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Album Of The Week

If You Go Down To The Woods Today: Forest Nocturne By The Lord
Miloš Hroch , April 21st, 2022 08:23

Co-founder of Sunn O))) and Southern Lord records, Greg Anderson joins gargantuan riffs to cinematic grandeur on his very first solo album

© Al Overdrive

From the early 1930s, H. P. Lovecraft was corresponding with then aspiring weird fiction writer Duane W. Rimel. Lovecraft became Rimel’s mentor and friend, and the two co-wrote a short story Tree on the Hill, which was published three years after Lovecraft’s death in the 1940 issue of the fanzine Polaris. It tells a story of a man exploring the outsides of the city of Hampden, known as Hell’s Acres. Local superstitions tell that the area is haunted. The narrator wanders oddly shaped hills, crosses canyons and discovers a majestic tree standing alone atop the mountain. “More than anything it resembled an oak. It had a huge, twisted trunk, fully a yard in diameter, and the large limbs began spreading outward scarcely seven feet from the ground.” From there, a view of the Bitterroot Mountains enrols. 

Suddenly he falls into daydreaming. In delirious visions, he sees “a great temple by a sea of ooze, where three suns gleamed in a pale red sky. The vast tomb, or temple, was an anomalous colour – a nameless blue-violet shade. Large beasts flew in the cloudy sky”. He approaches the stone temple and its colossal doorway, from where unimaginable darkness tries to snatch him inside. “I thought I saw three flaming eyes in the shifting void of a doorway, and I screamed with mortal fear.” 

The story is based on the idea that trees, these hundreds and thousands of years-old entities, connect us with the long-forgotten past and mythic powers. It came to my mind when I listened to Greg Anderson’s album Forest Nocturne, which draws inspiration from hikes in the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest. As the press release informs us, Anderson sees majestic trees as “survivors – perhaps the last known connection that we have to an ancient world”. The first single and the album’s closing track ‘Triumph of the Oak’ starts with hissing and disembodied growls by Attila Csihar, a former Mayhem vocalist and Sunn O))) collaborator, beckoning like that awful darkness from the tomb. Skullcrushing sludge metal riffs then slowly raise a rolling sonic massive even without a rhythmic pulse. A sense of dread soars throughout Forest Nocturne, an album full of strong odours and atmospheric heaviness. 

Not many people can quite so righteously call themselves ‘The Lord’ as Greg Anderson. He has a mammoth body of work behind him: as a Seattle metal underground veteran and guitarist of bands like Engine Kid and Goatsnake, curator of independent label Southern Lord, and most importantly, co-founder of Sunn O))), a collaborative project with Stephen O’Malley, which established a solid bridge between metal and the avant-garde which took the genre far beyond traditional metalheads circles. In almost thirty years of heavy operations, Forest Nocturne is Anderson’s solo full-length debut.

Without being able to play music in a room full of people or live in front of an audience, he barricaded himself in the garage with a digital four-track recorder, started developing new ideas for Sunn O))) and recording demos of his solo stuff. It was a process entirely new to Anderson, making music alone in the dungeon, as he described it in a recent interview. Previously, he used to credit himself on some Sunn O))) records as The Lord and he resurrected the name during the past years of the pandemic. With Big Brave’s Robin Wattie and Alice in Chains vocalist William Duvall, Anderson recorded two separate benefit tracks and donated money for a good cause: The Native Women Shelter of Montreal and Jail Guitar Doors. At the same time, he worked on a score for an anthology of found-footage horror stories called V/H/S 94 and studied John Carpenter and Bernard Hermann’s classic soundtrack work from the twentieth century.

Forest Nocturne is the culmination of these influences (the special LP for Record Store Day April 2022 even includes some V/H/S 94 demos). If Sunn O))) extended the understanding of metal to the avant-garde, The Lord proudly stays on the side of pulp which doesn’t mean the enjoyment lacks the depth. Forest Nocturne’s fantastical cover (created by the death metal illustrator Dan Seagrave) is bathed in dark blue with arboreal creatures crawling from the shadows. A temple in the middle and monumental trees like mythical giants only adds to that impression. The album feels like a dark fantasy horror movie score from the 1980s.

The Lord addresses the unconscious regions on Forest Nocturne and drags you deeper into the woods. Anderson often takes a short vulgar guitar riff and repeats it while he builds on soundscapes from guitar drones and muscular sub frequencies underneath, as in the opening ‘Theme’ or in ‘Forest Wake’ with screeching sirens and buzzsaw riffs vaguely remiscent of Converge. ‘Lefthand Lullaby I’ with jingling chime melodies and whispering wind evokes something between Carpenter’s theme for Halloween and Goblin’s score for Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Anderson slowly doses the tension. In the following, ‘Lefthand Lullaby II’, he tunes his guitar in the same register, and it gets into your head even though it feels more like an exercise than a full-bodied composition.

The passage through eight tracks on Forest Nocturne may lead you to some dead ends, but one of the most engaging moments is ‘Church of Hermann’. A tribute to the master of experimental film scores who soundtracked Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and Taxi Driver and revolutionized the form. Bernard Hermann worked with obsessively repeated motifs and static chords, experimented with theremins and electric organs – a vocabulary Anderson understands well. ‘Church of Hermann’ starts with tender church organ chords that gradually grow into a drone, then a gargantuan guitar riff emerges from its core and enhances new dynamics. Its sound melts and expands to otherworldly effects.

Understandably, Anderson exercises a sonic palette developed with Sunn O))). Their transcendental and time-distorting heaviosity inspired composers who transposed drone-metal influences on movie screens like Jóhann Jóhannsson’s soundtrack to Mandy or Sunn O))) collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir’s work for Joker and Chernobyl. In this sense, it is a logical step for Anderson towards soundtrack work and cinematic music. Forest Nocturne is not a statement or career-defining record but a manifestation of joy from newfound tools and solitary possibilities for music production. And with another release already announced, a promise for the future that exploration does not end here.