Three months deep into 2015, and it’s apparent that black metal is absolutely thriving. Many of the year’s best records thus far have been deeply rooted in the genre’s bleak and frozen tundra, and many more dotting the landscape of forthcoming records that are bound to be amazing. The beauty in this saturation of high quality black metal records is that the genre is wildly diverse. With doom, avant garde, and post-rock alike, black metal makes fusion without much fuss; kind of the antithesis of the genre to begin with, but it works. Britain’s A Forest of Stars have known about this for years and have been spicing up black metal with a myriad of genres such as folk, classical, post-rock, and prog rock since their inception. Fittingly, as they’ve grown and developed, the band have become one of the most deranged and forward thinking musicians in the post and atmospheric black metal scenery. As such, Beware the Sword You Cannot See is a wildly psychedelic and ambitious record that finds itself in good company in the already impressive lineup for 2015 their peers have established.
The bizarre world of Beware the Sword You Cannot See can be captured in summation with the outlandish, “Fuck you, and the worms you rode in on,” as shouted in the opening moments of ‘A Blaze of Hammers.’ The band have fostered an attitude of flagrant disregard of genre boundaries and tradition while admittedly owing everything to the groundwork built upon this tradition. More often than not, A Forest of Stars can be heard sawing at violins and strumming acoustic guitars or droning through pulsing electronics than falling back on black metal instrumentation. The clashing of musical ideas and unpredictability throughout Beware the Sword You Cannot See cultivates a palpable level of chaos. Chaos is often achieved in a musical context with walls of distortion and atonal notation; instead A Forest Of Stars never spare on melody and use of ethereal soundscapes, making up for reverberating slide guitars, Korg synths, and spoken word narrative (as heard on ‘Have You Got A Light, Boy?’) by using these elements in the first place. If the notion of this circular thinking is confusing you, congratulations. That cognitive dissonance is Beware the Sword You Cannot See, the musical equivalent of an M.C. Escher painting. Sticking out while fitting in.
Okay, so the record is more grounded in black metal than what I’ve lead on; roughly half of the record features something to ground the band in black metal through the stargazing. Beware the Sword You Cannot See is most comparable to Agalloch by way of folk and prog influences when things get heavy, with opening track ‘Drawing Down The Rain‘ often sounds as if it were pulled directly from Ashes Against The Grain. The more ferocious penultimate track ‘Lowly Worm’ spends most of its two-minute runtime in a flurry of discordant tremolo picking and blastbeats, but even still, the band can’t seem to sit still long enough for these comparisons to matter too much; after spending no time at all in a downward spiral of madness, the band find themselves most infatuated with more sensitive and vulnerable moments, such as the closing track, ‘Let There Be No Light’, which predominantly features clean female singing, somber violins, and twinkling guitars.
Indeed, Beware the Sword You Cannot See is a fairly imbalanced record, but that implies that A Forest of Stars have a fair bit of groundskeeping to take care of before they can truly be great in the realm of black metal. Instead, the band have further established themselves as a modern black metal institution and a driving creative force on metal’s ever-expanding cutting edge, approaching the ranks of fellow avant-garde visionaries Sigh. Much can be said about the band’s flamboyant theatrics, but Beware the Sword You Cannot See is an epic and adventurous undertaking as a listen, and it may be the band’s strongest to date.
A Forest Of Stars – Beware the Sword You Cannot See gets…