Hailing from Leeds, Yorkshire, progressive black metal band A Forest Of Stars are something of a unique proposition.
The band describe themselves as “members of the Gentleman’s Club of A Forest Of Stars, an exclusive brotherhood of English Victorians… exponents of their glorious and pompous, at times decadent era characterized by extreme opposites”.
They go on to state that their distinctive sound is created when they “channel the experiences gained from their numerous meetings hazed by opium and absinthe, occult rites and séances in the form of a previously unheard-of ghostly and hypnotic music, filled with the spirit of the glorious Victorian Age”.
Formed in 1887 (that’s 2007 to most of us!) the band have released three previous studio albums. Now it’s 1895 (or 2015) and the group’s fourth album “Beware The Sword You Cannot See” has been unleashed and it is, indeed, rather different to most black metal music, both in terms of structure and instrumentation.
The record kicks off with “Drawing Down The Rain” and amongst the guitar riffs and blastbeats comes the sound of an almost mournful violin before vocalist Mister Curse’s raw throated roar cuts through the cacophony. Add a spoken word passage and the clear vocals of Katheryne, Queen Of The Ghosts (who also provides flute as well as the violin) and it’s already clear that A Forest Of Stars are a black metal band unlike any other.
Remarkably, despite being progressive, and almost avant-garde in sound, the band’s material is also pretty accessible. There are some great melodious parts and harmonic backing vocals popping up here and there to sweeten what is, after all, built on the furious swirling foundations of black metal.
The production on this album is very good, allowing you to hear contributions from all members of the band – which is completed by keyboardist The Gentleman, drummer John “The Resurrectionist” Bishop, bass player Mr. Titus Lungbutter, and guitarists Mr. T.S. Kettleburner and Mr. William Wight-Barrow.
The album is, like vinyl albums used to be, essentially split into two parts – sides one and two if you like. Side one is comprised of five complex and eccentric tracks, each of which contains any number of different tempos and textures, and each of which is utterly compelling.
Side two comprises a six-part suite under the umbrella title “Pawn On The Universal Chessboard”. Katheryne’s ethereal vocals float through the introduction of the first part “Mindslide” above an expansive keyboard soundscape reminiscent perhaps of Hawkwind, before part two “Have You Got A Light, Boy” picks up the pace somewhat.
This is a record that has to be heard to be appreciated. A Forest Of Stars are a band with such a unique sound and vision that it’s pretty much impossible to convey in words really. Unless your idea of grandiose and visionary music from a group of talented musicians stops at something like, say, Radiohead or perhaps later-era Genesis, or your idea of progressive black metal would be the likes of Venom (not that there’s anything wrong with any of those groups), then I would hearily recommend checking of “Beware The Sword You Cannot See” – it really is one of the most accomplished albums I have encountered so far this year…
1. Drawing Down The Rain / 2. Hive Mindless / 3. A Blaze Of Hammers / 4. Virtus Sola Invicta / 5. Proboscis Master Versus The Powdered Seraphs / 6. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part I : Mindslide / 7. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part II : Have You Got A Light, Boy? / 8. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part III : Perdurabo / 9. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part IV : An Automaton Adrift / 10. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part V : Lowly Worm / 11. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part VI : Let There Be No Light