Interviews

Interview: Oliver Berlin of FINSTERFORST

Vocalist Oliver Berlin chats about the band’s upcoming fifth full-length, Zerfall

Finsterforst is an epic band from Schwarzwald, Baden-Württembeg, Germany.  Over the course of four full-length releases, the band has decidedly carved their own niche within the Extreme Metal community as they progressively blurred the lines between Black Metal, Folk Metal, and Pagan Metal.  Genres are seen as limitations for the band and thus, they set out to create the music that speaks directly to their souls.  Vocalist Oliver Berlin was kind enough to lend his time to chat about the band’s upcoming fifth full-length, Zerfall, the band’s history and background, and what he would like to see happen in the future.  Any fans of thunderous, atmospheric Metal will surely gravitate toward Finsterforst and assuredly, Zerfall is their mightiest creation yet!


ANTIHERO: So, what is the music scene like over in Germany?

Oliver Berlin: I can’t really tell. I’m not much into the scene. I can only tell you what I experience live. I get the impression there are a lot of young people coming after the older ones. So yeah, we don’t have too much of a problem becoming old as a scene and people just want to have fun, I think.

ANTIHERO: You guys definitely have the advantage of having huge festivals over there in Europe.

Oliver Berlin: Yeah, that’s really nice, though we tend to play more of the smaller ones, actually, which are up to 2,000 people. I enjoy those very much.

ANTIHERO: Do you play more festivals than bars/clubs?

Oliver Berlin: It depends. If we’re on tour, we, of course, play more small clubs and bars, stuff like that. If we’re not on tour, we play more like festivals.

ANTIHERO: I saw that you had some dates coming up.

Oliver Berlin: Yes, there’s going to be our gig at Wolfszeit Festival (8/22/2019 Schleiz, DE) which is the unofficial release party.  We have another festival coming up I think in September and then in late October/early November, we’re going to play a tour with Skyforger, Enisum, and Helsott from the U.S. We have another tour we’re planning that if it happens will be awesome where we’ll go to China. So yeah, pretty exciting times!

ANTIHERO: Wow, have you ever been to China before?

Oliver Berlin: No, definitely not as a band and I think none of us have been as a private person. So, we’re all looking forward to that. We just hope we can make it.

ANTIHERO: Bring a gas mask.

Oliver Berlin: Really? Is it that bad? Have you been there?

ANTIHERO: I’ve just seen the news clip on CNN where they show that there’s really bad pollution in China. I’m sure it’s only in certain areas.

Oliver Berlin: Yeah, they’ve got these megacities with thirty million people living there which is kind of insane.

ANTIHERO: Actually, a friend of mine teaches in China and he was telling me that the Metal fans over there are absolutely just crazy. The scene is huge!

Oliver Berlin: Really? I don’t know. I’ve never heard of a Metal scene in China, but they have to have one. Other bands have been there and said it was really cool.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, China, Korea, of course, Japan. Metal is definitely a worldwide phenomenon now.

Oliver Berlin: I knew about Japan and South Korea, but I have no idea about China or even North Korea. I think it’s kind of a political system that just blocks certain stuff out.

ANTIHERO: So, as an introduction for those not in the know, how would you best describe your band’s sound?

Oliver Berlin: That’s a very easy question to begin with…no, it’s actually not (laughs). I really don’t know. I mean, I would say there’s a lot of Bathory influence in it. So yeah, we definitely have deep roots in the Black and if you want to call Bathory Folk or Pagan scene. At the same time, we do a lot of orchestral stuff, a lot of different singing/vocals, and yeah, we’ve got some really heavy guitar work. I don’t really like the names in terms of a genre because I don’t think we really fit one. We ourselves call it Black Forest Metal so I’ll leave it at that.

ANTIHERO: That’s a good term. Actually, the Bathory thing was something I was going to ask later on. I definitely caught a huge Bathory vibe going back and listening through your discography.

