When I tell you that this album is a folk black metal band that went full folk, a certain expectation of what you might hear were you to play the album immediately comes to your mind. That image probably contains expansive and lush melodies, a more melancholy vibe to the influences that have always informed what the band were about. When I add that Anglo-Saxon myths influences run through the album, that idea of the music crystallizes; perhaps Winterfylleth‘s The Hallowing Of Heirdom comes to mind, with its evocation of English myth and nature. Thematically, you won’t be too wrong; Thrawsunblat have always sung about the might and wonder of nature. But that’s where the comparison ends as Great Brunswick Forest takes a completely different approach to folk black metal become “just” folk.
The main difference in approach is that the power and aggression are still there; this is not a more “relaxed” or “somber” album. Folk, rightfully so, often evokes within us feelings of wanderlust, of great nostalgia or heartache for a world now gone, a world which never really existed (what some might call “hiraeth”). But here, Thrawsunblat instead channel the sturdy energy of tradition and nature, the unyielding strength of the forest and mountain. The tones are the main difference; everything is acoustic but the main rhythm of black metal compositions has been maintained. This results in the guitars being extremely percussive, strings twinging and bowing beneath sustained pressure.
“Here I Am a Fortress”, the second track, is a great example of this; there are multiple guitar tracks going off at the same time, using those percussive techniques to create a very full and rich milieu of notes. One line strums fast-paced, almost tremolo picked riffs, giving the track that black metal feel even if the distortion and delay are missing. Other guitar tracks pick and choose (get it) interesting crossing points with this main riff, amplifying it and creating something greater than the sum of parts. Speaking of which, this track is probably also the best example of the effective and evocative vocals techniques found on the album. They’re sung cleanly but with an incredibly low and rich timbre, conjuring to mind a powerful skald standing proud in a hall rather than a lonesome bard in some echoing castle.
Other points on the album reintroduce electric guitars, but the strong acoustic elements and the resounding vocals never flinch. That means that Great Brunswick Forest has a very unique feeling; it feels like oak, like the deep scent of the mountain after rain. There’s something incredibly comforting in it, as the lyrics focus on the healthy and important facets of traditional storytelling: personal wholeness, willpower, community, and a deep-seated love of nature which shines through everything that Thrawsunblat do (“Life is not simply to breathe / Not to break back for other’s intents / Life is to grow, to struggle free / To serve one’s own unique existence “). If those themes sounds familiar, it’s no accident; they are basically the ideas which run through a lot of black metal but with a unique and interesting perspective, as Thrawsunblat have always brought to the table. That’s the thing about Great Brunswick Forest; it’s black metal and it isn’t, it’s a shadow of it and a reflection. Most of all, it’s glorious. Bring on the rain.
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Thrawsunblat’s Great Brunswick Forest sees release on October 19th. You can head on over to this Bandcamp link to pre-order it and to Exclaim if you’d like to stream the full thing.