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Hate Forest hail from the Ukraine, and specialise in ominous, hateful, raw black metal. Their third full length opens with some rather beautiful traditional gypsy folk singing, involving a chorus of soaring voices, both male and female . If I recall correctly, these are recordings from a Ukrainian funeral service; certainly the crying and weeping into which the final song at the end of the album descends would suggest this. The theme of the album is clearly one of nationalism and war: depicted on the album cover is the gravestone of the Cossack military leader Ivan Sirko (c. 1610-1680), located in the village of Kapulivkain the Dnipropetrovsk Region of the Ukraine, and the booklet contains ancient portraits of what I imagine are other prominent figures in Ukranian history, alongside pictures of old family crests. Its hard to be sure who they are however, as their names and descriptions are all in Slavic script, as are some of the song titles.
The album alternates between epic black metal and folk singing interludes throughout its seven tracks, which works well and keeps things reasonably varied. Each of the black metal tracks on offer here start with slow, ominous sections incorporating distant, droning riffs and low, monotonous chanting, vengeful sounding growled vocals and martial drumming complete with drum rolls and booming war drums, that slowly build in momentum as if to suggest an army approaching the enemy on the battlefield.
Elsewhere there are eerie tolling bells and ambient wind-like effects, which combined with the icy riffs and marching drums prove hugely atmospheric. When combined with deep, wounded-sounding growls, the effect is suggestive of some massive, ominous army descending from the bowels of a dark forest or across some barren range of hills. By far my favourite aspect of the album however is the frequent use of a hammer hitting an anvil as percussion; whilst this might sound a little cheesy, it stands out brilliantly and adds great depth to the music somehow, adding to the overall cold and relentless feel.
This tension grows and grows before eventually giving way to outbursts furious, full-speed black metal, that break forth suddenly like waves of attacking troops. This is executed particularly well on the first track proper, "With Fire and Iron" whichslowly builds, gradually gaining in momentum and rising in tension, before suddenly launching into a whirlwind of furious riffs and vicious screaming, like an army breaking ranks and plunging into the attack. The drums change from a marching beat to a much faster one, which creates an image of charging, screaming soldiers and horses galloping furiously. Likewise on the second track, 'Our Fading Horizons' the drumming becomes extremely fast and frenetic, somehow creating an image of a crush between the two sides with swords and bayonets clattering against one another. Simple keyboards rise above the din, like the sounding of horns.
Whilst the first two metal tracks are very similar in structure, the third one, 'Glare Over Slavonic Lands' is more in the vein of traditional depressive, droning black metal, and is reminiscent both of Burzum and of Hate Forest's more melancholy-focused sister band, Drudkh. Whilst the anvil-based percussion is still present, speeding and slowing occasionally to the accompaniment of urgent sounding synths, the song is largely given over to raw and sorrowful riffs, indicative, perhaps, of a scene of fallen dead on the battlefield.
Whilst it can be rather samey, 'Battlefields' is a very atmospheric and moving listen, and conveys a sense of militaristic dread and grim relentlessness very successfully, whilst the interludes of ethnic singing and wailing convey the human suffering that such ideologies leave in their wake. 'Battlefields' conveys sadness, stoicism and aggression in equal measures and is a powerful and enjoyable black metal album with an identity all of its own.