A FOREST OF STARS – DARK TIMES, ROMANTICISM, LOOSING BOWELS AND A COLLECTIVE OF STARS
He goes by the name of Mister Curse and he’s about to reveal to Soundshock a little insight, as we curiously interrogate him about the origin of A Forest Of Stars’ name, but it’s perhaps not the best choice for a first answer? The vocalist is seemingly just as perplexing as the other six members of the enigmatic, self-themed gentlemen’s club he is a part of.
Unlike the corpse-paint clad loonies you’d usually associate with many self-imaging 90’s black metal bands, the North-West England act don an image fresh from the 1800’s with a mutant sound to match – spiked with an unusual psychedelic use of woodwind, strings and keyboard to create an intoxicating, intense ride through whatever your creepy brain would like. But this isn’t just fun and games and as said before, Curse must delve into their beginnings and describe just why ‘A Forest Of Stars’ is a name that requires a much more reflective tone. He muses “It refers to the masses of space all around us, and the never-ending number of rocks spinning around suns, ad-infinitum. Maybe it also refers to our insignificance amongst this mass of matter.”
Another chap, identified as the keyboardist, piano player and percussionist who is mysteriously and solely guised by the moniker of ‘The Gentleman’ furthers his band mate’s sentiment on their title “I would add that in its simplest terms it is reaching out into the astral while remaining firmly rooted to the ground,” the vocalist said. “Musically, we try to force those two complete opposites into our songs. And of course, if you are that much up your own (collective) arses, you fail spectacularly. QED.”
‘Fail’ they may perceive. But just before you wonder who the hell are they and what the hell is going on, have patience and embrace any inkling of curiosity. If you need any measure of just what a spectacular hazy, opium-soaked splay of thought-provoking escapism they are capable of – look as far as latest record Opportunistic Thieves Of Spring as conclusive evidence. It’s clear that the now-seven-piece have a reserved modesty about their activity, but in their relatively short existence spanning under five-years they’ve marked their territory with an unfamiliar slant on black metal. While it’s likely they would hasten to disagree that they are doing anything new, A Forest Of Stars are a recent but rare burst of fresh air that have carried with them a breeze of psychedelia, folk, strange ambiences and equally crucial deep-delving, ambitious lyrical themes.
The North-West England natives do have an untamed fascination for our insignificance in context of the vast universe – that not only translates in their name – but is crafted into song too. They are switched on to a mindset transfixed on contemplation of wider concepts – some beyond ours or even their meagre human comprehension. But it’s with this mentality that an escapist longing is forged from the superficial aspects of the modern world, almost as a staunch antithesis. Delay’s Progression, from their latest album deals with such themes.
“I would agree to some extent certainly,” Curse responded when asked whether the song documents romanticism contrasted against a draining theme of superficiality. “The song also references the plasticisation of the so-called reality we live in, the loss of brotherhood, ignorance instead of strength, etc. I think my lyrics most certainly pine for change, but it’s more a universal attitude change, rather than a singular process.”
When craving for such a monumental, widespread shift in the general mentality of people, the means in which they artistically convey this is more varied than expected. There are serious, sombre reflective spoken word moments, like in the aforementioned song, but sometimes a degree of humour surfaces, albeit a black humour in their invocation. This is especially notable in the strange, eerily twisted Raven’s Eye View, which tells the story of a lone man disillusioned with his life, who goes on to commit an act deemed unacceptable by the community.
“It is most certainly poking fun and a lot of bile at the modern world and its unfocused idiocies,” Curse explained. “It’s a tale of a man, who having had enough of the waste and ridiculousness of the world, decides to play a merry prank on the folk of his local area. He climbs himself up to the top of the church spire, feigning a suicidal approach. Once sufficient ‘men of the cloth’, gawkers, etc have arrived, he lets loose his incredible breakfast of fats, liquors and oils upon their upturned faces from all orifices. Fun for all the family, I’m sure. Of course, once they’ve all had their impromptu shower, he nips off to the local tavern for some well deserved hair of the three-headed dog.”
Amid the stimulating yet perverse madness, A Forest Of Stars are conserved about their efforts and insist they’re not out to re-invent a genre or indeed ‘the wheel’ for that matter. Black metal might have seen a makeover of styles and an introduction of new ideologies fused onto its raw, unrelenting epicentre that suggest diversity of the genre is at its utmost peak. But The Gentleman disagrees that they are a part of the so-called transcendental BM movement that has flourished in recent times or are a contingency of the 90’s-obsessed traditional-buffs.
“I am labouring under no illusion that we do anything remotely original and I would shoot myself before contradicting that claim. We do not distance ourselves from anything, we just want to write and enjoy playing our music. In fact, as we’ve experienced first hand, I think the Satanists and kvlt black metallers are actively distancing themselves from *us*, which saves us any effort. It’s interesting to note that most of the people upholding the “true” banner of black metal tend to be rather young, not unlike the original second wave/inner circle. I suppose, pragmatically, we’re just a bit too old to be bothered with posturing or claiming to be anything other than a band who gains enjoyment from playing and creating music. It’s as simple as that. Life is too short to be perpetually serious.”
