I wanted to get this review up much sooner but life happened, and though it’s several weeks tardy, Beyond the Veil, Dark Forest‘s fourth album, definitely deserves a spotlight shone upon it. All the more so considering we whiffed on reviewing their excellent 2014 release, The Awakening. These English chaps play folksy power metal with a butt-ton ton of traditional and NWoBHM influences, often sounding like a fusion of Iron Maiden, Falconer and Skyclad1. This proves to be a righteously winning combination and Beyond the Veil is a joyous, exuberant romp through the fields of pomp and power with enough of a metal boot print to keep things reasonably manly.
It’s fair to say there are a lot of galloping Maiden-isms dotting this particular dark forest. That isn’t a criticism though, as they blend them quite well with other influences. Big, bold opener “On the Edge of Twilight” puts all the tarot cards on the table, mixing copious portions of Maiden and Fates Warning with folksy power like Elvenking and Týr. The riffs and harmonies are classy, tasteful and engrossing and the solos are pristine and immaculate. Josh Winnard sticks to a classic power metal vocal style, but he has a warm, rich voice and uses his stratospheric high notes wisely and sparingly. The folk influence is omnipresent in the riffing and arrangements but never feels overdone as things sit comfortably between old school metal and modern power.
Songs like “Where the Arrow Falls,” “Autumn’s Crown” and “Blackthorn” all hit it out the LARP park with a slick blend of melody, technicality and energy, at times reminding me of the early (and excellent) Human Fortress albums. The latter track has some segments ripped right from The X Factor, but all the songs exude a jaunty, upbeat swagger and feature razor-sharp hooks. “Earthbound” is snappy and oh-so-Maiden-esque, and “The Undying Flame” is brimming with beautifully trilling riffs and lovely harmonies. Even the lengthy instrumental “Men-An-Tol” is a rousing yarn sure to stir the loins with its elegant and swanky fare (especially at 3:21). All this is aided by a lovely production which renders everything warm, organic and clear. This comes at the expense of grit and back hair, but that’s not what this band is about anyway.
The problem with Beyond the Veil is the excessive length. At an hour and 13 minutes, it’s far too long and by the time the Avantasia-overload of 14 minute closer, “The Lore of the Land” arrives, I have nothing left to give. This is exacerbated by songs that routinely run between 6-8 minutes when 4-5 minutes would do. “The Wild Hunt” suffers the most for its length despite some excellent moments, running close to 7 minutes yet feeling like it should be done around the 4 minute mark (known as Return of the King Syndrome by those in the industry). If this platter ended after the 9th track, it would be Album o’ the Month fodder for sure. As it stands, it’s a magical bridge too far.
Beyond the Veil is such an compelling listen because of the top-notch guitar-work of Christian Horton and Patrick Jenkins. Sure, they violate the Maiden-head at many a turn, but there’s no denying the talent they bring to their riffing and harmonizing. This album is awash with their polished noodling and they’re a joy to hear. Josh Winnard comes into his own more so than he did on The Awakening and adds another level of class and grandiosity to the proceedings as he swings between Dickinsonian bravado and Tony Kakko emo-izing. While I wish he had more of an edge to his delivery, you can’t fault his golden pipes ov steel.
This is so dangerously close to 4.0 levels, but the bloated song-lengths and overall runtime play havoc with the final product. That shouldn’t prevent anyone from seeking this out though, as it contains some of the best heavy/power metal you’ll hear in 2016. This is a band on the rise and one I expect to get a lot more press in the near future. Don’t have your metal cred destroyed like poor Dr. A.N. Grier. Get a seat on the Dark Forest wagon now so you don’t look like a front-runner later when these minstrels hit it big.