HATE FOREST – Innermost (2022)REVIEW

І лани, і гори. — Abiding in miserable throng, a collection of deep-seated persuasions loosed from a long incensed mind. Though the second full-length to have arisen from the resurrection of Hate Forest comes as a quick side-swipe at the very end of the year the Kharkiv, Ukraine-based project hasn’t plainly jetted out their sixth full-length unconsidered. It’ll nonetheless be an easy record to pick up, grasp and enjoy per its relatively brisk length and moderately complex, heartily stylized focus on rhythm guitar voicing, all of it rooted in the artist’s well-established perspective on classic black metal’s inspired aggression.

As much as it’d make sense to romanticize the early beginnings of recently revived Ukrainian black metal project Hate Forest due to the tenacious and prolific work of musician Roman Saenko (DrudkhPrecambrian, Windsweptet al.) as a standout in Slavic black metal output, the formative works of the project were somewhat average between ramshackle recordings with pitch-shifted vocals (see: ‘Scythian‘, 1999) lending a sort of ex-death metal, bedroom grind feeling to their first impression made. This was quickly shed over the course of three mLP releases and another demo in preparation for their well received debut full-length (‘The Most Ancient Ones‘, 2002) wherein the original sound of the band reflected the stripped-down intensity of early Norwegian black metal and various Slavonic interpretations one would find largely exclusive to Russian and Polish bands of the mid-to-late 90’s. Though many folks fantasize about some direct influence from the BlazeBirth Hall sect over in Russia being found in their work (Forest in particular) we can just as well find shades of ’93 Darkthrone, ‘Dark Sorcery‘-era and just beyond Aeternus alongside the violent edge of ‘Pure Holocaust‘ on the first three or four records from Hate Forest. Saenko and AstrofaesThurios would not only perfect the raw, classicist idyll of the band from that point but also form Drudkh together to infamous and prolific results. The natural peak of their work in this first era was arguably ‘Sorrow‘ (2005), a final statement that’d ultimately defined their sound for my own taste though the debut holds up just as well.

In the years beyond the split of the project Saenko formed Blood of Kingu and (later) Precambrian with members of various other groups, the usual suspects, as both bands offered some general continuation of the Hate Forest sound in spirit, confrontational and fairly minimally achieved yet deeply layered black metal aggression. Though I’m not sure if it was a matter of holding onto their property or just reigniting an old fire sixteen years later but ‘Hour of the Centaur‘ (2019) was a resounding success upon the return of the project, this time notably without Thurios. A more elaborate rhythmic language edged into morose and beauteous shades, thusly changing the tone of the band’s sound, or, at least cut away from the very driven single-minded nature of pre-2004 works. The only issue I’d had with that ‘comeback’ release at the time was that Precambrian‘s debut had released four months prior in August and went a bit harder at its wares. Still, the key observation made at the time of that fifth album’s release was that I’d heard the record as a fiery response, a strong reaction to the nonsense of modern black metal which did indeed uphold the reputation of Hate Forest while also adding some wizened sophistication to its rhythms. For my own taste ‘Innermost‘ rights the ship in a very simple way, striking at a singular yet heavily nuanced guitar-driven thread, an engaging and oft aggressive ~35 minute black metal suite.

If we could muse upon two points of consideration given to ‘Hour of the Centaur‘ and ‘Innermost‘ compared to past releases the first would be the listening experience taking on an introversion, an in-skull conversation rippling out in well-developed voicing. Throngs of riff ideas written for two guitars which’d create an elegant set of phrase are yet the spine of Hate Forest‘s appeal yet these works stretch beyond the somewhat replicable (see: Death Fortress) works of twenty years prior by sheer voice alone and it doesn’t take long before the storming pulse of the guitar work becomes a battle between momentum and quickly crystallizing moments. The second point to consider is that we cannot necessarily accuse the return of this project of self-parodic, as much as I’d like to say “Well, it’s fuckin’ Hate Forest. Check out those riffs kid.” and that’d be fine enough at face value but this is a finest work which doesn’t feel restrained to an auld reputation, only seemingly appearing from the artist at the strike of thunderous inspiration (see: “Those Who Howl Inside the Snowstorm”) rather than busying the mind with muscle memory.

Though that opener fizzles out beyond its salvo most else on this record completes its thought and runs somewhat directly into the next piece. The energetic bulk of the experience fires off between the fluidic pummel of “By Full Moon’s Light Alone the Steppe Throne Can Be Seen” and the melodic whorls accentuated in the main riffs of “Ice-Cold Bloodless Veins”. From my point of view this is the peaking side of ‘Beyond the Wandering Moon‘ influenced black metal and exactly the sort of craft that’d drawn me to the band’s discography in the first place. This portion of the record is steeling, inspired and the entirety of Side A nearly slaps my own ideation of ‘Sorrow‘ out of mind. It wasn’t until I’d been hit with all eight minutes of “Temple of the Great Eternal Night” that it’d become clear that ‘Innermost‘ constitutes a step beyond the revival of an old spiritus as the core rhythmic thread of the album receives its biggest showcase, or, piece which soldiers beyond expectations. The heaviest, fastest side of Hate Forest butts up against an acoustic interlude which clings to the tension created and bridges two of the more intense riff volleys on the album. This continuous thought and prime set of rhythmic statement presses on to the end as ‘Innermost‘ cuts off cleanly at ~35 minutes, making for an easily repeated yet intense in-the-moment proposition.

For my own taste ‘Innermost‘ is one of the better releases from Hate Forest if only for the sake of it expanding their repertoire an inch and creating some minor distance between related projects by leaning into the more immediate, confrontational side of their rhythm guitar work. Though I’ll stop just short of considering this release definitive just yet, the reprisal of the project appears all the more worthy thanks to this exceptional second album. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
ARTIST:HATE FOREST
TITLE:Innermost
LABEL(S):Osmose Productions
RELEASE DATE:December 21st, 2022

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