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A Forest Of Stars - Beware the Sword You Cannot See CD (album) cover

BEWARE THE SWORD YOU CANNOT SEE

A Forest Of Stars

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.87 | 74 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Beware the Sword You Cannot See' - A Forest of Stars (87/100)

(Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical)

With each new offering by British innovators A Forest of Stars, there comes the promise of challenge and reward in roughly proportionate measure. There's arguably more initial charm to them than many of the other sonic artisans that earn the 'avant-garde black metal' label, but the depth and density they've injected into their work since The Corpse of Rebirth demands each of their albums be approached with a patient, attentive ear. Beware the Sword You Cannot See is no exception in this regard; swirling layers of black metal once again form the foundation beneath an angel's choir of eccentric howls and violins. Now moreso than ever, their audacious grasp of composition pays homage in no small part to classic progressive rock. A Forest of Stars are psychotic, but accessibly so; while many of their tricks are shared with others in the avant-metal sphere, they navigate these treacherous waters with a sense of personality and coherence intact. Given that I know quite a few people who normally steer clear of the avant-garde for the perceived lack of those two things, A Forest of Stars have made a distinguished contribution to the experimental landscape.

Beware the Swore You Cannot See may very well be the most ambitious and monumental work A Forest of Stars have done to date too; possibly even better than their third full-length A Shadowplay for Yesterdays, a playful near-masterpiece that stole my heart a few years back. At this point in particular, calling A Forest of Stars a black metal band would be as fitting as referring to a poutine as 'french fries.' There's no question where the fundaments of their sound are coming from, sure, but the experience itself is different enough to warrant the description irrelevant. Though the same could be well-said for each of the four AFoS records to date, Beware the Sword You Cannot See sounds like the natural amalgamation of a number of influences, progressive rock not least of all included among them. My first listen had me placing them somewhere the capricious barrage of uneXpect, the dark wit of The Meads of Asphodel and the playful anxiety of Sigh; hell, it would be just as well to imagine them as the kind of music Comus might have made, had they formed as a metal band this side of the new millennium. Fortunately, in the case of A Forest of Stars, direct comparisons only go so far; they've carved out a distinct identity for themselves over the course of four records. Their destiny is not linked with any particular influence. Even in a genre so presumably forward-thinking as avant-garde metal, it's a lamentably rare thing to see.

Beware the Sword You Cannot See begins on one of its brightest moments. "Drawing Down the Rain" ranks among the best songs yet heard in 2015. Taking no time to get started, A Forest of Stars begin sounding closer to post-rock than the avant-garde. The soaring post-black atmosphere is complimented further by the violin, an instrument avant-metallers love to use but few ever manage to do so successfully. Especially early on in the album, much of the implication of AFoS's relative 'weirdness' lies in the eclectic styles and off-kilter vocal performance of Mr. Curse. With regards to the former, it is not uncommon for the band to shift gears several times throughout a song. Frantic bursts of black metal (replete with blastbeats and all else the term entails) are contrasted with slower passages that often recall Pink Floyd. The eclecticism culminates here on "Pawn on the Universal Chessboard", a would-be epic that, on top of the previous comparisons, conjures everything from Van der Graaf Generator to Moonsorrow. Variety alone would not have been enough to impress me, but the band's adventurous charisma manages to tie these strange bends in a way that sounds coherent and structured. Once again, that's not something you see everyday in avant-garde metal.

Although A Forest of Stars' performance is as well-rounded and powerful as ever, my highest praise is reserved for the album's vocals. Even amidst the music's most tender moments, Mr. Curse sounds like he's at the brink of a nervous breakdown. There are times when he nears the misanthropic rumblings of Metatron from The Meads of Asphodel; at others, he evokes the surreal sprechgesang of Current 93's David Tibet. Evocative lyrics remain a staple quality in A Forest of Stars' work. It is vulgar poetry of an obsessive sort, at once eager to immerse you in psychosis and anxiety.

A Forest of Stars are one such band that really benefits from their surrounding mythology and image, even though it doesn't have a particularly staunch impact on the music itself. Just like I can't listen to Akercocke without thinking of aristocratic upperclassmen, or The Meads of Asphodel without thinking of Medieval heretics obsessed with the nuances of Biblical apocrypha, A Forest of Stars have an undeniably British personality to them that is only amplified by their manufactured pseudo-Victorian image. Though the late 19th century is usually looked back upon as a time of apparent prudishness, it was probably better defined by its anxieties and confusion. Victorian England was a mania of new ideas and new experiences. It was a time where scientific elucidation was growing at a far greater rate than the education of the common man. It was a perfect time for ghosts and ghouls to be born. While I don't think A Forest of Stars have ever captured the Victorian era in their music (there weren't too many bands playing black metal in the 1890s anyways) but the visual and conceptual aesthetic compliments the creepy atmosphere perfectly.

2015 has already been rife with some incredible albums, and Beware the Sword You Cannot See is already poised to rank among the most memorable of them. A Forest of Stars have conjured another near-masterpiece, composed of equal parts horror and euphoria. Admittedly, the collection of styles they're playing with is a grocery list of what I like most in music, but it takes a special sort of band to get this eclectic and eccentric without losing sense of themselves. Beware the Sword You Cannot See is a marvellous piece of work, and even then, I don't think A Forest of Stars have hit their peak yet.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |

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