Remember the Funeral Doom movement of previous decade? The times when bands like Ahab, Colosseum, Esoteric, Evoken, Shape of Despair, or Catacombs crawled slowly and backwards to awareness… Among these massive sonic slabs, barely moving tempos and unearthly growls was also this peculiar entity from Sweden called Forest of Shadows. Never the heaviest, or never the most majestic, Forest of Shadows came across somewhat fragile, very melancholic and almost demo-like. Yet, they were at least as heavy a listen as the most massive Funeral Doom epic with all that unfiltered emotion that crept under your skin. Formed in 1997, their debut album “Departure” (2004) was an instant hit of a bygone decade and it remains as one of the very favourite albums of yours truly to this day. It was followed by the equally impressive “Six Waves of Woe” (2008) before Forest of Shadows disappeared from the scene for a decade. But now the Shadows are rising again, it seems.
Forest of Shadows is the brainchild of certain Niclas Frohagen, who at least according to what we have heard from his records is not a very cheery person. His art is nothing but sheer misery itself. Like a collection of joyless pictures, or halls full of massive paintings in gray his music is a bit alien, but also very, very captivating. He handles all the music and instrumentation and now, after years and years of waiting is granting us with a new chapter of his music.
As the phrase “Your time will come” explodes through speakers as the very first sentence of the record, it hits home like any self-respecting prophecy of doom should. Bam! Straight between the eyes. When the more mellow passages follow the crunchy, heavy opening riff they feel more or less like a welcomed return of an absent friend. Moaning away like a distant cousin of My Dying Bride, “Self Inflicted Torment” is nothing short of a great album opener. A doom gem, if you wish. Still it is not the monstrous heaviness that sets Forest of Shadows apart, but melodies like slowly falling snow, weighty sounds of bass guitar and the duets of clean vocals and death growls in deliberate dialogue. “Drowned by Guilt” and “Lullaby” being the best examples of this.
Even featuring a great many things in common with the past, “Among the Dormant Watchers” is definitely not a carbon copy of their former glories. It has widened the range of music from both ends, first and foremost. The heaviest parts, like before mentioned “Self Inflicted Torment“, or the final track “Yours to Devour” are the most intense mantras Forest of Shadows have ever released. There’s also minimalistic, stripped down melodies as a counterpart and on “Among the Dormant Watchers” the Shoegazy elements seem to be even in a larger role than before. Certain similarities to Justin Broadrick’s Jesu are easy to detect here. With all this in mind, “Among the Dormant Watchers” is simply a myriad of layers and this makes it maybe a bit complex listen. Of course, this was never a band that wrote hits for radio, but somehow it is hard to get a hold of it this time. The scales are not fully balanced.
This is maybe the biggest sole reason why the comeback of Forest of Shadows leaves a bit of a schizophrenic aftertaste. The key elements of the band are all there, widely out for the fans to embrace: They are still one-of-a-kind, a band who have no competition whatsoever in what they do. They are just as melancholy as Katatonia are (were?), but swim too far away from mainstream to be fully compared. Yes, they are slow and miserable, but too stripped to be compared to monolithic Funeral Doom bands. The biggest resemblance and kinship goes maybe to the direction of a certain My Dying Bride, but the experiments with Shoegaze can be too much for your average MDB fan. So yeah, Forest of Shadows are as original in their approach in 2018 as they ever were and “Among the Dormant Watchers” is a very welcomed return to life, but somehow it just does not appeal to me like their earlier stuff did. This is nothing short of A-class Doom, but for a band that has released some of the best recorded music EVER, being ‘just great’ is unfairly and unfortunately never enough. With their latest album, Forest of Shadows have become a prisoner of their exceptional past and as much as I rejoice their return, out of the three albums released this is not the best, or second best even.
Have a listen below.