But there are obviously still sticklers to the original anti-Christian or Satanic cause, making it forever known that this is a type of music that – in its original core of principles will probably battle ceaselessly through the test of time. Be it through heart-on-sleeve advocates, interesting philosophers, crypto-shock-rockers or frilly posers – it’s unlikely that it will fizzle into an archaic piece of history so soon. Satanic aesthetics are still the call of many, but while Curse understands that it’s very much down to subjective interpretation, he believes it is black metal’s “very nature to oppose” – perhaps revealing that, at heart it’s something that has spurred them to an extent – for its sheer unwillingness to accept a fully eclipsed apathy. The Gentleman elaborates with his personal perspective.
“Considering that this type of music is apparently meant to be rebellious, anti-establishment and non-conformist, I find the irony that if you do not play it according to a restrictive set of orthodox rules, you are doing it wrong or are false, rather amusing.”
Other bands have found the spirit of heritage coming back to haunt, revealing an altogether different perspective. Winterfylleth, Wodensthrone, Fen and Old Corpse Road are few among many that are charged by times long gone, and whilst this is not a primary stimulus for A Forest Of Stars, it remains relevant to the bands development. Initially touching upon the idea that the band is a gentleman’s club because “it allowed for a collective of creative people under one banner that did not have to be musicians,” they allude to another time, but not merely for their charming, illustrious Victorian dress and obscure theme.
“It is only one facet of the whole,” Curse admitted. “There is a lot of frustration and anger in my lyrics, but also a pointed yearning for a return to more realistic times.”
In spite of their brethren bond, the band will never truly have a communal consensus of mind to merge them into an ideological force and nor do they intend to do so. It breeds an inclusive atmosphere, tolerant and respecting of each individual’s will. Opinions may be scattered but when asked whether he is personally spiritual, Curse responded: “Most certainly. I feel that we are all part of one universal roller coaster ride, and that most folk spend far too much time engrossed in the drivel pouring forth from their Tele-screens, rather than opening their eyes to the skies and all else around. I feel that we live in very dark times, and that a huge flux is going to be required to shake things up. I know that so-called end-times cults have existed since the dawn of time, but looking at the concept of Impirium (the rise and fall of civilisations) I reckon we’re well overdue a shake up. I also think that shake up is well upon its way.”
For all of the difference between members and the various standpoints, there is one constant rule that will stand in place through all of their pensive musical, philosophical and empirical explorations – no politics.
“Individual members hold strong views, especially left-leaning ones. But that is irrelevant. We have never, nor will never be a political band. There is certainly a place for it in music, but that place is most definitely not us. And I will not have the band used as a platform for such things, even if I happened to believe in (what I perceived to be) a worthy cause.”
It’s to no surprise that the internal furnace of diversity within the group correlates also in musical influences. Mister Curse is a fan of Black Rider-era Tom Waits and proclaims to like anything in between “rock, blues, metal, prog, electronic, folk, country, pop, classical and so on.” But whilst there’s the immediate quicksand of using a cut-up method to guide influences into place (no reference to William Burroughs and his cut-up style – although Curse does love his writings), AFOS seem to conjure their sound with delicate eclectic tastes. The lack of doing so can result in a one-dimensional snore-fest, and the excesses of such can simply burden bands or even delude others to an overly-conscientious approach. It’s a careful balancing act but The Gent is still conservative about their success in welding genres.
“I think we cover most bases between us, though it ends up being a glorified Venn diagram, with certain members loving things that others vehemently hate and a lot of overlap on certain genres. It all gets put into the music, unconsciously as much as consciously, I think.”
Now we know just how ideologically, musically and personally segregated you can be to constitute as a member, I suppose the question everyone wants to know is; how do you gain entry to this extravagant club? And luckily for those individuals, there are means – but they vary…wildly.
“Large donations of precious metals tend to help,” Curse admitted. “Failing that, a smart tongue and a sharpened sword should get you through the doors without too much of a problem, since we’re all enfeebled with booze and ravaged by disease anyway!”
“If I was being idealistic, so far the only entry is by invitation, and is offered to people who have creatively contributed to A Forest of Stars in their own, unique capacity,” The Gentleman furthered. “If I was being pragmatic, the only rule of entry is the size of your bank account and by extension, the generosity of your yearly subscription. Food, drink, servants and holes in the roof don’t pay for themselves, more’s the pity.”
Soundshock understands that “work is afoot” in the A Forest Of Stars camp and they’re “rather excited by how it’s all progressing”. If you haven’t yet heard Opportunistic Thieves Of Spring, then you no longer have an excuse to miss out on what is an astonishing record – it has just been reissued by the Lupus Lounge of Prophecy Productions.