“Of course you have some of these [difficult] days during such a long process, but that’s expected and nobody freaks out about it.” – FINSTERFORST
German folk metallers Finsterforst aren’t like any folk metal act you’ve ever heard before, especially on their uncanny new album, Mach Dich Frei. I sat down with Oliver “Olli” Berlin (Vocals) to discuss the composition of the new record, as well as the band’s horde of influences, their refusal to be lumped in with other pagan Viking metal acts and their preference of heavy songs during sets in contrast to some of the lighter ones you’ll hear on the album.
First, tell me a little bit about the band and how you all came together. This is the first I’ve ever heard from you and it offers a bit more in lieu of structure and musicianship than I’ve heard from a lot of folk metal bands.
Olli: Thank you very much. The band was formed back in ‘04. It was the typical “I know a guy who knows a guy that can play some guitar” stuff. They went without a drummer until ‘07 though, when a little kid calling himself Wombo came to the rehearsal room and looked so cute behind that big drum set that the guys didn’t care for his obvious lack of skill. In ‘09 their singer left the band and only a year later they were desperate enough to consider me as the new voice of Finsterforst. Finally I made the cut by paying for a lot of beer. Ok, maybe not everything happened exactly that way, but in the big picture that’s how we came together.
Tell me a little bit about Mach Dich Frei. What does that title mean and tell me a little bit about what some of the songs and lyrics on the album refer to. What was your goal for this disc and do you feel that you’ve completed it?
Olli: The title means “Set Yourself Free”. In what regard everybody has to figure out on his or her own. To us there are different meanings, some of which are pretty obvious in the lyrics, while others are hidden between the lines. Mainly we go about personal freedom. Get rid of everything that keeps you down or holds you back, be it social sentiments, antiquated religious beliefs or stuff like personal relationships that harm you. To us as a band it also means to ignore the boundaries of genres and create our own niche. That approach equals one of our main goals for this album and we think we’ve done a pretty decent job. Other than that we just wanted to trump the predecessor Rastlos in every aspect. I personally think we did, though some people would take exception to that because they prefer the different atmosphere of Rastlos.
There are numerous black metal elements to be found here amongst the folk and Viking sections. It’s very much like Enslaved meeting Ensiferum or Turisas. What can you say are some of your influences on the record?
Olli: Like I said, we don’t care about certain genres. Simon is incorporating so much different stuff and to this day nobody has really scratched the surface of the variety of influences that flow into a Finsterforst album. People often come up with Moonsorrow as our only or at least main influence and we’d never deny that they affect us, but that’s not nearly all. To give you names would certainly get boring after a few hundred, so let’s just say we don’t rule anything out and even rap or techno can serve as inspiration. Sounds strange? Yeah, but we only care about the music, not some kind of image.
Let’s talk about the writing process for the album. There’s a lot of real muscle to these songs, so I imagine that it took an awful lot of time and effort. Where did you do the majority of the writing and what was the atmosphere like during those sessions?
Olli: Simon writes everything on his own and I add the lyrics to the finished songs. Simon spends some time in Bulgaria every year, where he finds the much needed peace and time to write music. Sometimes you talk to him and you can tell he’s really into it at the moment and feeling inspired. At that point ideas are just flowing and suddenly he’s finished another monster of a song. When he’s done I’m trying to figure out all the stuff and add some more punch or edge to it by creating lyrics that first and foremost fit the music. So there is no session atmosphere because we don’t work that way. You can’t come up with music with so many layers in a jam session.
Let’s talk about the recording process for the album. How long did it take to record the record it and what was the atmosphere like in the studio? Did you run into any problems?
Olli: It took something like two months I think. The atmosphere in Iguana Studios is always great. Producer Christoph Brandes has become a close friend of ours and when everybody is focused we also have a lot of fun together. Sometimes we’re going for a beer at the end of a day; sometimes we just eat enormous amounts of meat and feel fat. Since we all know each other pretty well and everything is laid out in terms of concept before we start recording, we don’t run into major problems. Of course you have some of these days during such a long process, but that’s expected and nobody freaks out about it. Finsterforst talk about composition, freedom and how they aren’t a Viking metal band!
Most of the work here is bombastic, extremely strong folk with a heavy pagan origin. We seem to live in a modern age where either modern religion or absence of belief exists. What do you say would hold proof to the claim of powerful ancient gods or would you consider this music to be more along the lines of your heritage?
Olli: Your perception strikes us almost as funny, because we really aren’t into this pagan and folk stuff. We respect people who put a lot of time, energy and thought to this and are serious about it. But let’s face it, most of the guys in the scene are hooked by some weird imagination of proud Vikings that go berserk when they face adversity and drink a lot. The reality back then was definitely less glamorous and funny. (I agree.) We are much more focused on finding our way in this modern world while living life in a way where you can still look in the mirror. Our folk influences originate very much from the black forest region and sometimes other stuff that grabs our attention based on its’ worth to the music. That’s really all that drives us.
Might there really occur a Ragnarok in the near future? I’ve a friend who has been preparing for it for many years now. She even has a full suit of armor and weaponry just in case.
Olli: Again, we don’t care. But let’s hope for your friend that her Ragnarok survival kit will also be helpful in case of a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion. But a modern version of Ragnarok may be lying in our near future. We are killing our planet, terrorism spreads all over the world and while it’s not very likely at the moment, there is always a chance for a nuclear war. And of course we are long overdue for a big meteor hitting earth or the next ice age. Carpe diem, you never know.
Finally, what can Finsterforst fans expect on your upcoming tour? Will you also be performing the deeper folk instrumentals along with the powerful metal elements onstage? Tracks like “Reise Zum…” for example, have an almost ethereal quality to them which show that your band is capable of being both extremely heavy and extremely deep. This is very difficult to achieve and I’m highly impressed.
Olli: It always depends on playing time. At best we like to include stuff from every album in a show, which is pretty tough to do when songs are as long as ours. Tracks like Reise zum… might be included as intros or outros, but we won’t perform them live. Ambient stuff like that kills a live audience. Concerts should be about power and intensity, so we will go for the actual metal songs only. But thank you for the kind words.
Thank you for putting out what might be one of the most memorable folk metal albums that I’ve heard in recent memory. I wish you the very best on tour and with the record itself. This is a great masterwork of an album. – (Eric May)