In addition to the band's latest full-length Beware The Sword You Cannot See, we also just picked up the preceding 2012 album A Shadowplay For Yesterdays from this strange steampunk-tinged black metal band. Envisioning themselves as characters from some late 19th century Victorian tragedy with names like Mister Curse, The Gentleman, Mr. T.S. Kettleburner, and Katheryne, Queen of the Ghosts (the latter actually being Kati Stone of My Dying Bride), A Forest Of Stars delivers an imaginative and anachronistic mix of withering black metal, Dickensian imagery, early 70's British folk rock influences, and epic prog rock that could only have come out of England. Released as both a standard jewel case edition and a deluxe digipak version that includes an embellished booklet and bonus track "Dead Love" that's only available on this and the double LP versions of the album.
England has certainly produced its share of eccentric, unusual black metal outfits, with the likes of Meads Of Asphodel and Fen bringing a distinctly English touch to their often offbeat and atmospheric music. The Yorkshire band A Forest Of Stars, though, might be the most British sounding band I've heard from the region, delivering an offbeat combination of ragged black metal, psychedelic folk influences, and a weird obsession with Victorian-era aesthetics that‚Äôs pretty unique. They start to build an ominous and dramatic feel with the spoken word narrative that's delivered over the atmospheric ambience of opener "Directionless Resurrectionist", but follow that up with the snarling, maudlin black metal of "Prey Tell Of The Church Fate"; shrill, eerie tremolo riffs wind into eerie folk-like melodies against the background, before the band blasts into a vicious blur of jangly, blackened guitars and rickety blastbeats, continuing to maintain that strange, antiquated vibe. That's in large part due to how A Forest of Stars weaves violin, flute, piano, acoustic guitar, old-style frame drums and tambourines into their ragged black metal, both over the band's ferocious blasting and in the spaces between, and the result on this and the rest of the album sounds incredibly rustic. This stuff is possessed with a gloomy grandeur, rumbling with massive double bass driven power and slipping into stretches of harrowing blackened despair, and passages of pure prog that take over songs like "A Prophet For A Pound Of Flesh", sending swirling kosmische synths washing over long, almost krautrock-esque rhythmic workouts, Katheryne's bewitching singing drifting in over those mesmeric sprawls, intertwining with Curse's gravelly croon to produce stirring vocal harmonies.
They employ strange electronic textures and synth noise to create some really immersive soundscapes, and gloriously weird moments like the dread-filled funereal oompah of "Gatherer of the Pure" that suddenly ascends into almost Floydian spaciness. I'm not the biggest fan of music that combines folk elements with black metal, but what makes this work is how ragged and vicious the black metal aspects of their sound are, delivering a raw and vicious black metal attack that contrasts well with the more psychedelic elements. All throughout Shadowplay, the sounds of funerary violins and psychedelic folk wafting from out of their majestic, weirdly rustic metal, and it gets pretty damn catchy, shot through with more than a few moments of seriously striking dark beauty and power, while also maintaining that haunting, twilight vibe through all of their songs.
The digipak edition also adds on the bonus track "Dead Love", and features an extended, more extensive booklet.