Wow. What an experience the last hour has been. Forgive me, but it’s taken until now for me to uncover the fantastic sounds that define A Forest of Stars. Over the course of their eight-year career, the Leeds, UK-based ensemble have spent four albums creating a psychedelic black metal sound that’s some kind of special. And the most recent of these—their new full-length, Beware the Sword You Cannot See—is sure to be a record none of us will forget about anytime soon.
(I’ve gotta start by saying a quick bit about the artwork here. How incredibly epic is that image above? I’ve always been a fan of bands that put serious focus into the visual aspect of their music, and this is a piece that grabbed my attention immediately. It’s trippy, it’s ominous, and it looks like it’s straight out of a fantasy novel. You want to grab someone’s attention? Show them artwork like this and tell them psychedelic black metal lies behind it. It’s a fail-safe. Definitely for me.)
But this album…this music…it’s some kind of adventure. You know exactly what kind of experience you’re in for as soon as you press “play” on “Drawing Down the Rain.” If I had to draw any common ground between bands I am familiar with, I would bring to mind Saor, Tool, and even Pink Floyd. We have here an incredibly addictive musical foundation that weaves seamlessly between fast-paced rhythms, harsh goblin-esque vocals and far more deliberate low-end tones layered over a dark, mind-expanding ambiance. They utilize flutes and violins like Saor, but in a different way and with more going on. The keyboard elements could be pulled and placed alongside the early Pink Floyd days…it’s that kind of psychedelic. It’s an amazing blend of sounds, and one that I didn’t expect to work this well.
This album is definitely too long, and there is definitely too much going on, for me to provide any semblance of a track-by-track walk-through. I would be here all day. And frankly, I’d prefer you just took the time to hear it yourself. I would never be able to do it justice. I will say that I’m completely obsessed with the first half of the album. The longer six- to nine-minute tracks that comprise the first half of the album are such a captivating blend of sounds, it becomes difficult to articulate what is exactly going on. From “Drawing Down the Rain” right through “Proboscis Master Versus The Powdered Seraphs,” (whatever that means) each track has its own blend of melodic darkness, but all are composed in their own unique way. Yes, they are extremely progressive, and they’re psychedelic to a level I’ve never experienced, but more than that, they’re just constructed so well. The music is a borderline take on insanity, but somehow it all just blends together more fluidly than I could have expected. Fluidity…that is actually a great way to describe the way this music moves through you, the way you rise and fall with its sounds. Kind of a strange description for something labeled as a form of black metal, right? Yeah, I thought so, too. But it’s appropriate.
The second half of the album is broken into six different tracks, each ranging between two and five minutes. It feels like its own standalone album…or that it could be consolidated into a single track; the songs slide that effortlessly between each other. Starting with “Part I: Mindslide,” we have a comparable psychedelic ambiance, but this time more heavily layered with beautifully sung female vocals. It’s the perfect transitional track between the two halves of the album. This general personality maintains itself over the next few tracks, but we refer back to heavier sections and harsh growls of the earlier stages of the album—just done a little differently. The acoustic, folk metal feel is a bit more consistent, especially on “Part IV: An Automaton Drift,” which really pushes the use of spoken lyrics. I must mention the closer, “Part VI: Let There Be No Light.” There is so much passion and emotion here that is undeniably invigorating. and the epic, drawn out guitars mixed behind the solemn violins is a new level of beautiful. Combine all that with the ambient clean vocals, and it’s quite the emotional trip. This all wraps up a unique album structure…one that could have been broken in half, but also works together.
I really don’t have anything negative to say here. Yes, it is an ambitious composition, but a few listens through and I’m even more captivated than I was the first time around. You can clearly tell that this album is meant to be more than a collection of songs; it’s meant to take you somewhere. To make you experience something. As a result, Beware The Sword You Cannot See is an album that I’ll be revisiting time and again throughout the rest of this year…and beyond.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”