The War Inside My Head: An Interview with Forlesen

It's time once again to dip our proverbial toes into the best and most exciting music happening right now via our The War Inside My Head series where we speak to some of our favorite current artists and see if they would be willing to geek out on some of their favorite albums. For past installments of the series (including Kaatayra, Harakiri for the Sky, Caina, Crowhurst, E-L-R, and others, go here).

It gives me great pride, then, to present the next installment of this series with the members of American post-rock/post-black metal band Forlesen, who have released what I believe not be not only one of the best debuts this year but one of the finest overall releases. The group, which features current and former members of Botanist, Kayo Dot, Lotus Thief, Palace of Worms, and others, seamlessly weave the most ethereal, airy post-rock like moments with the ambition and grandeur of progressive rock and the bite and ferocity of black metal. And their album all of two songs, manages to not only grip its listener but do so with the nuance and elegance rarely achieved at all, let alone on one's debut. So, for that reason, and as a result of the band's eclectic sound, I was very curious to see how they tackled out "music appreciation" series and the results, I have to say, exceeded even those grand expectations.

However, before getting to the music I would just like to add that you can follow Machine Music on any one of our social media outlets (FacebookInstagramSpotify) and also, if so inclined, support us on Patreon. My aim has been to use whatever support we can get to produce interviews like these, focusing on the art and life of that art, as well as other projects supporting our local scene and beyond such as the newly launched music compilation MILIM KASHOT VOL. 2 of amazing local metal, hardcore, and noise as well as some of the best forward-thinking metal in the world right now. That includes, I should add, our brand new podcast MATEKHET, that is my somewhat philosophical take on a metal podcast, and can be found in all your favorite podcasting platforms (SpotifyYoutubeApple Podcasts). On to the wonderful Forlesen.

What was the first album you bought with your own money, and where did you buy it?

Ascalaphus: The first CD I bought was Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, hahahaha. I got it at a local independent music store in suburban New Jersey, the name of which currently eludes me. I might have had a tape before then, but I can’t remember it.

Bezaelith: I will preface all this album talk with the fact that I'm a mixtape girl. I generally fall in love with a few songs on an album at most, but not the rest. Likewise, many of the albums I view as cohesive wholes don't always have all songs I'm into. Brilliant albums vs. brilliant songs can be different beasts. So with all that into account the first album I bought was Please Please Me, bought at age 4 at the Bergen Mall in New Jersey, where I grew up. I bought it because my mom and her sister played Beatles tapes around the house and the NY/NJ classic rock radio stations had them on repeat all the time.

Maleus: Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet on vinyl. I actually think I had my sister buy it for me at the mall? I'm fuzzy on the details. I mean, I was 9.

What 2-3 albums did you hear the most growing up?

Bezaelith: I would say between my mother and father, it would be a toss up between The Beatles collections (both red and blue editions, Hotel California, with a close follow up of Sweet Baby James. My parents were 100% rock-genre, so I was not even introduced to metal until we had cable TV with MTV and VH1, which must have been at the late end of elementary school.

Ascalaphus: Presuming this means things I didn’t seek out myself, my parents played a lot of the Beatles. I remember when I first consciously heard Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and realized “Oh, I’ve been hearing this since I was a little kid.” My mom played a lot of Traveling Willburys around the house. And the Stand By Me soundtrack. I went to a co-op school until second grade and there was a tape of that going around, being dubbed by people’s parents that we’d then listen to on car trips. Early tape trading, hahahaha. Upon reading Bezaelith’s answer, my dad played a lot of James Taylor too. And we’re both from New Jersey. Maybe this is why we click musically, hahahaha.

Maleus: The Concert in Central Park by Simon & Garfunkel, The Violent Femmes by The Violent Femmes, and The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden.

What two albums taught you the most about making music (mixing, production, performance)?

Ascalaphus: Leviathan’s Tentacles of Whorror is one. Massive Conspiracy Against All Life is “better” in terms of production because it has real drums, which I appreciate and it might even be a superior album compositionally, but Tentacles was the one that got me and kinda cracked my head open. He really carved out a sonic spectrum within music that has so much ambiance actively woven into the cacophony. It finds so many different shades within the blackness. Trust by Low. So heavy, so spiritual, so spacious, so sad. I’m not sure if I can articulate it beyond that, but they’re just one of my favorite bands and that’s probably my favorite album of theirs. Spacious music deftly executed that ascends into the infinite. Both huge inspirations, perhaps not all that subtly. I can’t guarantee those are the ones that taught me THE MOST, but they’re as good as any to list.

Bezaelith: It's physically painful to limit it further than this, so I won't try: Dark Side of the Moon –  I'd be a total liar not to say how much that album influenced me, its deliberate continuity and legendary sound. King Crimson Red because of the intensity. It manages beauty & terror like some seedy 70's grindhouse crime scene that suddenly ascends to the stars and hell and back. There's something untouchable about it. A third necessity would be Rumors because it really works both as an album, and as individual songs. It taught me about harmonies, about female leads vs. female atmospheric vox, and the delicate balance between male and female vox. Metallica's "Master of Puppets" got me thinking as a teenager about the use of dynamics in a metal song, the beautiful break in the song "Master of Puppets" is short, but changed everything for me. It taught me that the severity of harshness in a song is even more intense when counterbalanced against beauty. The last would be Yob's Clearing the Path to Ascend. I literally heard it and wrote directly to Mike Scheidt. We talked and I told him exactly how stellar the sound was (and still is) to me. I learned from that release that there's a beauty to doom riffs done right – a "relentlessness" that counterbalanced against Mike's vocals (both harsh and melodic), is mind-changing.

