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When I first heard A Forest of Star's debut album, "The Corpse of Rebirth", a year ago, I was unimpressed by their output. I basically came to know of this band when I viewed the page of My Dying Bride and saw the name of the band under Katie Stone. I though I could give it a try. The album, although which had a lot of atmosphere, failed to leave a mark. As of recently, I tried to reinvigorate my taste in what is dubbed psychedelic black metal and bought "A Shadowplay for Yesterdays". The album totally knocked me off my socks. The whole album is a tonic to the senses and every time I listen to it the songs form a vivid story in my mind as if I were an entity roaming the dark, dank alleys of Victorian London.
The great thing about many British metal bands is that their lyrics contain subtleties that many even good bands do not have. The lyrics are very well-written, bringing out some stories once they are read and understood, but the thing that separates this album from their first one is the sound.
While the first album had a raw, droning sound with heavy use of violins, this album, however, has a much more polished sound and more melodic than "The Corpse of Rebirth". The keyboards have also become very prominent as well as the acoustic guitar fills in some songs (acoustic guitar fills are used to great effect in A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh). The guitar sound was sometimes less impressive, however the overall sound was well- produced. More over, this album deviated from the band's previous tendencies of composing very lengthy songs. As of this album, the longest piece is A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh, ticking in at 10 minutes and 11 seconds.
Overall, it is an excellent album, one that black metal lovers should try out. I do not think A Forest of Stars is a black metal band in the conventional sense as they have a lot of avant-garde elements in their music and have found a nice niche for themselves. My favourite tracks from this album are Gatherer of the Pure, Corvus Corona (I and II), and A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh.
A Forest of Stars from the UK have been one of the most extraordinary phenomena in the extreme metal underground of the last five years. Their unique style of putting together extremely melodic parts on the one hand and disturbingly weird and dissonant parts on the other hand was consistently continued on the new album “A Shadowplay for Yesterdays”.
Still, A Forest of Stars are of course not repeating themselves here: That gets obvious when you take a look at the tracklist of the album. The ten to fifteen minute structures of the first two outputs have mostly been abandoned; “A Shadowplay for Yesterdays” contains only one 10-minute epic and two 8 minute songs, the other songs are somewhere between 3 and 7 minutes. As the album has a total running time of over 60 minutes, we consequently find more songs than “The Corpse of Rebirth” and “Opportunistic Thieves of Spring” contained.
The album begins with a very disturbing intro called “Directionless Resurrectionist” that leads into “Prey Tell of the Church Fate” – a song that starts as disharmonious as the intro, but soon turns into a maelstrom of violin and shredding lead guitars. The above mentioned ten-minute masterpiece “Prophet for a Pound of Flesh” is one of the absolute highlights of the whole album. This song contains everything I love about this band: Great melodies, blastbeats, Mister Curse’s spine-chilling vocals and so much variation that listening to the song is like going on a journey. This is just awesome.
Where “The Blight of God’s Acre” comes up with some very aggressive (yet melodic) riffs, “The Underside of Eden” displays a much more dreamlike atmosphere and thus adds to the immense variety of “A Shadowplay for Yesterdays”. And then comes “Gatherer of the Pure”…Well, it is quite hard to put into words how good this song actually is. I have to admit, that I do not always (but most of the time) like the vocals in AFOS, but what Mister Curse delivers here is so authentic and emotional. His painful vocals perfectly go together with the beautiful violin and guitar melodies. To me, this is the best piece of art A Forest of Stars have done so far – and they have done a lot of outstanding stuff. By the way, there is also a very good video for this song. You can check it out at the official Prophecy Productions YouTube channel.
The last three songs of the album are outstanding too, although they cannot match the intensity of track seven. Nevertheless, “Left Behind as Static” and the two “Corvus Corona” parts again contain tons of very good ideas and melodies, ending this masterpiece in a proper way. The front cover displays the same kind of surreal, dream-like atmosphere the music develops.
Although not all songs are on the same qualitative level, “A Shadowplay for Yesterdays” has become so brilliant that it is hard to find the proper words to describe my feelings when I listen to it. In order to get the whole mood and diversity I recommend to listen to this as a whole rather than to pick out particular songs. If you are interested in complex song structures and a symbiosis of different styles, or if you are bored by bands that release the same album every year, please check this out. You won’t regret it.
Originally written for www.northwind-promotion.org
- England, 1892 -
In an industrial town known to most of its inhabitants as Yonder Town, lived a man who was a puppeteer by profession. He was performing every evening, always in the same venue, stooping over his grimy puppets, drowned out by noise and shrouded in acrid smoke coming from a nearby factory. Always wearing the same checked vest and worn-out hat, he became a part of that God forgotten place: a narrow paved street with crooked tenements crowding around like frozen guardians of hopeless lives.
