Artist: Misantropical Painforest
Album Title: Firm Grip of the Roots
Label: Descending Towards Damnation
The production on this record is quite fitting: it's a little deeper and heavier on the low-end than the first album was, and the guitars no longer seem quite so eager to overwhelm everything else. The slightly thick production really suits MPF's signature dual-vocals, too; the clean singing seems a little more resonant and mysterious, and the raw vox are much more powerful than before. I have to admit that I preferred the bass sound on the last album, though -- the bass contributes plenty to the atmosphere, here, but it's subtle, and the album is so heavy it's sometimes hard to make out the bass lines.
"Firm Grip of the Roots" is a big step forward for Misantropical Painforest. It's an even more varied album than the last, seamlessly blending raging black metal with ritualistic/atmospheric passages, epic heavy-metal bombast, and even a song which wouldn't be too out of place on an early Candlemass record. Even so, this is also a much tighter album than the last: every song sounds focused and developed to the fullest, and even the instrumentals feel powerfully precise.
The album starts crisply, too. "The Center Remains Frozen" is a short intro which resonates with weird, sweeping keys. It brings to mind the depths of space, or perhaps the aurora borealis. Then "Distance Is Measured From This Spot" breaks the silence -- it's one of the shortest and most aggressive songs on the album, and the juxtaposition of these two tracks makes a tremendous statement. The jangling guitar lines and dynamic vocals here make a hell of an impression! "(You are the) Brightest Star" does, too; its slow, stately melody and resonant vocals are a perfect match for its impeccably moving Satanic lyrics. This is one of many songs on the album which are impossible to categorize: I could describe it as one of the best traditional-doom-tinged black metal songs I've ever heard, but that seems to cheat it a bit, as it's clearly doing its own thing.
Likewise, "Noita"'s repetitive rhythms are trance-like and strange, yet the aggressive Finnish vocals seem to be moving in an entirely different direction, as does the strange lead guitar part. When the ending brings everything together, the effect is quite powerful. "Warmind" is stunningly guitar-driven, with harsh snarled vocals to match, while the varied drumming on this track gives it even more depth. "Struggle Eternal" slows things down again, enveloping the listener in a dense cloud of relentless, towering atmosphere. The lyrics are fascinating as well: order, chaos, focus, nature, and self, all integrated into obviously heartfelt poetry. The song's bombastic outro melds seamlessly into another short instrumental with some great bodhran drumming.
"The Forest Dreams On" is easily the best song on the album. Mid-paced, epic, yet fierce, it combines all the best qualities of this band, much as "Journeying (T)here" did on the first record. The dual-vocal approach here is amazing, with clean and snarled voices singing together in a powerful duet, and the guitar lines are simply sublime. I doubt anyone who listens to this all the way through will be able to forget it. "Dreadfully Lonely" is even more daring, totally eschewing metal convention in favor of weird, high-pitched vocals and dragging, cyclical guitars. It's effective just the same, especially the echoing vocals near the end. "The Heart of the Powerful Nature" recalls the album's intro, adding eerie, distant vocals and an almost industrial atmosphere.
Once again, MPF have come up with something entirely beyond categorization. Those who like epic pagan metal should worship this, but if you're looking for aggressive black metal, you may also find something to like, as should those seeking atmosphere -- the record has a little of everything, melded into a surprisingly coherent whole. Open-minded fans of doom, death, and heavy metal may even get into this... the forest dreams on, and everything depends on whether you're willing to hear its song. Highest recommendations!
Standout Tracks: "(You are the) Brightest Star", "The Forest Dreams On", "Struggle Eternal"