A Forest Of Stars: Beware The Sword You Cannot See

Victorian voyagers conjure a blaze of glory

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As malleable a form and as open to interpretation as black metal is, most recent attempts to recast it in new lights have been less ambitious, somewhat apologetic attempts to rationalise it, sift it of all unruly elements, to bring it back down to earth.

Thankfully, there are a few visionaries who understand the Grand Guignol nature that lies even in black metal’s darkest recesses, who can project it onto unforeseen new canvases.

Just as Finland’s 70s sci-fi voyagers Oranssi Pazuzu dragged black metal far beyond its comfort zone and gave it vast and startling new room to roam, so Leeds troupe A Forest Of Stars have spliced its DNA with a detailed world of their own making – a volatile Victorian world awash with mad invention, urban horror, repressed urges and spiritualism – and in the process made black metal a transformative experience once more.

Even more so than 2012’s A Shadowplay For Yesterdays, Beware The Sword… finds striking new contexts for Emperor’s destiny-seeking surge, not least in the 10-minute tour de force of opener Drawing Down The Rain. Its luminous cadences burst into furious searchlight riffs, penitent violin and supercharged black metal storms, before undergoing all manner of further, urgent sonic shifts as female and wrought, narrated vocals all chart a heart-in-mouth rite of passage and emotionally wrung coda. A feverish psychological journey that charts innumerable points between dread and revelation – and whose paranoia occasionally makes you think of Voices transported back to Dickensian times – AFOS’s fourth album is also a further fleshing out of a singular universe whose progressive, Hammond organ-spooked dynamics always hold you in their grip. From Hive Mindless’s quivering riffs and pulsing grooves through A Blaze Of Hammers’ helplessly driven sermon and Oranssi-esque cosmic traction to the six-song Pawn On The Universal Chessboard cycle, AFOS escalate into blackened whorls, go off-map into sorrowful, string-woven cul-de-sacs, reach devastating crescendos and gorgeously ornate aftermaths, all orbiting of an impending moment of reckoning whose sweep will surely echo across the metal firmament.

Via Lupus Lounge

Jonathan Selzer

Having freelanced regularly for the Melody Maker and Kerrang!, and edited the extreme metal monthly, Terrorizer, for seven years, Jonathan is now the overseer of all the album and live reviews in Metal Hammer. Bemoans his obsolete superpower of being invisible to Routemaster bus conductors, finds men without sideburns slightly circumspect, and thinks songs that aren’t about Satan, swords or witches are a bit silly.