The Gentlemen’s Club Of A Forest Of Stars stepped back into our lives from the darkness of last release ‘Opportunistic Thieves Of Spring’ to blow us away with third album ‘A Shadowplay For Yesterdays’. The northern act increased their membership, carved an altogether different proposition and took it onto the rickety dirt-road to entertain hordes of adoring punters. SoundShock found them in cheerful mood before their Newcastle show to chat about tackling a concept album, changing membership and how they came to adorn themselves in that fine Victorian attire.
On latest masterpiece ‘A Shadowplay For Yesterdays’, the Victorian atmosphere has provided yet another basis for The Gentlemen’s Club Of A Forest Of Stars to create something special. The third record from the Leeds act is their most demanding and challenging to date, flitting beautifully from ‘70s-influenced prog and even Drake-styled folk to vicious verses of black metal. It stands on its own as a unique amalgamation of audio experimentation in the way it’s executed. As ideas began to take form for ‘A Shadowplay For Yesterdays’, The Gentleman was inspired by E.T.A Hoffman’s ‘The Sandman’; a short story centred around a mysterious being known to sprinkle sand in children’s eyes, gouge them out and take them to the Moon, where it feeds its own offspring. But the lyrical themes took shape when frontman Curse began writing and The Projectionist (Ingram Blakelock) began work on what would be a masterstroke for the album’s release; the incredible ‘Gatherer of the Pure’ video. “Ingram did the concept for the video around the same time the lyrics were being written, so I think he still had a part to play in writing some of the stories,” explains new guitarist Henry Hyde Bronson. “Curse then went back and actually fleshed out the lyrics.”
Upon hammering the desired concepts into shape, Curse then began playing with the balance of sanity and insanity, looking to question an individual’s perception of their own actions. It was exploited by the creation of Mr Crow – the main character of the concept album, who is forever torn between vice and virtue, acceptance and rejection. “The character is an opportunist himself, so he’ll take and he’ll leave but you never know how much of it is in his head,” Curse says. “We never tell you and I don’t even know how much of it he is actually doing and how much is in his mind. He could be sat at home, imagining all of this. It does go deeper than that; some things definitely do happen and it gets to a point where it goes so far wrong that there is no redemption.”
In the writing process, Curse had a dilemma he could draw parallels to. He damaged a number of vertebrae, slipped a couple of discs and trapped a nerve in his neck. Although Curse will be the first to tell you that it’s all just “ongoing comedy moments” and “good for the creative mill”, the effect of strong painkillers arguably made their own impact on the vocalist. But aside from the inebriation that affected the songwriting process, Curse admits that he’s almost certainly at his best poetically, when there’s a thorn in his side. “It’s all stuff that I’ve either bottled up over time or things that have happened in the years. It’s all things I’ve needed to get out and put on paper so they’re not bobbing around in my head as much. Sometimes it’s hard to form it. But for myself, I need to get a lot of this crap out! I find that I am one of these people that will bottle things up and just do so and do so. I used to write things down before the band but this gives me a forum to pour things out. Genuinely, when every album has come along, there has always been things that have been needed to be said or written about.”
Each album has tackled its own respective themes and decorated the signature AFOS sound with different dressings too. From the minimalistic titling and deep earthly roots of ‘The Corpse of Rebirth’ to the rain-soaked wintery melancholy of ‘Opportunistic Thieves of Spring’, A Forest of Stars have made thematic transitions. The last time SoundShock spoke with The Gentlemen’s Club, we looked into the depths of ‘Opportunistic Thieves Of Spring’ and its lyrical themes, delving into the loss of brotherhood and the reign of ignorance over personal enlightenment in modern times. The hopelessness that ends ‘Opportunistic Thieves Of Spring’ sadly leaves us with a paradoxical twist and the feeling that much has been answered, but you’ve returned in cyclic rotation to the point where you began. Despite the vast musical differences between the second and third record, it seems there’s the continuation of this sense of loss in the modernised world, albeit in a new chapter’s pages. “I think it’s always there to be honest,” says Curse when asked about the longing for values now archaic in the contemporary world. “It may not be immediately obvious lyrically, but there’s always a pining for times when people knew more. People used to live in a community and they could live with each other. Somebody knew exactly how to do that and somebody knew exactly how to do this. These days we’re so reliant on things that could just disappear; technology for instance. It worries me for people. We can be great, but we’re putting ourselves in a position where the world’s just accelerating away and people are left behind. If we suddenly didn’t have this phone or computer, we would not be struggling. I can see it crumbling into absolutely nothing. I do respect the scientific side of things, but it’s maybe the general public who are allowing themselves to become a herd. I don’t resent technology’s existence, I’d just rather people used it more sensibly that’s all.”
The longing for a better time perhaps gives them peers. Across the UK, plenty of black metal acts have looked to the past for inspiration, none other than their very tour-mates; the heritage-inspired Wodensthrone. It’s not as inherently obvious in albums, especially when considering the abstract nature of AFOS’ lyrics. But even their sound is not so blatantly blackened either. ‘A Shadowplay for Yesterdays’ revealed a whole new dynamic of influences coming to the fore. The departure of guitarist and bassist Mr T.S Kettleburner made for the addition of new bassist Titus Lungbutter in 2010 and fresh guitarists Henry Hyde Bronson and Sir Gtx. Grimshaw a year later. It’s turned The Gentlemen’s Club from a five-piece to a seven-piece, and inevitably with the new imports came new influences and resulting sounds. “We had very much more of a plan,” reveals The Gentleman. “Before we felt rushed, but this time by doing it ourselves with all of our equipment it was relaxed a bit more.” Henry Hyde Bronson continues:
“Some of the writing started off as more The Gentleman’s vision of how things were being written, when it was him and Kettleburner writing riffs. We had a lot of demos which had The Gentleman’s stance on it. Then people like myself came on board and fleshed those out. Right from the demo stage up to the mix stage, it was completely in-house so to speak. I’d mixed it as well.”
Aside from having a more clear vision of the record’s direction, A Forest Of Stars added some unexpected harmonies into the mix, that served up a great surprise for fans, especially on final track ‘Corvus Corona (Part 2)’. “I think there were a few people wanting to push it in that direction and mix it more with the harsh black metal type of sound,” explains Bronson. “I do some of the melodic type vocals on it and I quite enjoy lining up harmonies in that way, constructing chords and doing that type of things. The Gentleman furthers his band-mate’s sentiments. “Before it was just Katheryne (Queen of Ghosts) singing, so that’s all we could do with it to a certain extent. But if you want to recreate it live then you need to have more than one singer to be able to do that, and then when Henry can sing very well, it allows the record to do some more complex harmonies.”
Whatever new sonic diversity lies ahead for A Forest Of Stars is like guessing where the ball will land on the roulette table. But for now, we can truly appreciate one of Britain’s most valuable treasures for giving us a timeless album to savour for years to come. Speaking of which, ‘A Shadowplay For Yesterdays’ will be played in its full entirety at Roadburn Festival 2013 in Tilburg, Holland!
Roadburn Festival will take place between April 18th-23rd 2013.
‘A Shadowplay For Yesterdays’ is out now on Prophecy/Lupus Lounge.