Extreme metal band Forlesen closed 2023 in a grand and uncompromising fashion by offering an abrasive cover of Type O Negative’s ‘Red Water (Christmas Mourning)’ as festive bait. Transforming the slow, heavy gothic tune into an abrasive black metal/doom metal tour de force, they not only gave the track their own twist, but also made it sound like an original cut – something that originated from somewhere deep within the American band’s blackened souls.

Their contribution to this split release is just as inventive, but far more stripped down. The band have taken the words of a sixteenth century folk ballad ‘Black Is The Colour’ and reappropriated them in their own unique way. By opening with a funeral drum, the lengthy piece makes no secrets of its dark intents, and with the achingly slow beats augmented by equally slow doom-laden guitar chords and a droning organ sound, the first three minutes of the recording finds Forlesen unwinding very slowly. By gradually bringing in a heavier guitar, the mood intensifies without losing any atmosphere, and a quietly mumbled vocal also adds further to the pleasingly gothic tones. Despite seeming deathly paced, for the more attuned ear, there’s always something happening; always a gradual tonal shift that suggests even bigger things are ahead. After an eternity’s worth of slowly building tension, the first massive doom chords crash through and with the band truly awoken, the rest of the lengthy number is very impressive.

Armed with a pure heaviness, the doomy chords crash against a layered vocal that often seems more concerned with extra atmosphere than conveying a clear message, but this too is vital in making the track work. By transposing the folk piece to an extremely mournful, almost Gregorian mumble, it has a timeless darkness that somehow takes Forlesen’s heavy intents and makes them feel other worldly. Eventually, spookily whispered voices pull the listener into a section of pure doom, where crushing guitar chords and hard struck piano notes create the ultimate in misery, which is balanced nicely by a dark harmony vocal that makes the very best of the ancient text. With a repeated refrain called against a crushing doom riff over several minutes at the end, the almost Gregorian feel really comes to life, and the blend of male and female harmonies adds a strangely accessible quality to an epic track that doesn’t always make itself the most approachable, musically speaking. It can be hard going, but for the attuned ear, there’s a lot here to entertain.

The EP’s other offering comes from Lotus Thief, a band whom, in their own words share “ancient words resurrected in song”, making them ideal partners on this split release. Their ‘In Perdition’ is strangely beautiful. Weaving huge but downbeat melodies, the opening of the eleven minute number shares clean strummed guitar lines beneath smooth vocals which slide between solo voice and atmospheric choral melodies with a natural ability. This blend of goth, alt-pop and folk would’ve been strong enough alone to sustain a complete recording, but Lotus Thief explore much grander ideas throughout the remainder, moving through bigger vocals, a massive prog rock tinted guitar solo where long soaring notes are augmented by twin lead sounds and more choral vocals, and eventually an oppressive black metal groove. The peak of the track shares a brave fusion of goth, prog metal, classic rock, doom and folk – the ultimate melting pot – before dropping back into a dark, proggy soundscape where harmonies float above chugging guitar work. In terms of breathing new life into a few metallic and gothic tropes, this is absolutely fantastic. Stunning, even; and even with a brief descent into heavier pneumatics and a pure black metal vocal, the guitar work retains just enough flair to keep prog metal fans interested. At the track’s end, a classic metal lead guitar fills several bars with an almost bluesy tone, making the most from long vibrato filled notes, before another deep, gothic melody paves the way for a theatrical vocal and a slow, epic riff that could’ve been inspired by the darkest moments from Devin Townsend’s peerless ‘Ocean Machine: Biomech’ album. Seriously, this track has everything. Whether you’re a fan of Lotus Thief of old, or approaching them with fresh ears, ‘In Perdition’ is an absolute gem.

It’s always enjoyable to experience Forlesen in full, oppressive doom mode, and fans will certainly enjoy what’s offered here, but it’s the sheer scope within the Lotus Thief track really impresses with regards to this release. In terms of indulgent progressive goth metal, ‘In Perdition’ is a genuine game changer. At one track apiece and a running time of under twenty five minutes, it would be easy to wish for more, but with a potential genre classic joined by a huge doomy epic, this split still offers fans of underground metal plenty to enjoy. Don’t miss it.

January 2024