FORGOTTEN TOMB’s debut full length “Songs to Leave” was released on August 4th, 2002, via Selbstmord Services. As a matter of fact, it is a groundbreaking album in terms of bringing brand new themes and approaches to black metal, but it is much more than this, on many levels. The act was founded in Italy in 1999 and used to be a one-man-band back then, meaning that frontman Ferdinando “Herr Morbid” Marchisio took care of every single aspect of the opus.
The cover artwork, as outrageous and controversial as it can be, surely conveys a good amount of emotions one can get from this album as a whole: an utter sense of despair and hopelessness, in such a heart-wrenching combination of music and words that has no precedent. As a matter of fact, “Songs to Leave” is likely to be considered as the very first example of a subgenre of black metal which was eventually labeled as “DSBM” (depressive suicidal black metal); the subgenre itself took a different path and nowadays it does not have much to do with what this album represents on a deeper level, although some topics are still in use, such as self-harm, depression, and discomfort in all its shapes.
“Songs to Leave” consists of five tracks and each one of them seems to drag the listeners gradually deeper and deeper in those dark places in their minds they do not want to be in: opening tune “Entombed by Winter” begins with a clean guitar intro, eerie and haunting as the state of mind suggested by the title itself. Picturing your own death is surely not a new thing in any form of art, but again, the way FORGOTTEN TOMB combines lyrics and music is particularly effective in making that sense of discomfort and utter desperation almost touchable, thanks to slow-paced drumming, distorted vocals, and a heavy riffing. Those features, however, happen to be alternated with a spoken-word part, a clean part that recalls the intro, furious drumming, and less distorted vocals, producing a rather dynamic 11-minute long tune as a result. It is worth mentioning that such an approach towards black metal was a new thing, two decades ago, both musically and lyrically; FORGOTTEN TOMB proved to be a breath of fresh air in that sense, and still are nowadays, since they evolved as a band, regardless of what the popular trends were. They set the stage but never forced themselves into a specific frame in order to fit in, and that’s impressive: bringing brand new themes in such a well-known genre is a risk they accepted and made good use of.
Track number two is “Solitude Ways”: as of today, it is one of the rare examples of how a love song in extreme metal should sound, even if its storyline is not just about that, but rather a glorification of solitude as a condition that can be shared, plus another new theme such as urban desolation, which became a thing in the band’s production ever since. There is a short dialog in Italian taken from the movie Cube, right before the closing chorus:
“I have nothing to live for out there.”
“What is out there?”
“Boundless human stupidity…”
A treat for the Italian listeners, but also a further element that offers an idea of how wide and dark Herr Morbid’s world of reference is.
The following track, “Steal My Corpse,” whose lyrics have never been published – but let’s say that the title speaks for itself – is an excellent example of how dark wave and rock influences can be absorbed and turned into a spine-chilling journey, quite rich and complex in its pattern, in a good way. The vocals are genuinely disturbing, and a thick guitar-work makes this tune a gem one could hardly forget, along with an unexpected clean guitar outro. The penultimate track is “No Way Out,” whose rockish pace on the chorus blends perfectly with melancholy-infused riffs: this is probably the main characteristic when it comes to FORGOTTEN TOMB’s trademark sound, beyond any shallow univocal definition or pointless attempt to squeeze them into a genre.
The closing tune on “Songs to Leave” is, in my opinion, its highlight and probably one of the most sorrowful pieces ever written: “Disheartenment” starts with an iconic riff that always feels like a downward spiral where the listeners do let themselves drown in the excruciating-yet-beautiful melancholy the lyrics tell about. The recurring main riff marks the verses and makes the whole tune sound claustrophobic, in an excellent blend of black metal and doom elements, plus an undisputed emotional charge that ends up being quite addictive, even cathartic.
Words can barely describe this album in its depth and complexity, but I hope I have reached the point, since “Songs to Leave,” released 20 years ago today is, simply, still unmatched despite all the attempts to imitate it.
Written by Licia Mapelli
- Entombed by Winter
- Solitude Ways
- Steal my Corpse
- No Way Out
Ferdinando “Herr Morbid” Marchisio – vocals, all instruments, songwriting