Labourers of ghostly stature were passing by, exhausted and apathetic, going back home only to prepare for another day of hard slog. Their bodies seemed to be separated from the mind, controlled by invisible strings, saving them from falling into puddles of mud and excrement. They didn't even notice that every performance of the puppeteer was different from the other, that he always had a different story to weave. I halted there once, unseen, hidden. I listened to the puppeteer, I watched his ephemeral spectacle:
"Once upon a time there was a lady of no repute, One Miss Crow, who, by force of a certain stranger, had engaged in violent night-time actions, against her very will.
Resulting from this invasion came, an aberration of desperation, a horror in all but name, A stoop-backed boy, short of stature, violent by nature; to be expelled from the womb in late November..."
That's how I imagine the beginning of this story. For it's not an ordinary album we're talking about here. Being released by Prophecy Productions (Alcest, Falkenbach), A Shadowplay for Yesterdays is a musical experience, abundant in soundscapes of an otherworldly nature. That's what happens when the band puts heart and soul into the music. And when it's a Victorian bunch of geniuses. If avant-garde metal with noticeable black, psychedelic and folk element is to your liking, I strongly encourage you to read through the following paragraphs... or just get the album and ignore the rest.
I encountered some negative opinions concerning the sound of the album and I must admit that compared to oppressive sound of Opportunistic Thieves of Spring it may seem a bit flat. It appears that the difference between these two records has not been taken into account though. A Shadowplay for Yesterdays is much less monolithic and thereby more space for psychedelic folk elements has been gained. Songs are multi-layered and full of influences from genres outside the metal one. That's why I find this bright production perfectly suitable for the music. Moreover, the sound is natural and organic which is a big advantage in my book.
A Forest of Stars is a band - or should I say a gentlemen's club - with a vision. Bands of this kind are very rare. Not only a band with a vision creates its own style, weave a concept and infuse it with life. It also makes the whole process irrelevant to the listener, makes him think about the music and concept as one consistent piece of art, completely apart and unique... whew, okay, enough of this loftiness. What we've got here is an avant-garde metal music, infused with psychedelic ambiance of Victorian occultism. All this created with the use of violin, retro-sounding piano, ominous clean vocals, accordion, flute, two different pigs, brooding samples and several electronic devices of unknown nature. Oppressive black metal element, known from Opportunistic Thieves of Spring, receded into the background but don't worry, it still has an important role to play. Most of all, however, the way this album flows, how unthinkable it is to listen just to one of the tracks instead of submerging into the whole thing and savour it in its entirety... that's what I think is the most amazing about the Club's youngest creation.
A Shadowplay for Yesterdays is strongly recommended to all those who love adventurous music. What does it mean? I hasten to explain that the word "adventurous" incorporates - in this very case - dark and reflection-provoking concept, enveloped in an ominous Victorian ambiance and executed with the use of music and emotional harsh vocals by Mister Curse. The music itself is composed in a multi-layered fashion, with impetuous and harsh character, usually attributed to black metal. And, from my point of view, it's just brilliant.
"... A fast track to sorrow in a world bred slow. From foetid seed, a poison tree with a venomous bark did grow.
He was to work all the hours his sorry god sent, a resident of fantasy, living a life of lament. He was to have no living lovers, no-one on who to depend. Yet his friends were to call him Carrion, the friends inside his head... "
-- Originally written for Metal Music Archives [www.metalmusicarchives.com/] --
England's premier psychedelic black metal act, A Forest of Stars, have released their third album, “A Shadowplay For Yesterdays”, to once again astound a captive audience with their ability to move seamlessly through a mix of multiple genres, while maintaining a black metal base. A Forest of Stars starts of the album with a nod to Roger Waters era Pink Floyd and even hints of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, almost tricking the listener into thinking that A Forest of Stars has left the black metal influence behind. As soon as the next, and subsequent tracks, begin to play, it's a different story.
As the album builds up, you are introduced to a band playing melancholy black metal, replete with trem picking and incredibly fast drumming in the vein of Fenriz. The male vocalist screams away, coming across like a black metal version of Roky Erickson. The male vocals also switch back to the psychedelic rock sound at times, especially during sections that duel with standard female vocals. The female vocals and clean male vocals, together, sound slightly forced at times. But overall the vocal presentation is stellar. Subtle instrumentation is introduced: piano, flute, violin, other orchestrations; all which add a extra dimension of brooding sadness to the music. The core of the band, being guitars, bass and drums, retain their black metal base, while slowing down a bit at times almost into Stabat Mater styled black slowness, and the traditional instruments shine through, giving certain sections a psychedelic rock or doom feel to them, while retaining that black metal core.