Oliver Berlin: Yeah, I think it’s not always been there, but Bathory is a big influence for us and he (Quorthon) always will be while at the same time we’re trying to do it a little more modern. I mean, music has developed since Bathory. Yeah, he will always be a big influence especially in terms of atmosphere.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, there’s a vibe that’s very similar between your music and something like Hammerheart or Twilight of the Gods that is very bombastic. You can feel the electricity so to speak.

Oliver Berlin: That’s cool. I’ve never viewed it as electricity, but that’s cool. That’s what we’re trying to do. You can tell just by the length of the songs that we’re more about atmosphere than showing off our technical skills. That’s for Tech Death bands to do. For us, it’s all about creating an atmosphere that’s deep and takes you on some kind of journey.

ANTIHERO: So, the new album is called Zerfall. What does that mean in English?

Oliver Berlin: It’s like something between disintegration and things falling apart. That would be the meaning of the word. On the record, we went for a concept that would just try to describe disintegration and falling apart on different layers, different levels, like society falling apart, nature falling apart because of humans. Stuff like that.

ANTIHERO: What was the writing process like for the album?

Oliver Berlin: It’s always the same with us. Simon (Schillinger – lead, rhythm, acoustic guitars, keyboards, orchestrations, programming, choir vocals) is writing all the music and he gets his inspiration from everywhere. There’s a lot of music he listens that doesn’t have to be Metal. Pretty much everyday stuff that keeps him busy in some way or form in his mind. He just puts that into the music. When he’s done with his part, we, that’s David (Schuldis – rhythm guitars, bagpipes) and me, we try to figure out what kind of lyrics would fit the album. We try to figure out a concept and begin writing lyrics. Then of course in the studio, you begin to adjust things along the way because you realize some things will work better or won’t work the way you thought it would.

ANTIHERO: How was the recording?

Oliver Berlin: The recording – well, it took us really long this time. I think we’ve never done a record that is complex as Zerfall is. So yeah, it took a month really. Yeah, it was fun, actually. I can only talk for the vocal part. That was really fun. For doing vocals is just something that I love to do. At the same time, I think we’ve done some different stuff with the vocals this time so there was a lot of testing and trying out until it really fit. Then we had Lars from Heidevolk as a guest singer some days. He just blew us away with his performance so it was just big fun.

ANTIHERO: I don’t often hear studio work being categorized as fun.

Oliver Berlin: Well, I think it depends on how you approach it. We don’t see the band as work. Of course, there comes some work with it. When Simon is writing the song and you listen to it for the first time on a Guitar Pro file which may not sound that good, but you get an imagination of how it might sound in the end. When I get to the studio, the guitars are done, the drums are in. The bass is done. Some of the synthesizer stuff is already done most of the time. I get a better impression than to watch every step after that of the music developing is just an insane experience. I don’t know how you can’t feel that this is fun. Maybe it’s different if you have to earn your money with music and then you just have this pressure, but we don’t have that.

ANTIHERO: So, the 36-minute track, “Ecce Homo,” how did that particular track come about?

Oliver Berlin: We’ve had long tracks on our previous albums as well. I think that’s just Simon writing the other songs before that one and just putting everything into that last song that he thought of and couldn’t get into the other songs then developing more ideas and the songs growing and growing. I mean, we never talked about doing a song that is over half an hour long. At one time, we joked about doing a one-song record, but that really wasn’t our goal. It just happens. He begins writing. Then sometimes he’ll tell us, “Ok, I’ve come pretty far with it, but something is missing”. All of a sudden, he’s adding another twelve minutes or so to it so it’s just insane to watch him.

ANTIHERO: One thing I did notice listening to the new album is that the guitar sound itself is absolutely huge. Was that a conscious decision?

