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Forest Stream : Tears of Mortal Solitude

How exactly Forest Stream's music should be categorised is actually filed under the heading of 'trivia I really don't care about' - because it is excellent enough.

Classic albums take on many forms, but probably only one of three attributes: to be utterly unique, to be the primogenitor of some new movement or to be a pinnacle of achievement in an existing genre. It would be quite easy to always play the uniqueness card, of course, and claim there's nothing else quite like whichever piece of music is under discussion, particularly in sparsely-populated areas of the musical spectrum. Which is almost where I was tempted to put Forest Stream's full-length debut; instead, though, I'm going to take the third option and label it as a shining accomplishment in...whatever hybrid subgenre it actually is.

Conventional critical wisdom tends to place Forest Stream as being influenced by early Katatonia, which is almost as easy (and unhelpful in descriptive terms) as claiming uniqueness, and while it is true that they once covered 'Without God' (for the 'December Songs' tribute album), neither the cover nor the original sound particularly like 'Tears Of Mortal Solitude'. Despite a certain flavour of 'Dance Of December Souls' being present, the band themselves cite Emperor and Opeth as major sources of inspiration, and that's in some ways a better place to start looking, even if the influences of those two bands are more clearly observed in the follow-up to this album (2009's 'The Crown Of Winter').

Be that as it may, Forest Stream fall into that very underpopulated intersection between Blackened, Death and Gothic Doom; almost inevitably with a "Melodic" thrown in for good measure. How exactly that should be categorised, and in what order the qualifying subgenres should be organised, is actually filed under the heading of 'trivia I really don't care about'. Broadly, it's the same sort of place where you'd look for early Peaceville colliding with the likes of In The Woods... and Opera IX - dark, sombre, depressing soundscapes with more than a touch of the epic and symphonic about them.

Originally intended as part of a trilogy (similar in intent to Christian Death's 'All The Love, All The Hate' project), encompassing "all the sorrow, all the majesty and all the hate", 'Tears Of Mortal Solitude' was the "sorrow" element, released in 2003 by a stripped-down three-piece version of the band. Not that you could tell that just by listening: between them, Sonm the Darkest (drums, keyboard, vocals), Wizard Omin (guitar) and Silent Anth (bass) manage to fill their musical framework with plenty of different instrumental textures. Aside from the intro and outro tracks, and one shorter piece ('Whole') mid-way through, each track is a lengthy exploration progressing from its own, separate melodic motif, given time to develop an all-absorbing atmosphere and space in which to breathe. Keyboard features heavily throughout, sharing honours with guitar, as both instruments cover a diverse range from background depth to semi-acoustic interlude to driving lead, and both are handled with a deceptive ease that almost distracts from how well-crafted and well-executed the compositions actually are. The bass gets a chance too, adding some effective lines and body beneath them, while the drums carry a lot of variety in both rhythm and fill, with clear Black influences in the often-pacy double-beats. The vocals complement the mood perfectly, ranging from a quite savage, bitter growl to a less-utilised but quality clean voice.

Faster tracks like the loping 'Legend' or the epically-sweeping 'Mel Kor' slide effortlessly into the ominously restrained tempo of 'Snowfall's chilly distance and the hugely atmospheric 'Winter Solstice' taking in the (yes, OK, there is one) Katatonia-esque 'Last Season Purity', and the mostly-slow lilt of 'Whole' and 'Black Swans'. Bracketed by effect-heavy scene-setter 'Autumn Elegy' and the instrumental piano of 'Steps Of Mankind', the album covers a lot of ground with a maturity that belies its debut status.

It is quite difficult to describe how well this all fits together, inexorably drawing the listener into exactly the mood and sense of bleak, soul-deep, melancholy that could legitimately be described as "all the sorrow" - so I shall borrow one of the more emotive lyrics I've ever heard to sum up how it feels to me: "But with the winter in my bones, oh, what else can I do now? It's only me - I wouldn't let you down, again." (IQ, 'The Last Human Gateway').

Classic: yes. Not just in some over-elaborated mixture of subgenres: this is an icon true to the essence of Doom. Qualify it with Blackened, or perhaps Death/, if you really must, but it'd be missing the bigger picture of just what an emotionally-charged experience is lurking inside the enigmatically grainy, sepia cover of this quiet masterpiece.

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Reviewer's rating: 10/10


Tracklist :
1. Autumn Elegy
2. Legend
3. Last Season Purity
4. Snowfall
5. Mel Kor
6. Whole
7. Black Swans
8. Winter Solstice
9. Steps Of Mankind

Duration : Approx. 68 minutes

Visit the Forest Stream bandpage.

Reviewed on 2013-03-20 by Mike Liassides
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