A Forest of Stars - Beware the Sword You Cannot See 01Unusual approaches to metal intrigue me and I’m constantly hunting for a new take on an old sound, it can be as simple as adding the disorientation of synth rock like Lux Occulta‘s Kołysankior, taking breakcore and it turning upside down with a dose of death metal (Igorrr‘s Hallelujah) or basing an entire album on the 1927 film Metropolis (Melencolia Estatica‘s Hel). Three years ago I found a little piece of time-travel magic when I stumbled upon A Forest of Stars and their third release, a whimsical offering that envelopes you like an opium haze, transporting you back to 1891, re-opening the imposing wooden doors to the gentleman’s club and recruiting you into their English Victorian brotherhood. Their lineup hasn’t changed, nor has their steampunk blend of psychedelic black metal, all that’s changed is the album title and the concept.

Despite notable maturation of the band’s sound, “Drawing Down the Rain” is no big departure from what AFoS did on Shadowplay For Yesterday. That said, it proves an interesting animal, not only does it feel very close to early Tool, but it wouldn’t be out-of-place on Horseback‘s Half Blood or lost in the odd mania of Vulture IndustriesThe Tower. Attempting to explain the convoluted music brings to mind the classic witticism – “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” As the track grows and swells, it shifts skillfully between melodic, atmospheric and progressive black metal, incorporating multiple movements, experimentation and abstract sounds too tough to put into words. The song (along with following tracks) offers a blend of vocal styles – early on you get a taste of Mister Curse, backed by Mr. T.S. Kettleburner snapping and snarling in a muffled fashion that mimics the output of the phonograph cylinder, as the music ramps up so does their paranoid narration and finally songbird Katheryne, Queen of the Ghosts steps in with her apparitional outpourings, delivering the ambience of Fever Ray.

The remainder of the front half of the album conveys mounting malice, all while sticking to the blackened prog stylings similar to similar to Vulture Industries and Deathspell Omega. Bass lines move in and out of earshot, and the guitars have a much harder and deadly edge. Mister Curse’s snapping paranoia amps up with each second, coming at you from all directions, exacerbated by clever and sticky lyrical lines. The tracks have similar tempo shifts to the opener with the main difference being the prominence of the industrial synth that pops up from time to time. AFoS are growing darker and more belligerent and if you’re not left thinking “fuck you and the worm you rod in on” then you’re listening to this wrong. “Virtus Sola Invicta” ramps up the tempo most notably, shifting and struggling against which face to show the world. Blackened blast beats attack more mercilessly, fighting violin melodies as the track vacillates between a cacophony of deranged sounds and unbalanced moods, all panting excitedly for your attention. The violin streams in each of the tracks are delicately and skillfully played. They’re not intrusive, but they do have a vice-like grip commanding attention.

A Forest of Stars - Beware the Sword You Cannot See 02b

AFoS opted for a big finish, the entire back half of the album consists of a single track (“Pawn on the Universal Chessboard”) broken up into six progressions. “Part I: Mindslide” makes the first move with more synth-y Fever Ray journeying, before advancing into “Part II: Have You Got A Light, Boy?” a cacophony that once more brings to mind the AFoS signature sound, again tied in with notes of Tool, Vulture Industries and oddly enough, Nightsatan. After evolving from nothingness to the barely containable frenzy, “Part VI: Let There Be No Light” finally dances in, the perfect culmination with the ever lovely Queen of the Ghosts bringing the show to a close.

This is the very album I expected from AFoS, but it’s not without some minor flaws. Despite being shorter than its predecessor, this offering does come off feeling drawn out. In addition, the final six tracks are a single, continuous offering, meaning that this is not an album where you can cherry pick tracks without them seeming incomplete. And finally, despite how the fine folks of AFoS dress up their sound – adding waistcoats, pocket watches, Tool-isms and proggy weirdness, at the very heart of it, they’re still a black metal band, and if you’ve grown weary of being bombarded by “boring” blast beats, this is not the album for you.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Lupus Lounge (Prophecy Productions)
Websites: AForestofStarsOfficial | Facebook.com/AForestofStars
Release Dates: EU: 2015.03.09 | NA: 03.31.2015

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  • I’m glad I’m not the only one that found this one with a bit more bite than previous productions. I think this is the sound they have been looking for a while, and the one that suits them best. And if they settle down for a bit on it they could craft really good things in the future, perhaps new classics even.

  • Jean-Luc Ricard

    I am super excited about listening to this. Your Tool references leave me intrigued… never got that from them before!

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Me too. I loved the trippiness of Shadowplay. Somedays you feel like a blast beat; some days you don’t.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Having listened to a stream now, I find the drums rather buried in the mix.

        • I didn’t have any issue with the drums on my promo. The vocals felt a bit more buried at times that I would have liked, I realise however that the drive for them to make it appear as if their album was playing across a phonograph was the reason behind this so it’s tough to penalise them for getting their desired effect. The drums no doubt would have been affected by this also.

          • Monsterth Goatom

            I see. Interesting. I should have picked up on that, considering you mentioned it in the review. Maybe I need to reserve judgment until I hear something of better quality than a stream on Rdio.

    • The video reminded me a lot of something Tool would come up with too.

      • Jean-Luc Ricard

        Just watched it and totally get what you mean. Fantastic song!

  • metalwithay

    Two albums in a row with snakes eating their own tails as the cover

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Damn, you’re right! And it’s supposed to be the year of the goat.

      • I blame agalloch for making the ouroboros the “cool” and “hip” metal thing for this year

        • RagE

          Primordial as well.

        • bollocks.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        What do we want? GOAT!
        When do we want it? NOW!

      • Martin Knap

        year of the goat … or of the sheep or ram. so don’t get too excited about the symbolism ya all, because it’s really not clear-cut, lambs and sheep are not very metal.

    • Last year was the year of the sphere… this year will be the year of the snake!

  • Andres Pintos Nocerino

    bored

    • Dariusz Łata

      Yep.. Nothing else to say.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    I like the Dickensian band member names. “Mr. Titus Lungbutter”. Ha! Isn’t that a “noun” from a Wayne’s World movie? One could have some fun coming up with such names: “Mr. Smellie Shufflebottom of Bachelor’s Bump, Essex”.

  • Wilhelm

    Great stuff, eccentric but not too. The album is a bit lengthy but easily forgivable as most of it ranges above average to excellent.

  • Requiem

    Jesus this is cool m/ fucking love her voice!

    • Check out Fever Ray’s self titled album then, you may enjoy her vocals also. Possibly Lux Occulta’s too.

      • Requiem

        Thanks Madam :D as usual you’ve pointed me towards some of the best music out there ^_^

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Fuck me and the worm I rode in on! I had no idea a new album was coming out. I was just listening to A Shadow… the other other day, I never tire of that album and I can’t wait to get stuck into this.

    Nice work as usual Madam X!

  • sir_c

    Even though I agree it is not a 5-star masterpiece, I do think this album will end up high on my top 2015 favourites list.
    They have such unique sound and their originality deserves all respect. There is a lot to like on this album.

  • basenjibrian

    Checked out Vulture Inudstries as I am a big fan of FOS. Think I prefer FOS. There is more dark jaggedness here!