Given Britain’s tendency to produce eccentrics, the emergence of Leeds troupe A Forest of Stars in 2007 may have caused a few heads to turn, but their glorious weirdness, even in a scene as narrow and regimented as black metal, has always worked to their advantage. Existing in their own interpretation of Victorian England where decadence, occult magick and narcotic experimentation reigned supreme, the septet’s three previous albums were all well received, with plaudits given for their enthralling storytelling and atmosphere as well as explorations into psychedelic territory and pastoral folk amid the crushing black metal dynamics. Further accolades look set to follow, for fourth effort Beware the Sword You Cannot See (Lupus Lounge/Prophecy) is an unabashed masterpiece.
With a concept heavily focused on death and rebirth, this is the album that shows A Forest of Stars transcending the rigid parameters of their earthly shackles and soaring off into the unknown with aplomb. The thunderous tremolo picking and double-bass assault evident on tracks such as ‘A Blaze of Hammers’ leaves the listener in no doubt that the band aren’t going to do an Opeth on us, but it’s the surging progressive flourishes and sense of ambition that makes this such a special listening experience, as demonstrated by the ascending chords and lush female vocals courtesy of violinist Kathryne Queen of the Ghosts on the magnificent album opener ‘Drawing Down the Rain.’ Speaking of ambition, the six part odyssey that is ‘Pawn on the Universal Chessboard’ which comprises the latter half of the album is mind-boggling in scope, ranging from spacy Tangerine Dream style synths on ‘Mindslide’, masterful dark prog on ‘Have You Got a Light, Boy?’ to pummelling black metal orthodoxy on ‘Lowly Worm.’
Special mention must go to vocalist Mr Curse for a truly astonishing performance where he shrieks, yelps and dips heavily into theatrical spoken word delivery to tell the story of the album, producing some fantastic lyrics (“Fuck you and the worms you rode in on!”) and acting as demonic ringleader to this spectacular carnival of unearthly delights. It may be too early to call A Forest of Stars the British answer to Enslaved but if they keep on producing records as excellent as this then their status will be in no doubt.
Early contender for one of the albums of the year.