Oliver Berlin: Definitely. There’s always a big emphasis on the guitars sounding brutal and just blowing everything away even if you just listened to them. I think we get better at it. Our studio guy, Christoph from the Iguana Studios, he’s just great. He’s got so much experience, but he’s always willing to learn stuff. So, every record we have a new producer sitting there, though it’s the same guy. He’s learning so much knowledge between albums. The same is with us. Yeah, I think it’s just a natural progression with the guitar sound.

ANTIHERO: There’s definitely a difference between this album and the last album, #YOLO. Was that just a departure?

Oliver Berlin: Well, actually #YOLO was not an album. It’s an EP and it was meant to be that. It was just like a fun trip for us. We wanted to do that for years – a record that’s just about drinking and having fun, maybe doing some covers. Then we were at that point where Mach Dich Frei was out and we didn’t come up with a lot of ideas for a new album at that point and we thought, “Ok, let’s do it now”. So Zerfall is not like we’re trying to get away from #YOLO. It’s just what we normally do, going back to that again.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, it definitely sounds much like the previous material. How do you guys do the orchestral arrangements? Is that all the keyboard player?

Oliver Berlin: Oh no, he would break his fingers! That’s actually programmed for the most part. I actually think on the record – I’m not even sure if the keyboard is playing. I don’t think so because it would take a lot longer just programming it at home and then getting it to the studio. He’ll play some of it live.

ANTIHERO: What’s your live setlist going to look like?

Oliver Berlin: We really don’t know right now. We’re going to have rehearsals in the next weeks and then we’ll find out. I’m really not sure. I think we will, of course, play “Zerfall” because that’s the song the video was done for. I’m not sure if we will ever bring “Ecce Homo” to the stage, though I would love to do it. It would be really complicated. I think we’re going to play “Wut” live and then we’ll see, but of course older stuff as well.

ANTIHERO: There’s a solid mid-pace throughout Zerfall.

Oliver Berlin: What do you mean by that? The music itself or how the songs progress?

ANTIHERO: The tempo – it’s kind of like going back to the Bathory comparison. It’s solid.

Oliver Berlin: Yeah, that’s what we do. I think that’s what we do best. There will always be blast parts where you just push the tempo a bit. We are at our best when it’s just heavy and just waltzing everything away.

ANTIHERO: Do you write most of the lyrics?

Oliver Berlin: Normally I do. On this record, I didn’t. The only song I wrote the lyrics for was “Ecce Homo” because that took me a month. The other lyrics were written by David who has done lyrics before. He’s written lyrics since Rastlos. Normally, most of the lyrics would come from me. This time, I just wasn’t able to do it.

ANTIHERO: When you are writing lyrics, what inspires you the most?

Oliver Berlin: That’s a tough one. As I said, we had a concept with Zerfall so it was pretty clear that I had to stay in line with it. I draw inspiration from a lot of stuff. It can be politics. I’m a huge fan of not liking Mr. Trump and his influence over the world…

ANTIHERO: We have that in common…

Oliver Berlin: Yeah, see – I really think that society is kind of dividing in a lot of countries right now. I look at that and it really gives me headaches. Especially for “Ecce Homo,” I was taking that picture and trying to imagine how this could go on and really end someday. Then you have something going on with nature where we just destroy it. That’s always an inspiration. Nature itself, it’s beautiful at the same time. While we destroy it, it’s still really beautiful. That’s where a lot of inspiration comes from. I love to read sociology. I get a lot of inspiration for these things.

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ANTIHERO: Do you have a certain ritual you do when you set out to write lyrics?

Oliver Berlin: I actually try to keep notes when I’m just on the road. I try to keep handwritten notes and then when I decide it’s really time for writing, I try to sit at home at my table. I try to relax, maybe have a whiskey or a beer with it.

ANTIHERO: A good German beer?

Oliver Berlin: Of course, a good German beer! We get them easy around here, but the whiskey is actually from the UK so we’re good.

ANTIHERO: Are there any prominent feelings you’re trying to elicit from the listener?

