With a pinch of snuff, a rustle of taffeta and the swirling bitter aroma of laudanum, the Gentleman’s Club of A Forest Of Stars open their oaken doors after a long three years of quiet, and yet of whispers. Do take a seat, Sirs, mes Dames, whoremongers and slatterns alike; procure a seat and prepare to be taken in hand by the most occult of debauchees and led into a waltz which shall leave your mind swirling and your soul with an improper yet satisfied smile that must forever remain hidden from staid society.
The previous turn of A Forest Of Stars was in 1895 (or 2015, depending upon the reality you step along) and the mesmerising ‘Beware The Sword You Cannot See’; a salient warning to be sure as it struck deep into my soul. So deep that three years on its eerie, complex refrains have remained almost constant in my mind and my ears. It haunts me, still, you see, particularly when the Northern skies of the Leeds based gathering turn back to September grey.
So here it is, upon my desk, the latest phonographic capture of these insidious miscreants. ‘Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes’ indeed. A wry, ironic play upon words. Can it really hope to supplant previous drugs?
Oh, it can indeed.
‘Persistence Is All’ says the opening, an ominous yet delicate overture, dark sounds flowing into gently plucked sylvanian notes. The high pomp of the aristocracy and the simple voice of folk on guitar and flute… All swept aside by the brutal crash of the bullish riff. The spittle flecked gushings of Mister Curse, almost tripping over themselves so quickly does the bile come, are like nothing sane. And yet they seduce with intelligence as behind the furious wall of black metal cacophony the melancholy melody of strings ebbs and flows and ensnares. ‘Precipice Pirouette’. Indeed. A ten minute trap for the unwary, turning and turning in the gyre from raw howl to oceanic swell and fade. Beauty is in darkness they say, and this audacious and complex initial enticement shows A Forest Of Stars utterly unafraid of who they are and what they bring. Turn away or fully abandon yourself to the primal beast within the fine cloth; the choice is yours.
Ah, you’re still with us. Good. Good. For now we are ‘Tombward Bound’. A sudden pull and then the quiet echoes and half sounds of subterranean passage. No one can see you here, within the catacombs. Nor much less see what it is you do. The shaking, trembling words echo in your ears, a litany of carrion rot and hatred of the morning. The strangest of lullabies, words half strangled in the throat, the spat obscenities raging against the world as the soft music struggles to soothe. Here they are unique; the whispers of Marillion-esque introspective twisted with the dark classical and gutted by the crush of the harsh riff. And yet, still, this complexity works, the clashing threads woven perfectly together into a cloth that is shaped like no one else. Their ‘Premature Invocation’ seals the coffin shut, a bewildering and insistent rant against reality, and against the flock of humanity.
‘Children Of The Night Soil’ rumbles, gathers speed and pig iron about it and pushes out an atmospheric, blackened surge. No pretence. It cries and rises and lunges once more with tooth and claw reddened. ‘Taken By The Sea’ is the most aching, emotion rending lament. Piano, violin, the beautiful but lost voice calling ‘I remember when my seas turned red and I couldn’t make you wake… “. If they cannot take your soul by force them heart wrenching loss will do it. Stunned, bereft and beguiled I wander lost with this perfect moment.
Their black roots show most strongly as ‘Scriptually Transmitted Disease’ pushes its way into the stage; cold Scandinavian styled riffs play with the much subdued melodious sounds to conjour a bitter piece, the sound of an argument out of patience. A sign that they know exactly where they were birthed even if they have sailed far from those shores.
The denouement of this is the most splendid, remarkable ‘Decomposing Deity Dancehall’. A distillation of all they are in some respects; the complexity of time changing and the classical interwoven with the harsh purity of, black metal. Again they step out like vaudeville villains, breaking the fourth wall, still twirling finely waxed moustaches but glaring into the crowd and turning their strangled despite upon the hypocrisy and failings they see simpering in the seats below.
Better than Beware… ? Well the ticking of the clock is the only judge of that. It is more of a whole work, perhaps, malignant yet creative gazes unwavering here. Focussed by some possession of their forever tarnished souls.
Had they been from Norwegian shores, or far flung corners of the esoteric world then I daresay they would be lauded by all and feted across European cities. Their curse, perhaps, to be from the smokestack city of the Yorkshire conurbation, a far from fashionable land to some.
Whatever. It matters little. We need the mischief makers and the eccentrics, the villains and the black cloaked miscreants with their silver topped canes. We should cleave to those prime individualists who take a step sideways as the remaining world lines up and strides one step forward en mass towards banality, passivity and conformity.
We need those who wander outside our safe preserves.
We need A Forest Of Stars. And you all need this.