Friday, June 19, 2015

A Forest of Stars - Beware the Sword You Cannot See [2015]

Lately there's been an ongoing fetish in the black market concerning the dissection and integration of elements derived from 70's psychedelic rock bands, and to be honest, while this does not sound like a favorable coitus of genres at first, a trend which has engendered bands like Hail Spirit Noir and Oranssi Pazuzu can be hardly be chastised for lacking proficiency or being unambitious. Of course, the marriage of 70's psychedelia with black metal does require eccentricities of sorts, which is why even though we dub then as psychedelic black metal, each of these bands, as well as England's A Forest of Stars more or less enjoy a uniqueness under their own roof. A Forest of Stars' fourth offering ''Beware the Sword You Cannot See'' hits all the sweet spots for an eclectic heavy metal listener, a steampunk aficionado, a Victorian gentlemen, a comic Dickensian figure straight out of Bleak House, and a spiritualistic preacher of sorts, since it's likely to be one of the weirdest yet absorbingly idiosyncratic releases I've heard this year along with Solefald's ''World Music'', chock full of kooky inventiveness and immersive musical talent.

If you don't believe me, just have a look at the pseudonyms: one Titus Longbutter or T.S. Kettleburner certainly feels redolent of a Dickens novel, the bizarre parade of folk, autumnal psychedelia and gloomy black metal impressionism doesn't even begin there. From it's melancholy opener ''Drawing Down the Rain'' the band seems to be on the verge of a progressive black metal phantom in the mode of Enslaved with fairly simplistic melodies, but they immediately fill up the empty spaces with folksy flutes which beckons a far more pagan taste, say, similar to one Kroda, Drudkh or Arkona; but I love the fact that the group can shift through their own 7+ minute songs like quicksand, evolving once again into a hazily progressive riff and then into a meteor shower of unfrazed tremolos headed by melodic psychedelia. These Victorians are unhinged but it doesn't stop the music from evocatively drawing up imagery and queer, almost Gothic constellations and fragmentary journeys across the firmament. The opener is by far the most 'atmospheric' advent in the entire album, fostered by somber chords and almost minimalistic melody patterns, but the following two songs, ''Hive Mindless'' and ''A Blaze of Hammers'' are just as consuming pieces, and the group, thankfully does not omit a few pauses in between the marathons by adding a few stringy chords and clean guitar sequences glazed with nearly defunct violins and keyboard scores. They do take some time to get to the point, true, and not everything (especially in the first half of the album) is bound to grab you by your neck and slam you to the ground and leave you agog with sensation, but the material presented is celestial and beautiful to say the least.

Of course it would be a capital offense to exclude the vocalist Mister Curse who practically spearheads the benignly confusing effusion of sounds with his remarkable voice. We're not even talking regular singing here: he feels more as though he's reciting poetry in a remarkably 'English' manner, exquisite oratory that reminds me of Bal-Sagoth and their fantastical vocal shenanigans with similarly cosmic subjects in mind. Katheryne, Queen of Ghosts also handles female vocals here, a soothing and rich fairy-metal vox not unlike Nightwish or the operatic female vocals in Therion's later outings, but what I truly enjoy is that they supplement the harsher, brazen discourse of the male vocals with a maudlin alternative. Mister Curse, of course, engages in a more unruly inflection from time to time to complement fuzzier discharges of fairly straightforward Scandinavian tremolo work, like a well-attuned Victorian gentleman suddenly devolving into beast-mode. The second half of the album, which I probably enjoyed more than the first, is split into numerical parts. Not only are all the songs shorter in this half but they flow in and out of each other like a lengthy piece diced into smaller fragments: ''Part I: Mindslide'' begins with a moving vocal solo by Katheryne, and then into morphs into a haunting, hypnotic orgy of buzzing synthesizers redolent of John Carpenter's solo compositions and horror scores with ''Have You Got A Light, Boy?'', my favorite song on the entire album, which unfolds entirely with the words and there WAS light! before ''Perdurabo'', with its equally Gothic and alienating synthesizer swell, begins. But keep in mind that no single instrument truly steals the show here, ever. While the violins or singular keyboards may be to the fore on some of the rainier moments on the album, and the lapsing, flickering psychedelic guitar riffs during some other sequences, it's a surprisingly healthy balance of a canopy of instruments and endeavors in a rather 'unhealthy' album which makes it such a pleasure to listen to ,without anything running dry.

The sheer scope and autumnal drapery offered by ''Beware the Sword You Cannot See'' is enormous. Picturesque vistas and celestial serpents devouring their own tails. Imaginary soundscapes that could have easily fitted Mervyn Peake's masterpiece Gormenghast. The conceptual enigmas of the record, however, are just the cherry on top as far as the music goes, since this album is bound to be the new best thing for black metal, at least in my book. Not every moment is mesmerizing, and I really felt they could have trimmed the songs a little, - especially those in the first half - but the emotive, paranoid atmosphere offered, both lyrically and musically, is nothing short of delightful when it comes to the few outstanding tracks to be found, and certainly this is far more captivating tapestry of autumn leaves and starry auras than so many other 'atmospheric' black metal bands claim to possess. Instead of bludgeoning us to submission through tired, colorless monotone, these illustrious connoisseurs of the genre are inviting us into the celestial sphere and their mountable worms, alluring from a distance, beckoning with nocturnal beauty. Excellent.

A Blaze of Hammers
Virtus Sola Invicta
Have You Got A Light, Boy?
An Automaton Adrift

Rating: 87%

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