Oliver Berlin: Well, I don’t know. I think the music pretty much speaks for itself. If people feel a certain way about it. That’s ok. I think by design the music gives you a powerful and at the same time a very thoughtful emotion. I don’t know if it’s like that for everyone, but as I said, we’re just trying to put people on some type of journey where they can just enjoy the music and then try to imagine whatever they want to imagine.

ANTIHERO: What is your musical background like?

Oliver Berlin: Well, in terms of doing music, I started early as a child singing in the choir. I was maybe six years old, maybe seven. I did that until I was fourteen years old then, of course, you stop naturally as a boy. Then I think I was eighteen when I joined my first Black Metal band. We did that for some years. I had to break because I was moving across Germany. In 2010, I started with Finsterforst again. In terms of what I was listening to, I’ve been into Metal as long as I can remember.

ANTIHERO: How did you hook up with Finsterforst?

Oliver Berlin: That’s actually a funny story. My best friend from Berlin where I lived before, he did a festival back in 2009. I was there for the first time. He had done it for two years already at that point. He had booked Finsterforst for 2010 and Marco (Schonas – the previous lead singer of Finsterforst) and Finsterforst went different ways so they had no singer. I was talking to my best friend on the phone, and I was like “dude, I have to do music again. I’m missing it so much”. He was like, “try Finsterforst. I’ve booked them. They need a singer. Just try out”.  I wrote them a mail and they were still searching for a new singer. They had me for rehearsal and then from that point on, we were one.

ANTIHERO: That’s awesome.

Oliver Berlin: It’s pretty random.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, but sometimes life works out like that.

Oliver Berlin: Yes, sometimes it’s all about who you know.

ANTIHERO: So definitely your formal training in your formative years helped shape the voice that you have now?

Oliver Berlin: It definitely did. For the Black Metal band, it’s obvious that helped growling. Even the choir singing as a boy, you learn how to breathe, how to use your voice even if that was of course clean singing. I’ve known a lot of guys who really destroyed their own voice by growling because they did not know how to do it. They didn’t really have the technique with breathing and with that, it helps a lot, definitely.

ANTIHERO: Singing from your diaphragm and not your throat, right?

Oliver Berlin: Exactly. Exactly that. That’s all you have to know really, but to really get there is a lot of practice.

ANTIHERO: So that first rehearsal with the band, did you know that it was something special?

Oliver Berlin: I wasn’t too sure about myself because I hadn’t done music in six years at that point. I didn’t really know what to expect from myself because I thought, “ok, well it wasn’t too bad,” but I thought I could do much better back in the day so I didn’t know how they thought about it. In terms of how they played, I was really amazed. I just knew the CD, and they just sounded almost like the CD live in the rehearsal room. That was just awesome to watch. They called me a few weeks later and said, “you’re in” so yeah, it worked out pretty well.

ANTIHERO: I know you mentioned before that you’re not so hung up on genres and such. Do you feel the band doesn’t have much of an attachment to say, Pagan Metal?

Oliver Berlin: There are a lot of things that we do that other Pagan bands do as well. On the other hand, Finsterforst has never been about Northern Gods, for example. They’ve never touched on this in the lyrics even before me so I don’t know if we really fit that category. We just play with the boundaries of these genres. If you listen to the first album, there’s clearly a lot of Fintroll influence there so you can tell that was really Folkish or Pagan if you want to call it that, but I think we’ve developed to something that doesn’t really fit inside these boundaries anymore. We were surprised when we sent the album to Napalm Records and they told us there’s a lot of Post Metal on it or Post Black Metal. Even they couldn’t really wrap their minds around what we’re doing right now. I think that to write songs these long, you can’t stay in one genre or it just won’t work because songs will get boring. You have to take whatever you think is best for that song in that moment.

ANTIHERO: Well, the best bands have always forged their own path.

Oliver Berlin: I think so, at least the ones that influence others later. I mean, there will always be bands that are really big, but do they really invent anything? I don’t know. I wouldn’t even say that we invent a lot of things. We just try to carve out our own little niche. To this point, it’s working out pretty nice.