There are quite a few lengthy tracks here, but compared to their earlier releases, A Forest of Stars has considerably shortened their songs for this album. That being said, the shorter songs allow for more dynamic between individual tracks. From the electronic infused, psychedelic post rock styling of “Man's Laughter” to the black doom laden sound of “A Prophet For a Pound of Flesh”, there are more stylistic changes from track to track than before. Always retaining the black metal base, A Forest of Stars manages to keep their musical tapestry sounding like a cohesive album. The only qualm here is that single tracks do not stand out as stellar. This album just has to be listened to in it's entirety, otherwise the album loses its woven appeal and you're left with just a couple psychedelic black metal tracks. Each song loses something when not played right after it's predecessor, as if A Forest of Stars demands your attention for the full sixty-eight minute playing time.
Every time I listen to “A Shadowplay For Yesterdays”, I feel myself drifting off into a trance-like state because of the hypnotic rhythms of the black metal sections interspersed with gentle, brooding traditional instrumentation. A Forest of Stars successfully removes me to another place as they sonically weave their tapestry. The swirling, chaotic black metal sounds even more raw after a piano interlude. The psychedelic moments come across as even more trippy after the trem picked blasting subsides.
This is a really good album by, probably, the best act playing this style at this time. Another cohesive black metal tapestry utilizing threads of psychedelic rock and doom metal to hold it together. This is an enjoyable listen, but the tracks don't hold their own when listened on their own. As a whole, it is incredible, trance-inducing psychedelic black metal, that utilizes moments of brooding sorrow and swirling intensity to keep the listener glued to the speakers. I will keep an eye on A Forest of Stars because, if “A Shadowplay For Yesterdays” is any indication, this band has the right elements to drop a bomb on the growing psychedelic black metal genre.
Originally written for The Metal Observer
It's hard to fault a band like A Forest of Stars for anything, as they tackle such a broad and delicious vista of sound that the very ambition of the music alone is enough to inspire interest in where their journey will take them. Progressive, melancholic rock and folk influences are wound across bleak, tremolo picked melodic black metal sequences saturated with textures, and the vocalist is almost as charismatic as a Martin Walkyier if you took transferred him out out of his vicious black/thrash territory and placed him in a more spacious, solemn environment (in fact, several of the song titles reminded of Sabbat and Skyclad). The band experiments with its instrumentation, few songs ever sound quite the same and they paint both lush and leeching scenery across the fields, forests and streams of their native land that it's hard not to drown.
Having said that, I feel that there are still some components which don't entirely sell me on their sound. For example, their lengthier tracks, despite all the implementation of synthesizers, cleaner passages, or female vocals will often devolve into rather predictable patterns that no amount of atmosphere can overcome, and while I admire the poetry invested in some of the narrative vocals, like the gorgeous intro "Directionless Resurrection", I often felt like they were a distraction from some pretty fabulous music, and the male/female 'duet' vox (as in "Corvus Corona part 2" seem slightly disparate). Otherwise, the band are quite profound at absorbing the listener into varied climes, like the electronic-infused instrumental interlude "Man's Laughter" or the folksy eruption of sadness "Left Behind as Static", or the beautiful "Underside of Eden" which morphs from spikes of festive flute into distant, distant zephyrous choirs and even passages of blasting and double bass. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to find a single song on this album which doesn't offer at least something compelling...
As for the production, A Shadowplay for Yesterdays is this admittedly level aural tapestry which invites the listener to pick out the individual instruments once all the band are firing simultaneously. There are points at which some of the guitar riffs feel drowned beneath the drums and the more atmospheric instrumentation, but really this gives more of an 'outdoors' impression, and a number of the riffs sit right on top of the mix when there isn't a lot else happening. The flutes, keys and acoustics all fit very well into the puzzle, and despite the wealth of instruments A Forest of Stars manage to unify everything into a cohesive, conceptual experience. Overall, I found the prior album The Opportunistic Thieves of Spring mildly more mesmerizing and interesting than this one, but the English band is clearly one of the most distinct in its field, and I hold out hope that it's only a matter of time before they reveal some genre-redefining masterpiece. They've all the tools and talent, I'm just waiting for a tastier array of guitar progressions equivocal to the lyrics and atmosphere.