Maleus: Limiting to two is hard, so I didn't. Sorry:

Repeater by Fugazi – I can't justify why, but it was the first time the sound of an album really impressed itself on me. That album is such an interesting combination of both feeling like a band in a room and a constructed studio piece.

…And Justice for All and Prong's Cleansing were very influential in their clean, airless immediacy, and then Emperor's Anthems… and Ulver's Nattens Madrigal taught me that wasn't the only way to do it.

It's a little bit of a standard answer, but later on OK Computer by Radiohead was massive for thinking about making a cohesive, flowing album.

What is the last album that absolutely shocked you?

Ascalaphus: I got turned onto Suicide’s first album recently. I don’t know if shocked is the right word, but it was revelatory to discover where a certain sound originated that shaped so much else. I also was shocked to discover recently that I hadn’t actually heard the entirety of Beherit’s Engram. The version on Spotify is missing the glorious 15+ minute "Demon Advance," which stands among the best things they ever did. It completely changes the album and I’d put it among my all time favorites.

Bezaelith: The most recent shocker was Malokarpatan's Krupinské ohne. Ascalaphus texted it to me and he's usually right about stuff I will like. This to me sounded like black metal meets Motörhead with weird classical and folk-y interludes. It was brilliant and I would see them live for sure. They are more than just a fun-ride album, but it is so well-made that you can listen on the surface or start paying attention to the twists and turns it takes in places.

Maleus: A Gaze Among Them by Big Brave. That and Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony by Colin Stetson.

What album relaxes you or centers you the most?

Ascalaphus: Maybe Earth’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull or Jack Rose’s Kensington Blues.

Bezaelith: Alio Die – Password for Entheogenic Experience, but I'm talking being relaxed enough to go to sleep. If you want relaxed and centered and able to get out of your chair, let's go with Grails, Chalice Hymnal.

Maleus: Relaxes: Laughing Stock by Talk Talk; centers: Traced in Air by Cynic.

What are the 2-3 albums you’ve listened to the most recently?

Ascalaphus: Jason Molina’s LET ME GO LET ME GO LET ME GO, Sortilegia’s Sulfurous Temple, and Type O Negative’s World Coming Down. Jason Molina’s music found me at either the best or worst possible time. It’s excruciatingly sad at a time when that felt extremely on the nose. Sortilegia are just fucking great. Really grim and sincere with a special atmosphere. I saw them live a couple years back and it was like someone brought an early Darkthrone album cover to life. It’s also remarkable how complete it sounds with just one voice, one guitar and drums. Type O Negative have been a go to since adolescence. I generally skip the cringier songs which most of their albums have, but World Coming Down feels the darkest and heaviest and actually doesn’t have me skipping anything besides “skip it,” hahaha.

Bezaelith: Urfaust – The Constellatory Practice, Villagers of Ioannina City – Age of Aquarius, and She Past Away – Ritüel. Urfaust is unequivocally-brilliant and this album feels like entering a ritual of some dark design – more than any album on this list, there's a terrifying element to it that embodies the word. Age of Aquarius surprised me, because at first, I initially wanted to dismiss it as standard stoner-rock-schlock. I was wrong about that – it's an album where whenever it is played in my house, I end up listening even if I'm in the other room. Ritüel is like walking into a weird but all-encompassing Depeche Mode goth nightmare.

MaleusLeo Brouwer: Guitar Sonatas by Ricardo Gallen. His voicing, interpretation, and performance of these pieces is so strong and so clear. Also Blasphemy by Kayo Dot, and Historian by Lucy Dacas.

What album is grossly underrated?

Ascalaphus: Jumalhämärä’s Resignaatio. I think that album is a masterpiece – intense, dynamic, beautiful and moody. I’ve never heard anyone talk about it. It’s also the only thing I’ve heard of theirs that struck me as particularly remarkable.

Bezaelith: Grown Below, The Other Sight was the first one to come to mind. It became a thing for me where I played it in my car with those friends of mine who like metal, just to watch them stop conversing and ask "who is this?" My favorite song on that album is "My Triumph."

Maleus: They are the Shield by Toby Driver – Toby's a good friend and I'm biased, but TATS is so, so beautiful and it deserved so much more traction than it got.

What album would you recommend from your local scene?

Ascalaphus: That’s a tricky question because I recently moved and have been in quarantine since that time, so I don’t feel like I’m part of a local scene right now. Since I now live in the Portland area, Taurus’s No/Thing is really cool and weird – dense, dark, hypnotic and heavy. For the Bay Area, Leila Abdul Rauf’s Diminution is wonderful – very foggy, grey and lush.

Bezaelith: I don't have a "local scene". I live on a mountain in the middle of a forest, and even when I lived in big cities, I never was a scenester but rather the weird girl whose bandmates & buddies occasionally dragged out of the studio to go see a show. With that in mind I would suggest Green Lung, Woodland Rites and Shape of Despair's Monotony Fields because I would take both those albums on a forest hike.

Maleus: Orificial Purge by Vastum [[Check out our interview with Vastum about Orificial Purge here]].