion regarding labels, I am naturally not talking about whatever JOYLESS did after I left the band.
R has described the lyrics to “The Principle and the Whip” as dealing with embracing ‘the ultimate ego. Individuality, intolerance, indulgence’. This begs the question if these policies are implemented in his personal characteristics.
– Everything always comes back to the self. It’s about admitting to the beast within – indulging its presence and cherishing its fruits. I enjoy duality, especially in myself. Kindness and brutality, mercy and murder. Trusting and staying true to your instincts will serve as guidance, and ensure the path you follow is always the right one.
Contrary to what’s suggested by the band’s name, FORGOTTEN WOODS never had much of a nature romance feel. Especially second album, “The Curse of Mankind”, has more of a gloomy urban atmosphere than one of majestic forestry.
– I think I get what you mean, but to me that description would be better suited for a band such as LIFELOVER or even JOYLESS for that matter; the musical equivalent to Eraserhead. That’s gloomy urban to me. You’re right though, nothing woodsy or romanticised about that album.
I read somewhere that R used to be obsessed with swans, and don’t quite recall ever coming across this claim before. What truly appealed to him about the noble aquatic fowl, he explains, was their element of transformation and metamorphosis.
– Let’s just say there was a time when I would experiment with how far I could take certain things pertaining to consciousness and the mind’s construct. Interesting but hardly beneficial in leading something similar to a life, if you will. It certainly took its toll. Starting at some point around “Sjel av natten” perhaps, lasting for years… let’s just leave it at that. Stray thought – I bet this somehow weaves into my love for Kafka.
R has made it infinitely clear that FORGOTTEN WOODS is a black metal band, which would imply some remnants of interest for the art.
– I enjoy most genres of music to some degree, save for reggae and ska, but black metal done right fits snugly somewhere in the top tier. I keep up somewhat on new releases, though to say I follow the scene is an exaggeration. I probably only check out a fraction of what’s released.
Have you found anything decent?
– I think MGŁA, GRAVE MIASMA, PORTAL, and actually MARDUK might have been the bands I’ve listened to the most over the past few years. MARDUK just keep getting better and better! The band rattling my bones the most though must have been IRKALLIAN ORACLE. Amazing band – “Apollyon” is the best metal album I’ve heard in ages, it’s like being devoured.
It could be argued that Norway’s contributions to what’s commonly thought of as the black metal underground have been quite modest since the turn of the millennia.
– The contemporary Norwegian scene seems very bland. The latest DHG album was enjoyable, I believe WHOREDOM RIFE might be on to something and I still like MAYHEM. Seems to me that Poland, France and Sweden are at the forefront these days, I have no idea though and I’m probably wrong.
The plodding melancholy FORGOTTEN WOODS became known for, I’m curious whence the inspiration came. It sounds to me like an amalgamation of BURZUM, THORNS, FOLQUE and MERCYFUL FATE – written and performed by musicians who were perhaps not the proverbial life and death of the party.
– I haven’t actually heard FOLQUE – I know the name but that’s about it. We came from a shared love of music in general, but where our paths crossed would mostly have been MERCYFUL FATE, BATHORY, CELTIC FROST, MAYHEM, and European thrash metal.
Nothing in the vein of PINK FLOYD?
– I listened to them but as far as I know, Olav never did and since he was very much the main riff guy there was probably no direct influence there. We were however heavily into stuff like THE DOORS, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, Lou Reed and David Bowie as well as Leonard Cohen, LOVE, Nick Cave and so on. Some of it clearly seeped into our music but is probably not obvious to someone less familiar with those bands and artists.
The clearly audible bass, my interviewee’s department, is notable since it wasn’t something you’d hear in a lot of bands from that era.
– To leave the bass that high in the mix was mostly Olav‘s doing, I was more on the fence at first but it turned out to absolutely be the right choice. I was more into a rawer sound akin to ”The Return” (BATHORY), which to this day remains the best black metal album of all time. That type of audible bass was almost unheard of at that point, I believe. I must say that we worked very well together, especially around that time. One individual’s idea would often complement the other, it was all about the whole.
Are you still a metalhead in a traditional sense?
– Not quite, more of a disinterested bohemian I hear… Way back in the day, we had very much the appearance of your typical metal enthusiast; long hair, black clothing, leather jackets full of patches and shit, band shirts and fucking bullet belts – classic stuff. A few years later, I seem to recall us looking more and more like a random group of people who somehow played in the same band.
R adds that while he still to this day sticks to all-black, he’s not particularly into metalhead attire.
– I like metal just as much, or more, as the next guy or gal – and even though I’ve listened to it since I was six or seven years old it’s not a defining factor in my appearance. It is however firmly ingrained into my system; metal and horror movies.
What, if anything, is next for FORGOTTEN WOODS?
– First and foremost the ATMF re-issues of our early material, I think there’ll be a shirt or something as well. Whatever else, we’ll see when we get there. Nothing tames the art-beast.