Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dark Forest - Beyond the Veil [2016]

What can I say? Metal and metalheads in general tend to have a soft spot for concept. That concept, whether its dragons, knights, spelunking ghouls, something out of Michael Moorcock or Tolkien, or in the case of Dudley's Dark Forest - embodying medieval myths and legend in lyrical, pastoral gloss  - is always a profound selling point. And as lyrical/conceptual deviants from the foray of the more Goth-induced imagery of Swedish traditional heavy metal bands, Dark Forest, like some of the genre's greatest underground staples - to wit, Brocas Helm, Slough Feg, Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road - have a more retrogressive approach to their music, one that has helped absorb my initial exposure to them, their 2014 album The Awakening, with healthy and savory intakes as a powerful, melodic, moving barbican to the continuing presence of heavy/power in such a vein. To be sure, King Diamond and Mercyful Fate are great, no question about it, but bearing in mind the implants they've detonated across a good half of the entire traditional heavy metal revivalism, - hence the notorious 'Swede-fever' - the soundscape offered by Dark Forest, however slapstick it may seem to its condemners, is a welcome entry.

I get that Dark Forest aren't the most innovative bunch out there; that's never been the point. Beyond the Veil does not resort to be anything of that sort, instead you get tons of atmosphere, quite a perfect Anglo-Saxon feel as though you were an enchanted knight strolling through a forest in search of some covetous chalice, not even so much of a battle-hymn the way bands like Ironsword or DoomSword evoke Conan-esque violence and triumph, but more of a melodious assemblage of busy, technically affluent guitars conjuring up a rich groundwork of history and folklore. Again, the UK quintet does not possess the same jumpy, splenetic piquancy I so adored on magisterial albums like Traveller or Down Among the Dead Men, but assuredly the 'retro' feel is there, a lack of keyboards provides impetus to the lucid and poignant acrobatics of the guitars, ballasted by heavier, albeit simple rhythms underneath. The guitars are, blatantly, upfront and lead the charge. Crisp but not overdone, the guitarists employ stirring, 'epic' melodies and plenty of harmonization, not unaccustomed to in this niche, the sort of lead playing that's not as liberal and unencumbered as, say, one Protest the Hero or whatever progressive/technical act you can imagine, nor should they be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, I was surprised at the number of riffs they could pen on a song for song basis bearing the length of the songs in mind, a tasteful array of sweeps and hooking solos rounding up the arsenal, like speckles and shingles of Dragonforce seeping in occasionally.

That doesn't leave much else to be said about the record. John Winnard's vocals are fine, blending the operatic theatricality of Dickinson with the more high octane adventurism of Mike Scalzi, appropriately embellishing the vocal buoyancy needed. But Beyond the Veil is altogether feels repetitive after 2-3 spins, not that the craftsmanship is subpar but rather because there's too much of the same structural and stylistic melody/rhythm pattern to be had: while the first 4-5 songs kicks and swerve their way with atmosphere and a masterful, titular patronage of riffs,  the formula essentially feels force-fed by the time you've made it to song no. 12, ''The Lore of the Land'', a lurching epic. It's essentially a sale from a soigne antiquarian who's selling us the feel, archaic and seemingly embossed in legend, even though the songs are memorable enough as you're listening to them (''Blackthorn'' has a great, choir-esque accompaniment to its chorus and ''Where the Arrow Falls'' is downright charged with energy) but the bulk of the record feeds back into the bands backlog of three full-lengths, principally an extension of the ideas explored therein. That's not to say you should omit Dark Forest, though; their position is certainly oblique, with songs like ''The Wild Hunt'' propagating such a delicate balance of folk metal a la Ensiferum, Korpiklaani and Turisas with ballsy heavy/rock (think Saxon and Def Leppard) and the more occult, atmospheric leanings of King Diamond, that I can't help but recommend it to an aficionado of the style. Be your own judge. With four albums at their belt, Dark Forest still have it. Gaunt, chivalrous and surging, I can't think of a whole lot of other bands fit to perform in a medieval fun fare. Have... fun?

The Wild Hunt
Where the Arrow Falls

Rating: 75%

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