Interview with vocalist Oliver “Olli” Berlin and guitarist Simon Schillinger | By Morgan Y. Evans
Despite the preconceived notions you may have about Germany or metal, Finsterforst are a force for good. Their name means “dark forest,” in reference to the band’s hometown of Schwarzwald, which translates to “black forest.” With deference to the greats of classic metal, the band are still bold enough to stir hearts with brave elements of their own, as they carry Black Forest metal to vigorous and thrilling new heights with Mach Dich Frei, out now through Napalm Records.
2012’s Rastlos was an epic step forward for the band, but did you have a goal to raise the bar even further with Mach Dich Frei? Did Napalm Records encourage you?
OB: Let me put it this way: when we started talking about the album, Simon simply said, “This one is going to be bigger and better than anything we ever did!” We went with that approach. I think you’re always trying to raise the bar; anything else wouldn’t satisfy us. Napalm doesn’t take part in the creative process at all, which we appreciate a lot. So, they didn’t encourage us, [but] on the other hand, they never try to set limits to what we do. We have a great relationship in that regard.
“Schicksals End” is thrilling and sounds like no other band. Your songs create a whole world. What instruments were used?
OB: So, we’re not a mere Moonsorrow rip-off? Fantastic, thank you! [Laughs] I think the most important instrument on “Schicksals End” is the cowbell. OK, seriously, I’ll let Simon talk about that one…
SS: [Laughs] The cowbell certainly is one of the more exotic instruments we used in this track. In “Schicksals End,” […] I added some special horn-sounding synth stuff, percussions, and later on, experimented with atmospheric synth-pad sounds, which you definitely can hear during the very calm and acoustic part. Besides the deep heaviness, I wanted to reach some great floating contrast that brings the listener down to some sort of dream-y mood before we strike hard and heavy again. Personally, I love this song very much, because the general atmosphere of it pushes me down to lean back; probably not easy to play this one live onstage!
Album closer “Finsterforst” is 23 minutes, 55 seconds. That’s longer than “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” by Iron Maiden! How hard was this song to compose? Also glad that the accordion is still part of the band.
OB: I think songs like that are the easiest ones, to some degree, for Simon. Of course it takes longer and the details are more complicated, but then again, he can put so much different stuff into them and really let it flow. [Accordion player Johannes] Hannes [Joseph] is part of the band, so the accordion is part of the band. It’s a great instrument to create a certain atmosphere, because the accordion is able to give you so many different sounds. Why would we give that up?
SS: Indeed, the accordion sound always was and always will be a part of Finsterforst’s sound. Yes, during the last productions, it was obvious that the usage of this instrument was quantitatively reduced, but certainly it didn’t suffer any lower quality standards. I even think that the more rare appearances make the accordion something more special whenever it is attacking in a song.
The finishing track of our album is definitely the highlight so far. I can’t really tell you how much time I needed to compose this monster, but as Olli already said, for me, it is not really a problem to make bigger or longer songs. I think I had some stable structure and idea of this track already after short time. But then it grew and grew; with each new part I realized that something was missing or I came up with another vision.
OB: To me personally, there are maybe two or three pagan, folk bands from Germany that I respect in terms of music, though there are some younger bands, which is promising. But I’m much more into German black metal that tries to differ from Scandinavian bands. Think of bands like Nagelfar, Nocte Obducta, or Lunar Aurora. These bands are definitely part of my DNA as singer and lyricist.
How does it feel to be nearing your 10 year anniversary as a band? Do you hope your music will inspire people to do bigger things?
OB: Can’t really answer the first one, since I’m only closing in on five years with the band, but they don’t seem too excited to me. I think it’s an accomplishment to be around that long for any band, because you’ll always have hurdles to overcome; work on your bond as a group, and keep a positive outlook through all the stuff that is thrown at you in this business.
In terms of inspiring people, you’d hope so, of course. It’s always touching when people come to you and tell you how your music helped them get through stuff by providing them with new energy and hope. But, first and foremost, we’re doing it for the fun of it. Hanging out together, challenging ourselves to trump the latest album, playing gigs in front of crazy guys. I think that’s why the band is still around after 10 years. We love what we’re doing, as painful as it can be at times.
SS: On one side, it feels really great to look back and see what we have achieved with this band. Back then, we certainly didn’t have in mind to enter bigger stages or to record albums! So yeah, right now, it feels awesome to be at a point where we will release our fourth studio album and have performed more than 100 shows. On the other side, it also shows how fast this fucking time is passing! I mean, 10 years… Holy hell, I thought that such an amount of time would last a bit longer. I am scared! [Laughs].