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Hate Forest – Hour of the Centaur

Hate Forest was one of the most prominent names in the Ukrainian black metal scene during the early-2000s. They also happen to be one of my favorite bands from that country. It was formed in 1995 by Roman Saenko, a gifted musician who would later go on to form Drudkh. After releasing some great albums and one not so great album (Battlefields), they broke up in 2005 because Roman wanted to focus on other projects. One was Dark Ages, a dark ambient band that would nowadays be classified as dungeon synth. Another was Blood of Kingu, which could best be described as the spiritual successor to Hate Forest. But his main focus during this period was Drudkh. Then, in 2020, Roman resurrected Hate Forest and released Hour of the Centaur, the band’s first full-length album in fifteen years. Many people were surprised and excited by this news, myself included. There were also some people who were outraged. They claimed Roman was a nazi and that Osmose Productions had no business distributing his music. Even if the claims about the man were true, I don’t care because those people have cried wolf one too many times.

Part of me was afraid this album would be disappointing due to the long period of inactivity. I thought we would have another Illud Divinum Insanus on our hands, but I’m glad I was proven wrong. If anything, the band sounds stronger now than they did in the past. The production still has that classic raw quality, but it has been tweaked slightly to make it hit harder. The musical formula has remained exactly the same; it’s just more refined. The blast beats sound a lot more destructive. The double bass during the mid-paced parts feels like the galloping hooves of nomadic armies. The music is an almost constant high speed onslaught, but there are moments on songs like “Anxiously They Sleep in Tumuli” where they slow things down and play patterns that give off a more epic feeling.

Roman has always done great growls, and this album features his best vocal performance yet. His growls are vicious in a way that few others can match. This is no surprise given that he has had twenty years to perfect their delivery. The guitars are also outstanding. These are some of the finest riffs in the band’s history. The tremolo riffs are deathly cold and utterly eviscerating. As with most other black metal bands in Eastern Europe, they utilize repetition to draw the listener deeper into the music. It makes you feel like you’re witnessing ancient battles on the steppes. Sometimes they include aggressive melodies that make the music feel even grander in scope. The most impressive part is that none of the riffs ever get tiresome for me. The songwriting is engaging throughout.

This album also brings up some interesting topics. The Scythians are the reason why the idea of the centaur exists. They were so skilled at riding horses that when the Greeks first observed them, they thought they were half-man and half-horse. Hate Forest has composed many songs about the Scythians throughout their career. Their first demo was even called Scythia. This Indo-European civilization of nomadic horse riders was feared and respected throughout the ancient world. Their domain stretched from central Ukraine to the eastern border of Kazakhstan. They sacked the Assyrian capitol of Nineveh and defeated the Persians on numerous occasions. Not only were they mighty warriors, they also crafted beautiful art, from golden combs to highly detailed rugs. The Scythians were a confederation of tribes, but overtime these tribes split off and developed their own identities. Most prominent among them were the Sarmatians and the Saka. These tribes were eventually assimilated out of existence, but their legacy lives on, for many different peoples, from the Irish to the Hungarians, claim to have descended from the Scythians.

Hour of the Centaur is one of the best black metal albums I’ve heard in over a decade. It’s my new favorite Hate Forest album, in fact. Contained within it is nearly three thousand years worth of steppe fury. The instrumental work and songwriting are simply incredible. Every track is fantastic in some way. I cannot compliment it enough. As for Roman, pray for him. May God carry him through the war plaguing his nation.