Melancholic atmosphere, a predilection for nature and a solipsistic worldview have all been staples for black metal since not long after the genre’s incarnation. Race, religion and continent aside, there seem to be philosophical aspects almost all participants in this form of music agree on; that there is a magic and wonder in the natural world that is all but lost and forgotten in modern society. In this regard, Waldgeflüster walk a worn and treaded path, one shared by legends past and present. While Meine Fesseln may not trump like-sounding work from Agalloch or early Ulver, Waldgeflüster’s familiar blend of bucolic acoustics and melodic tremolo riffs is thoughtfully composed and an otherwise memorable venture.
There have been a few times when I’ve jokingly referred to this style of atmospheric black metal as “introvert metal”. While most forms of extreme metal are to some extent inner-seeking in nature, bands like Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room and now Waldgeflüster have all evoked a similar sort of Romantic introspection in me. Conventional harmonies, vast and washing ambiance, and thoughtful repetition all contribute to a state of somber reflection, one I have no doubt Waldgeflüster mastermind Winterherz (guitars, vocals) is well-versed in. Readers may be able to think of a few bands of their own that fit this mold; if so, you should be able to get a strong idea of what Waldgeflüster sounds like. Melodies are sculpted with repetitive riff patterns and familiar tremolo leads. The longform songwriting adopts the popular ebb-and-flow dynamic to composition, building large mountains of sound and intensity, then falling back to nestle into some gentle acoustics once the crescendo has peaked. Vocal shrieks and howls aside, Meine Fesseln basks in the sweetness of harmony. Although the tone of the music expresses a spirit jaded by longing and melancholy, Waldgeflüster rarely ventures anywhere remotely ugly sounding or dark. The effect is almost always uplifting.
On top of the harsh vocals (which stay pretty true to black metal convention), Waldgeflüster are keen on the use of clean singing. Unlike the instrumentation, these clean vocals don’t work nearly as well as they may have been intended to. While the snarled vocals fit in snugly, the clean sections feel shoehorned unnecessarily. It’s understandable that an artist would want to bring in cleans for the sake of adding a melodic contrast to the instrumentation, but in the case of Waldgeflüster, the guitars are plenty melodic enough. For the most part, the clean vocals are roughly layered together for a decidedly Folkish impression. I wouldn’t say that this couldn’t have worked well for the style (and Winterherz isn’t all that bad of a clean singer), but they lack the sort of sharp melodic writing that would have made them worth it. The last track on the album, the uncharacteristically mellow “Traueweide Teil II”, is a great example of a composition that may have fared better without the vocal distraction.
Although the guitar parts are well-composed and arranged, it is the drumwork that truly stands out. Whereas so much of Meine Fesseln is dependent on the dynamic ebb-and-flow, the drum patterns are constantly shifting, evolving and keeping things interesting. Meine Fesseln is most impressive for the fact that the songs remain lively and engaging throughout; even if Waldgeflüster’s use of repetition runs the par for atmospheric black metal, the evolving rhythms give the impression that the building intensity is always leading somewhere. “Der Nebel” and “Wie eine Welde im Wind” are both solid examples of Waldgeflüster’s ability to structure their songwriting ideas in a way that brings out the best in them. Despite this, Meine Fesseln often feels predictable. It’s clear that Waldgeflüster means to conjure the same epic Romanticism as bands like Agalloch and Bathory, but for all of the effective harmonies and melodies, Meine Fesseln seems to drive at the same speed throughout the album. The mid-tempo strumming begins to feel recycled before the album caps off, and I’m left with the sense that a greater stylistic range would have worked wonders for the album. Fortunately, there are a few precious twists throughout it. “Mit welchen Fesseln” incorporates some bleak electronic ambiance in the vein of late-period Katatonia, and the album’s closer “Trauerweide Teil II” is a gloomy lament that could be heard suitably around a campfire. Best of all is “Trauerweide Teil I”, a piece placed firmly in the middle of the album. In this case, Waldgeflüster really shifts gears, verging on death-doom metal territory. If most of the album relates feelings of struggling with defeat and sadness, then “Trauerweide Teil I” reflects a submission to that sadness, bleak and utterly lonesome. Considering that things go back to the way they were by the next track, it can feel like “Trauerweide Teil I” was plucked from a different album altogether. Whatever the case, I’m left wanting to hear more of that side of Waldgeflüster’s sound.
In spite of the tried-and-true formula Waldgeflüster appear scarcely interested in deviating from, Meine Fesseln feels rich in atmosphere and sincere about the message it’s attempting to convey. In the end, far less can be said about the majority of black metal bands sporting similar nature-based philosophies, and though Meine Fesseln does not have the genre-bending innovation nor the monumental scope to make waves far past the niche sound Waldgeflüster is a part of, those with interest in any of the bands mentioned in this review will no doubt find the album to be a worthy listen.
01) Der Nebel
03) Wie eine Weide im Wind
04) Trauerweide Teil I
05) Wenn die Morgensonn…
06) Mit welchen Fesseln
07) Trauerweide Teil II