[Very strangely a second word doc turned up with this review and puzzled us a fair old bit. Sometimes the music we listen to does really get beneath the skin and does strange things to us poor writers and it would seem that A Forest Of Stars cast some sort of strange necromancy over our Giz; either that or he had been getting into character and sniffing the green fairy. The result is two reviews for the price of one. Be sure to check the more deranged warblings of the second review beneath the first. Pete confused ed!]
Now on their third album, there is a lot to like about the Leeds based Gentleman’s Club of A Forest Of Stars. Well, if there wasn’t I doubt they would have come to Prophecy Records’ attention, but regardless there is. Eccentric, atmospheric and complex they have on their previous albums somehow managed to amalgamate the theatrical outlook of early The Vision Bleak with the melancholy classical strains of Amber Asylum and the touch of the classic Arcturus album La Masquerade Infernale. Baroque black metal with a very strange bent, to coin a phrase.
Once more with A Shadowplay For Yesterdays there appears to be a theme here but, alas, I have only the music to guide me.
It opens with the infernal, sinister atonement of a tale of a misshapen and violent birthing from an equally violent conception with a backdrop of atmospheric and most effective sounds. All very alchemical and curiously familiar (maybe it’s the books I read…). This deranged monologue gives way to one of the more obviously black metal tracks here, initially sedate ‘Pray Tell of the Church Fate’ is then driven forward and somewhat overshadowed by a clattering of snare drums that is overpowering due to the production. It does work however, particularly when it drops into some delicious classical sounding violin and piano work. It is the first time we hear a musical theme that creeps onto the stage at times throughout this album, a melancholy phrasing redolent of Amber Asylum. When this song is black metal it is somewhat constrained but when it relaxes into its own soul it becomes much more without falling into the dreaded world of post-rockisms.
‘A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh’ allows a seventies sensibility to raise its head; not in the normal occult rock manner so en vogue, but much more aligned to a particularly British classical prog style. Hints of Jethro Tull and Mike Oldfield at his quintessential countryside suffused height. Quite mesmeric in fact and yet still with an undercurrent of wrongness tugging at your mind. Ten minutes of utter pleasure.
‘The Blight Of God’sAcre’ combines the black metal and other influences much more effectively and if you are new to the band this is where you realize how much of their unique character has already nestled in your mind. Long songs, passages of unsettling rhythmic changes, instrumental sweeps and a doomed descent. But it is not just their pseudo Victorian classicism, but their use of static distorted vocals and keyboards which should be anachronistic but, instead, work beautifully to leave a lingering feel of something trapped just beyond this world, pressing against the ether.
It is difficult to overstate how beautifully this flows as an album; full of twists from Katatonia style riffs to old Marillion flavored keyboard runs.
The two part closure ‘Corvus Corona’ is a fitting, sumptuous end to an album of wonder; a touch on the trip hop drumming and the lovely, curiously evocative not-quite-tuned piano like a parlor performance that has seen better times with the narrative vocals pointing the exit.
It is a long album, perhaps unsurprisingly, and I can’t help that raising an old niggle of a little judicious editing being needed but that is my only complaint. Full of allusion to classical occultism, mad spiritualists, the burgeoning of the industrial age and the twirl of Genteel propriety dancing with the depraved and repressed lusts of the Gothic, I am sure some will dismiss A Forest Of Stars (and this review) as pretentious twaddle but more fool them; they are missing out on a wonderful band set on a perfectly eccentric and ambitious path full of mystery and wonder for those of us who dare to be tempted.
Mr Blackwood. Dearest Cousin Nicholas,
Please take this unexpected and uninvited missive as a dire warning of the seductive unseen viper that lies at the bosom of our genteel society. It is not the mere ravings of a hysterical unsophisticated woman from the North, no! More is the pity and would that it were. It is now too late for both my society reputation and my soul but perhaps I may spare others the same degraded fate. I speak of the insidious and corrupting influence of one of our provincial cabals, the so-called ‘Gentleman’s Club’ of A Forest Of Stars. They are perhaps little known in the capital but have conducted with no small success at least two prior rituals to the current horror they have sought to peddle to the unwary rich dilettantes of society status.
Entitled ‘A Shadowplay For Yesterdays’ and produced for selective ‘private’ audiences by the infamous Prophecy Productions, it is a calamity for the unprepared but I fear a fair triumph for their own debauched ends.
This ‘Shadowplay’, ripe with alchemikal symbolism and vile occultism to suit any low Rosicrucian interloper, lures by its seeming careless abandon with its own openness. The curtain rises with ‘The Gentleman’ (a hideous misnaming if I may be so bold) regaling us in unclean and unpleasant tones bordering on madness a florid tale of women of low reputation and their ravaging resulting in a hideous, violent and misshapen offspring. This monologue, noted in the penny dreadful style program as ‘Directionless Resurrectionist’, drips with vile glee, made all the worse by the discordant scraping at a violin which accompanies it, like nails down a coffin lid, no less!
Unsettled by this performance we are given no time to collect our senses or nerves before an unholy racket of metal most black is forced upon us. ‘Prey Tell of the Church Fate’ indeed! The drumming mercifully blankets some of the tune with its harsh and over loud clattering but nonetheless it achieves its purpose; We are inside the realm of the Club and our society without these walls means nothing.
From then on we are lost in a whirl and a world of double meanings and wordplay. Muscial themes echo through the piece often born by the possessed violinist who brings a morbid melancholy to these classical stylings so reminiscent of the much lauded Amber Asylum but with a far more occult turn of phrase. Other moments a flute conjures spirits like a medium. Part of your mind wishes to think of the musical hall favourites as The Vision Bleak in style of presentation but again it is too twisted and bent for their more publicly acceptable theatrics. Perhaps the production of ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ by the oft whispered continental enesemble Arcturus would be the trick to understanding this, the comparison. This, though is a most English and eccentric take on such a theme. The music is for long parts mostly undisturbed by those distorted or strident voices and drifts from pastoral themes with an uncomfortable, insidious voice lurking beneath to the previously mentioned violent, harsh assaults on delicate society ears’ sensibilities which they name black metal.
But the seductive nature of this performance is the danger, the beast within. Carnal and sensual it wraps warm hands about your throat even as other fingers drift to parts unmentionable, causing emotion to flare and tumble into confusion. It can turn the head of the sternest lady and create in her stead a wanton creature delighting in sensual pleasure. I must particularly warn you of the unearthly, almost’ scientific’ sounds of ‘Left Behind As Static’ which whilst an oddity somehow slots in like a key into clockwork and perhaps is designed to draw in the more skeptical scientific mind. Also the final, twin parts entitled ‘Corvus Corona’ which are the perfect closure to this soft fur and silk lined trap. It leaves no hope for forgiveness, simply the stain on your good name.
It is a long performance by such standards, perhaps a trifle overlong, but even so it rarely fails to mesmerize and enthrall in its roiling flow. It creeps upon you in moments of quiet even after the performance has ended and entices you back for more like sweet opium clouds. In short, dear cousin, it corrupts. It is curious that those times during the performance when I was taken to perhaps drifting into my own reverie, that I was brought back to the moment by the lingering sound of that violin theme wafting its languid tune over my head, always that same theme.
I am lost, I only hope that my warning does not come too late for others. Please, do not try to find me.
Yours in depravity,