PICK OF THE WEEK: Dark, dramatic A Forest of Stars cast strange spell on ‘Beware the Sword…’

Group_01Drama and theatrics hardly are new things in metal. If you’ve ever been to an Iron Maiden show, you know that for certain. We live on stories and blood-pumping journeys into fantasy worlds, and without it, so much of heavy metal’s lore would be stripped away.

There are modern bands that also push beyond metallic displays on stage and do their best to transport you somewhere else, especially other eras. One of the best, most captivating is A Forest of Stars, whose records are virtual storybooks of death, danger, betrayals, heroes, villains, and anything you possibly could think they’d jam into their potion. The Leeds, England, based band is so hard to even pinpoint sound wise, as they dump all kinds of things into their display, just like all of the angles they jam into their storylines. There is black and dark metal, prog, art rock, psychedelics, and that’s just scratching the surface. This group sounds more like a drama troupe than a band, and if live performances could take place in large performance halls, there’s no doubt A Forest of Stars would fill the room.

AFOS_BTSYCS_lowsizeThis band has pushed out four ambitious albums the past seven years, the latest being “Beware the Sword You Cannot See,” which I think is their finest work to date. This group isn’t always easiest to embrace, especially if you’re a less daring listener, and all of the layers and over-the-top performances seem and feel larger than life and from a different, now yellowing era. The band is filled with colorful players, from lead vocalist/storyteller Mister Curse, whose presence is quite huge here and on their other albums; guitarists Mr. T.S. Kettleburner and newcomer Mr. William Wight-Barrow; bassist Mr. Titus Lungbutter; drummer Mr. John “The Resurrectionist” Bishop; percussionist/keyboard player The Gentleman; and violinist/vocalist Katheryne, Queen of the Ghosts. Just looking at those names along should alert you that you’re in for something different, and then when you take on this fourth album, you’ll know you’re in for a trip.

“Drawing Down the Rain” begins our opus, with enrapturing melodies, strings cutting in, and a proggy sense blowing over. The vocals go from nasty growls to strange, quivering narration (both elements are intertwined for much of the record), while Katheryne has her say alongside Curse. Behind them, synth rises, guitars chug, and everything ends on a high note. “Hive Mindness” has voices swirling and droning, causing a hypnotic feel, and then it tears open with a fury. Keys bleed in, with the band getting punchy and the vocals again going back and forth from ravaging assault to madman rant. The guitars swell and burst, and the back end has a dark, dreary, gothic touch that adds the proper amount of hell. “A Blaze of Hammers” has shimmery keys and expressive vocals, with Curse howling, “Fuck you and the worms you rode in on.” There are trance-like melodies and punishing thrashing, with a dramatic reading coming in and unleashing demons, and lush strings providing temporary calm before everything explodes again. “Vitus Sola Invicta” blows into a black metal fury that’s harsh and bloody, with panic-inducing melodies, psychedelic wonders that coat the mind, and airy flutes that are torn apart by glorious, classic metal-style lead guitar play. “Proboscis Master Versus the Powdered Seraphs” is druggy and slurry, with Curse’s vocals sounding like a venomous diatribe and Katheryne’s singing adding beauty to the torment. Strings then envelop the chaos and drag everything into outer space.

The last half of the album is a six-movement, 21-minute-plus section called “Pawn on the Universal Chessboard” that’s a gripping, exciting piece of music. “Part 1: Mindslide” is full of ambiance and fluttering sounds, with Katheryne leading the way through this set-up piece that bleeds into “Part 2: Have You Got a Light, Boy?” where Curse taunts, “Are you a little lost, robot?” Keys buzz on end, and the cut has a dreamy, floating feel, which takes us to “Part 3: Perdurabo,” which Katheryne sinks into, seeking, “Can you release me/from this death-infested maze of cold?” The front part of it settles into weary, alien folk before the track is torn apart and a newfound ferocity rises up and sets everything in front of it ablaze. “I am not the way, nor the truth, nor the light,” Curse wails, as the rest of the song burns heavily and with great vengeance. That intensity subsides as “Part 4: An Automation Adrift” sets in, though that’s only in the metallic sense as the vocals sound as unhinged as ever, with the guitars later picking up and soaring on high. “Part 5: Lowly Worm” brings back the violence, with a brutal, grisly assault that sounds like a village being ransacked by barbarians. There also are power metal-style guitars that arrive, blistering punishment, and swelling melodies that spill into the finale “Part 6: Let There Be No Light.” It’s the longest of the six-track series at 5:14, with spooky keys feeling like they’re soundtracking a silent horror film, Katheryne adding extra layers of darkness, thick strings again injecting goth sensibilities, and chilling organs taking the song to its rather abrupt conclusion.

Certainly A Forest of Stars are not for everyone. If you need wall-to-wall brutality and bloodshed, you might find yourself scratching your head. But if you can get swept away by theatrical fire and metallic tale-weaving, you’ll be hard pressed not to have a great time taking on “Beware the Sword You Cannot See,” a daring, pulsating album. There’s really nothing like this band, and as hyperbolic as this may sound, you’re not bound to hear another record that sounds like this one for the rest of the year. Or maybe again until the next time they lurch back to us.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.aforestofstars.co.uk/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.theconnextion.com/prophecy/prophecy_index.cfm?

Or here: http://en.prophecy.de/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.prophecy.de/