When the overarching iconography of dark forest thickets and the letters G, A and S on the front artwork was established with the December release of Zauberberg in 1997, Wolfgang Voigt returned to the formula with his third album under his Gas moniker, Königsforst, in 1999. While Zauberberg remains the darkest, haziest and gloomiest work of Gas, Königsforst is based on a similar darkness that is augmented with a bold dose of German yearning for the purifying aura of wonderful woods, fresh forests and thumping tannenbaums. Since the Romantic movement at the end of the 18th century when the German civilization was on the rise and arduous work was easily available all the time, Romantics worshipped the mystique of nature that seemed to be lost to many people due to their hectic lives – until today, nature is regularly pushed back, and what seems to be lost or harder to reach and maintain is all the more treasurable. Voigt doesn't deliver a concept album that harks back to the above thoughts, but tries to invent a timeless aural manifesto which relies as much on dusky strings and pumping beats as it does on an unexpected warmth and majesty due to a new inclusion: shimmering horns that inherit the clichés of hunting seasons and Kaiser hunts. These clichés are put into a different, multilayered context. It's no coincidence that Voigt named this album after a forest in close vicinity to Cologne. This puts the things I've written into perspective, as Cologne is a lively city that contains this area of shelter nearby. I can imagine that this forest serves as a source of inspiration for many an artist. Six untitled tracks are presented, and I'll be damned if I don't spot small scintillae of brightness and euphoria in this brighter-lit Dark Ambient release.

Things start dark, though. Very dark. Königsforst 1 is, to my mind, a clear-cut reminiscence to the majority of Zauberberg's tracks. Foggy string concoctions waft around a straight 4/4 club beat, and the darkness is all the more eminent when the strings start to buzz like huge insect swarms while they are being accompanied by a blurry, claustrophobic glow that sounds like a mixture of vibraphones and wind chimes. The permanent beats are haunting and amplify the feeling of being chased through a haunted forest. The track ends in a beatless manner, allowing the listener a glimpse into its multiple textures. An eerie first entry right in the tradition of Zauberberg. Well, from this point on, things get brighter with each track. Königsforst 2 surprises the listener with warmly buzzing strings that may be dark, but have a pinch of solemnity embedded in their setup. Short phantasmagoric harp notes arise occasionally and enhance the warmth and positive forecast even more. Whereas the forest in Königsforst 1 was dark and frosty, Königsforst 2 is illuminated by the golden rays of a sunset, and though the strings keep on droning and seem to evoke a dangerous threat, the good mood outweighs the apocalyptic side of the track. Königsforst 3 is the Ambient track of the trio so far. Voigt presents quavering violin strings and couples them with incessant crackles and hisses. This moiré is twisted later, the strings swell up and cool down. Again, the arrangement isn't as eerie as in Königsforst 1 or the vast majority of Zauberberg, but encapsulates glowing contentment and a pompous wideness that is implied by the higher regions of the strings. Since there is no distracting best, the hazy drones can be fully digested, and their voluminousness and strength is awe-inspiring.

Königsforst 4 is actually a remix of Königsforst 2 which is based on the same harp loop and the cavernous string drones, but couples these devices with a strangely hectic beat that pumps like crazy, counteracting in regard to the shimmering beauty of the string instruments. Whatever reason led to this alienating intertwining, Königsforst 4 is the weakest skit of the album, and while I don't mind 4/4 beats in Ambient surroundings – the very premise of most Gas tracks –, these short Gabba-esque fragments don't reach my heart. So here we have a one of the rare duds. The blame can be put on the frenzy. I very much prefer track 2 with its straight beats. The remaining two tracks, however, are masterpieces of the genre and introduce the aforementioned shimmering horns. If it isn't clear by now, the album moves into the brightest majestic territory. Königsforst 5 launches with a festive horn loop, clarion clicks, glacial synth swirls in the background and a slow fade-in of straight club-oriented beats. The synth swirls take a more prominent role later on when their pulsating glitz is put to the forefront; nothing beats the horns, however, which are the signature addition of this track. The contentment rises, and I can see why Gas fans don't like this track, as it is harder to come up with a consistently baneful string-heavy track than to offer such a bright, forward-looking piece. I for one am thankful for its inclusion and rate Königsforst 5 as the second-best track of the release that is only beaten by the awe-inspiring superstructure of the ultimate Königsforst 6, the second beatless Ambient track. It's based on an unforgettable, tremendously catchy bagpipes (!) loop (or a high-pitched trumpet or string loop) which is accompanied by a two-note drone of friendliness and peace. The deepness is definitely inviting and friendly; it's rather strange that a pompous deepness is used in a blithesome manner, for darkness is usually linked to a frightening or intimidating incident in the music of Gas. This is not the case on this last composition. Bleepy fragments are added as the last ingredient. And so the song flows for over ten minutes, with only the drone strings changing ever so slightly due to them being filtered and modulated, and hence sounding either blurry and cozy or a bit clearer and more powerful. This is one of the songs that could go on for half an hour without sounding boring or tiresome. It is an essential Gas song in the tradition of Gas 6 from his debut album or Zauberberg 1 with its ecclesial setting. I don't know how many times I've listened to it (iTunes tells me 78 times when I wrote this review, but there was a time before this application which prevents me from coining an absolute number) because I keep coming back to its vibrant majesty, comfortably belly-massaging drones and the catchy bagpipes – or pitched strings – whose coruscating light fends off the muffled backing maelstrom. A song to get lost in, a terrific work that merges orchestral settings with electronic tweaks. So, so great!

Königsforst is often considered as inferior to Zauberberg by fans on the net due to the diffuse warmth it allows to enter. Both albums are indeed highly comparable because of their similar artwork and overarching motifs: thickets, forests, organic plants and a new interpretation of the German yearning for nature and deliberate isolation are in Gas' epicenter. The actual surprise is the omission of any cliché. No polka or traditional folk music is used in the process of creation in favor of the power of violin strings and, at least on Königsforst, the inclusion of brass sections. While Zauberberg is definitely coherent in its darkness, claustrophobia and thunderous-incisive strings with only the intro and outro demonstrating purely melancholic Ambient bliss, Königsforst branches off into the majesty, power and, yes, even rapturous euphoria the forests provide for our lives. Dog owners and joggers know about this, but believe me, there are people who don't spend too much thoughts about their nature-related surroundings. Fair enough. Königsforst provides a glimpse into the lush thickness of a wood by avoiding stereotypes and field recordings. All the fairy tales, urban (!) myths and traditional stories are right in here. If you aren’t too fond of Dark Ambient music, Königsforst will be the better choice you can make that would only be exceeded by Pop, the last and most saccharine album by Gas. Königsforst 5 and 6 alone are so worth it that I don’t hesitate to recommend it to all Ambient listeners alike. I don’t mind the pompousness of the release – in fact, I embrace it very much. It’s the right album after the crestfallen heaviness of Zauberberg and the oscillating synth washes of the debut album Gas.



Further reading:

Turn on your Google translator for this interesting German background interview of Mercedes Bunz with Wolfgang Voigt which she did in 1999 for Telepolis at the time of Königsforst's release. Voigt talks about German mannerisms, the salad days when his parents took him to hiking trips and what imprints these memories left on his music.




Ambient Review 087: Gas – Königsforst (1999). Originally published on Jun. 27, 2012 at