by Niklas Göransson
Resounding from the vaults of the outrageously underrated comes the plodding melancholy of Norway’s Forgotten Woods. Bass player and lyricist R shares his thoughts and memories from twenty-six years of disinterested black metal obscurity.
– FORGOTTEN WOODS is a benign force in this world, a resounding ‘fuck you’ from the abyss. To be sure, the foundation was overtly misanthropic and branched out to include a healthy adversity towards religion, blind tolerance, and other human ailments. Constantly pacing forward under endless alteration, and now it’s that and more. 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.
FORGOTTEN WOODS was founded in 1991. According to R, the young men came together from a shared love of music in general, but where their paths crossed would’ve been MERCYFUL FATE, BATHORY, CELTIC FROST, MAYHEM, and European thrash metal. However, the early output also has a distinct atmosphere I’d associated more with non-metal bands such as PINK FLOYD.
– I listened to them but, as far as I know, Olav never did. He was very much the main riff guy, so there was probably no direct influence there. We were however heavily into stuff like THE DOORS, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, LOVE, Nick Cave, and so on. Some of this clearly seeped into our music, but it probably isn’t obvious to someone less familiar with those bands and artists.
The clearly audible bass, my interviewee’s department, is especially 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 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.
After first discovering black metal on their own, the FORGOTTEN WOODS members found their way into the underground scene as a result of 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 Euronymous 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 tonne of people knew; criminal masterminds they were not. The only thing we didn’t instantly know was who killed Euronymous.
Were you dragged into the judicial 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.
In 1994, “As the Wolves Gather” – the debut album of FORGOTTEN WOODS – was released by German underground label No Colours Records. The 2017 reissue contains a retrospective essay penned by R, in which he proclaims himself entirely devoid of nostalgia as far as both the record itself as well as the musicians involved in it are concerned.
– 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 – but creating music and the accompanying verses.
After three albums over the scope of a decade and a half, surely, his fellow musicians must have at least partly contributed to the man he turned out to be? Especially given how much time they 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”, only two years later, we no longer spent much time together outside of rehearsals. In the band as a whole, we had somewhat different priorities which, as time went by, would 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. 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.
The corpse paint, spikes, and so forth were abandoned at a rather early stage. It could be said that some of the subsequent band photography emanates more of a disinterested bohemian feel rather than cursing the heavens.
– Disinterested bohemian is pretty good, I like that. Sounds like a JOYLESS album. Corpse paint was for one demo only; that was sufficient to get over the idea. A conscious statement? Very doubtful. Probably more a matter of not seeing the point in doing something we’d gain nothing from. One lives and one learns. We didn’t need it either way, being such pale and sickly-looking youths. 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”. We were 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.
FORGOTTEN WOODS are not known for having had much contact with the outside black metal scene, even back in the 90s. I can’t even recall ever hearing anyone claim to have been in touch with them.
– And I doubt you ever will, they were few and far between. What most seem incapable of grasping is that there was never any desire to correspond with so-called ‘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 are immediate family, there’s neither need nor want to interact. I’m being polite, you are nothing but noise. I am not interested. 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. I’ve probably attended a grand total of five metal shows in my entire life. Concerts where I 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.
Is that why you never played live?
– This was never even brought up for discussion. 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.
R has made it infinitely clear that FORGOTTEN WOODS is a black metal band, which would imply some remnants of interest for the subculture that so shaped his adolescent self.
– I enjoy most genres of music to some degree, save for reggae and ska, but black metal done properly 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. 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 must’ve been IRKALLIAN ORACLE. Amazing band – “Apollyon” is the best metal album I’ve heard in ages. It’s like being devoured. The contemporary Norwegian scene seems very bland though. 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.
Are you still a metalhead in a traditional sense?
– Not quite, more of a disinterested bohemian I hear… way back in the day, we very much had 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. Still to this day I stick to all-black, but I’m not particularly into metalhead attire. I like metal just as much, or more, as the next guy or gal; however, even though I’ve listened to it since I was six or seven years old, it’s not a defining factor in my appearance. Metal is, however, firmly ingrained into my system. Metal and horror movies.
Contrary to what’s suggested by the band’s name, FORGOTTEN WOODS never had much of a nature romance feel. Especially their second album, “The Curse of Mankind” from 1996, 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 like 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.
Somewhat contrasting to this, swans make an appearance in both a song title and the booklet. I read somewhere that R used to be obsessed with the noble aquatic fowl.
– What truly appealed to me 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”, lasting for years… let’s just leave it at that. Stray thought – I bet this somehow ties into my love for Kafka.
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 their 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 like 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. 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.
Following “The Curse of Mankind”, it would take eleven years until new material emerged. The third FORGOTTEN WOODS album, “Race of Cain” was recorded in late 2006 and early 2007. The inclusion of a song called “Third Eye (New Creature)” led to the severance of FORGOTTEN WOODS’ multi-year collaboration with No Colours.
– Indeed, something about a couple of sentences rubbing them the wrong way. I offered them a detailed explanation, but Germans are so sensitive. Dealing with labels was always Olav’s responsibility, I had very little to do with them. This was not the first issue we had with No Colours, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, we had taken special care to certain aspects of the contract. We could, for the most part, overlook the somewhat dubious financial arrangement. What actually mattered, to me 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 lyrics, could potentially cause some alarm – seeing as how its utterance is punishable by jail-time in several European countries.
– I thought nothing of it – business as usual to me. However, No Colours didn’t much care for it. I suppose I could’ve 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, regardless of imagery used. Olav and I 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”. This constituted a contractual violation of creative integrity, as per the clauses we negotiated, 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. “Race of Cain” was released in June 2007.
– I’m still pleased with how that album turned out, but I feel there were too many cooks involved: an abundance of toes to avoid stepping on. Too many compromises, something that will never happen again. As for the label, ATMF consists of individuals who employ reason and logic – who understood our concept entirely and have no issue whatsoever with any of it. We’ve been with them ever since; good people. To avoid potential confusion regarding labels, I am not talking about whatever JOYLESS did after I left the band.
Shortly following the album, FORGOTTEN WOODS announced an upcoming record called “PIG”. This recording never materialised.
– “PIG” was more of a working title for some time; “Intolerance Div.” was the actual title we were working with. Of course, that could also have changed on a whim. In retrospect, I prefer “PIG”. It was ready to be recorded – I think we had seven songs completed – but things happened, and we didn’t get around to it in time.
What would it have sounded like?
– Like a more natural follow-up to “The Curse of Mankind”, but without going back to the roots. Perhaps it had more of a really early JOYLESS feel to it, pre-“Unlimited Hate” and all that stuff, and then infused with whatever was happening at the time. 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.
So, it might still happen?
– Sure. Actually, Olav sent me an email – my preferred method of communication these days – some four or five years ago, 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 since I’m nowhere near Norway. I even offered to provide lyrics and possibly a few songs on short notice. He wasn’t too keen on the idea and the band has been dormant since. I understand where he’s coming from, but, to me – as long as it’s done in accordance with the key players’ intentions – it hardly matters who performs on the album. 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. Members come and members go; mostly go. It’s not important. In reality, FORGOTTEN WOODS only had two members. I’m not trying to diminish anyone’s role, but this was clear from the very beginning. I think once we’d found our direction and sound, both of us had similar visions for where we wanted to take our art. Regardless, FORGOTTEN WOODS never split up. 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 no music is being composed or no words being written simply because we’re not releasing anything. 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. Nothing tames the art-beast.