ANTIHERO: Which of your contemporaries do you most admire?

Oliver Berlin: That’s a good one. That’s a really good one. It depends on what you try to get out of it. There are a lot of Progressive Metal bands that I think are just awesome at what they are able to do. In terms of, if you want to go the Folk or Pagan route, I really love Primordial

ANTIHERO: I love Primordial too…

Oliver Berlin: Especially live, Alan (Averill – lead singer of Primordial) is just a great performer on stage. I love to watch him. I had the honor of doing a little tour with Dread Sovereign, his other band so that was really cool watching how he prepares for a gig and watching on stage every night. That was something really special for me. He’s somebody I definitely admire. In terms of vocal work, I don’t’ even know if there’s anybody else that I really admire in terms of I can do what he can do. There are a lot of great singers. Don’t get me wrong, but there’s not a lot of stuff where I think they are so much greater than we are. Of course, you’ll always find a guitar player or somebody who has played better stuff on certain albums, but yeah, I think we’re really a pretty good band.

ANTIHERO: If you could have your pick, what would your dream tour be?

Oliver Berlin: I think I would love to be on tour with Enslaved

ANTIHERO: Good pick!

Oliver Berlin: They are just awesome. That’s another band I admire, actually, because they do the stuff for, I don’t know, is it thirty years now? They keep things fresh. Every Enslaved album sounds different than the last one while also staying themselves. Then just for the fun of it, I would always like to be back on tour with Trollfest because they are fun guys to be around. They are. You can party two weeks in a row with those guys. Actually, we’ve done that. Is a package of three bands enough or do we have to find more?

ANTIHERO: It’s your tour!

Oliver Berlin: Fuck, well, and it’s really for the sake of just imagining, it will never happen. Then I would love to have Body Count on it.

ANTIHERO: That would be cool, Ice T…

Oliver Berlin: Yeah, that would be an awesome tour in terms of music and all the people there. That would be fun.

ANTIHERO: I actually saw Enslaved a few months ago. They played a Metal festival over here and they played Frost all the way through.

Oliver Berlin: That’s awesome! I think they don’t do that very often, right?

ANTIHERO: They actually billed it as the last time they were going to play it all the way through. They are always good.

Oliver Berlin: They are always good live as well as on CD so that’s a band I really admire. 

ANTIHERO: What are your long-term goals for the band going forward?

Oliver Berlin: I don’t know. I think we just want to continue to have fun and create music. In terms of what we want to achieve, something we all can agree on would be to play Hellfest once. That would be awesome. Me, personally, I’ve always dreamed of going to South America for a tour. Whenever I watch videos from Metal bands playing in South America, people are just insane. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen, for instance, Megadeth’s DVD playing in South America?

ANTIHERO: I haven’t…

Oliver Berlin: People are singing the guitars. I mean, what’s that? I want to experience that!

ANTIHERO: The only live in South America video I’ve ever seen was the one Manowar put out. A bunch of Manowar fans in Brazil!

Oliver Berlin: You should really check out Megadeth playing in Buenos Aires. That was a video that I saw that was just incredible. Like I said, people singing the guitar solo and you hear them while the band was playing. That was awesome.

ANTIHERO: What would you like to see Finsterforst’s ultimate legacy be?

Oliver Berlin: Whew…

ANTIHERO: I know that’s a really heavy question…

Oliver Berlin: Yeah, because it sounds like an end. I don’t know. I think if people just take us for what we are – guys that love to do music. That would be an achievement. If there are some bands that say we are an influence for them, that would be an honor. I would be good with that.

ANTIHERO: That’s a very modest reply.

Oliver Berlin: Well, what else can I say? I don’t like to talk about myself or ourselves in superlatives. Yeah, I think we’re a good band, but come on, there are a lot of really good bands out there.

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