Unusual 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 Industries‘ The 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.
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.
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