Okay, so I cheated a little bit with this one. October Falls are not what anyone in their right mind would classify as “non-metal” but they are incredible, I will jump at the chance to review them anytime I can, and they have always had a way with mixing surprising elements into their brand of nature-inspired black metal. It seems that they are going to keep to that trend, and maybe throw some surprises out there, with their latest release, the all-acoustic Syys, which is also their second full-length release of this year. See? That’s my rationale.
October Falls are pretty much household names in the black metal scene at this point, what with their enormous discography spanning almost twenty years and their penchant for writing poignant, pastoral and enormously evocative nature-inspired black metal that never really fails to hit pretty much every box you could ask for. There seems to be no shortage of creativity flowing from Mikko Lehto, the creative mind behind the project; as previously stated, Syys marks the band’s second full length release this year alone (peep the review of the stupendous Fall of an Epoch here), and their sixth full-length release overall.
Syys also continues the band’s tradition of spacing out their black metal releases with ones that are fully folk albums. No distortion, no blast beats, no harsh vocals (or vocals at all, in the case of Syys), just embracing and fully investing in the nature themes the band explores. The bulk of these songs are simple layers of acoustic classical guitars, with the rest of the depth of the song fleshed out by moody, deep strings, gentle and sparse percussion and piano, and delicate woodwind melodies. The intention with the release of these folk albums is to transport the listener and lay out the landscapes of their home in Finland and it does a fantastic job of that. The minimalist composition and arranging of these pieces allow them to be deeply meditative and incredibly immersive, pulling you out of yourself and into an almost trance-like state of calm. It reminds me an awful lot of Ulvesang, one of my favorite acts going right now, although it probably should be that Ulvesang reminds me of October Falls.
Immediately upon listening to the first few seconds of Syys, you’re at once hit with a wide range of emotions. The fact that the band can do so much without overloading the room these songs have is a testament to how smart and well-versed in every aspect of composition Lehto is. It’s what attracts me so much to their electric, metal-influenced albums, and the same degree of attention to detail is present here. On Syys, less truly is more. At any one point, there are usually two guitar tracks going, but they aren’t fighting with each other for space or clashing. Everything plays together very nicely, and the melody and harmony work together to weave a dream-like layer for all the other accompaniment to work on. The cellos hold down deep, somber melodies while the guitars explore the higher space, the woodwinds peek in and out, adding just enough over the top to break the song up and keep the mood going. Even little rolls of percussion help emulate a gust of wind or the sighing of branches, keeping the natural theme prominent. The songs are somber in tone, but that seems to be what the state of nature today is. Not exactly mournful, but they are just dark enough to put you in a deeply contemplative and thoughtful state, which is exactly where I need to be taken.
Syys is a perfect fall album. It matches pretty perfectly with the temperature dropping and the leaves dying away in a spectacular display of color, and you’d be hard pressed to find something that feels more appropriate in terms of emotional impact as well. Syys is the kind of album that makes me long for a place I’ve never been, and that longing is especially doubled by the whole not-being-able-to-go-damn-near-anywhere thing. Still, I’m glad I have albums like this to give me an excuse to daydream about going on an adventure being lost in the woods with Angela, even if it’s only a dream.