Lesbian has possibly the greatest (and most difficult to accurately Google) band name I’ve ever come across. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from a heavy metal band by that name and that may well be part of the point with their new album Forestelevision, the entirety of which is one 44-minute and 11-second song (also called “Forestelevision”) that runs uninterrupted throughout the multiple chapters of its unified whole. One album, one song.
Clearly Forestelevision is nothing if not ambitious, especially for a heavy metal band with a growling, screaming lead singer, thrashing guitars, and dark, murky audio atmosphere. Fascinatingly, Lesbian’s “Forestelevision” really does qualify as a single song, not simply an album without tracks broken out of it. That is not to say that there is no variation in the sprawling single. There is an enormous amount of difference to be found from minute to minute in this enthralling experiment. Each major change constitutes something of a shift between movements in a symphony as opposed to a song break. Indeed, Lesbian’s well-crafted, constructed, and executed musical motifs consistently return, like the best emotional cues in any opera or symphony.
The album commences with the rise and chime of a rich keyboard, creating an expanding wall of sound that is slowly interrupted by percussion, distorted sounds of static, wind, and finally long, slow, aggressive guitar chords that form a melodic songscape that would fit perfectly as the score to a dark fantasy epic, right up until the singer begins his monstrous growl, less in words (that can be discerned) than aggressive and animalistic expressions of passion.
To be sure, the slow opening doesn’t last and before long, Lesbian is ripping the bodice off of “Forestelevision” and driving into a thrashing speed metal that is at once very modern and a throwback to the sharply wielded metal epics of the 1980s. Lesbian continues their experiment, continuing to utilize the keyboard as their secret weapon, even as “Forestelevision” delves into beautiful, Zeppelin-esque classical arpeggios, to promote and expand the melody above and beyond the heavily “metallic” approach that serves as the album’s whole. That said, it is never long before Lesbian drives back into the thrashing hard rock, chugging and thudding in their fantastical way, while maintaining the overtly classical-themed sound (chanting, operatic backing vocals continue this Classical/ Metal blend) that sets Forestelevision apart as a song and an album.
While the growled and screamed demonic vocal distortions are present throughout much of the run of the piece, it is interesting to note that the first actually understandable English words are not heard until 35 full minutes into this project’s runtime. Even then, one is hard-pressed to hear clearly what is being expressed as the mix tends to drown these cleaner vocals as much as it swallows the backing chants.
And therein lies the ultimate downfall of Lesbian’s Forestelevision. This ambitious and undeniably technically proficient album deserved a more lush production for all of its experimentation. The skill is there, but there is a fuzziness to the outcome, burying much of the classicism and risk under murky sonic textures that work for the speed metal portions of this epic, but damage the overall final product, that is much more diverse than a single genre. Even the admittedly impressive vocals are mixed just as low so that they drown in the murk and become almost indiscernible from the other instruments.
That said, this third release from Lesbian does mostly deliver on its promise, and Forestelevision does make for a good repeat listen, especially for fans of fused genres and brilliant, multilevel compositions. To be sure, this is not the first time metal has reached for such heights. Savatage made an exciting attempt at such things with Gutter Ballet, W.A.S.P. broke with type for the soaringly ambitious The Headless Children, and Paradise Lost debuted to great aplomb with their richly textured Draconian Times.
All of these albums were decades ago, and Lesbian’s passionate third epic does feature multiple climactic moments in what is, essentially, a Heavy Metal Symphony. Forestelevision does play beautiful in its dreamlike, if often harshly aggressive, fantasy world. With multiple audio layers to accompany the multiple creative layers buried in the “Forestelevision”, this may have been an immediate classic instead of the impressive curiosity it is. Then again, Lesbian is still creating, and this rough jewel is an unquestionable sign that the talent and ambition to create epic music is shared and is being tapped by this unique band.