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A Forest Full Of Stars: Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes

Creeping and crawling out of Leeds, England for some 11 years now, A Forest Of Stars have ploughed a lone furrow across what is now five albums worth of psychedelic, progressive black metal that cares little for rules and boundaries. Steeped in Victorian mysticism and sporting character names such as Mr T.S. Kettleburner (on bass) and Katherine, Queen Of The Ghosts on vocals, violin and flute (yes, violin and flute!) it takes a surprisingly short leap of faith to quickly become thoroughly embroiled in a horror filled, doubt ridden world teetering on the brink of insanity. It’s called Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes and it finds the band taking on William Blake’s proverb of Hell - “exuberance is beauty” - as its principle and using it as an exploration of a struggle against insanity. Cleverly things also nod back stylistically and lyrically to previous A Forest works with links to A Shadowplay For Yesterdays and the rawer, Avantegarde sound of 2010’s Opportunistic Thieves Of Spring. And yet this album stands proudly on its own, pushing the band’s sound and broadening yet further their theatric intentions. In all, it’s a heady brew and one that proves thoroughly and unnervingly intoxicating. First encounters can, however, prove just too stand-offish, too intense and, put quite simply, just a little too mad, even for someone who had resided in this outfit’s all too real fantasy land before.

While it may not be this album’s introduction, the rather tastily named “Tombword Bound” is as good a place to immerse yourself as any. Thunderous, yet remarkably patient it’s a towering slice of metal that pings on a melancholic melody line that’s soothing and scything in equal measure. Less a singer than than he is an expounder of crazed proclamations, Mister Curse does an incredible job of sounding on the verge of madness without ever falling into pastiche. Backed by a plaintive violin skirl running under a roaring but muted riff, it’s easy to be pulled headlong into the imagery being created.

In fairness, if it’s out and out extreme metal that you’re looking for, then that’s not really what you’ll find encased in the admittedly brutal expulsions on Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes. For while “Children Of The Night Soil” (I do love the bastardisation of well know song names that crop up from time to time) is unyielding in its undoubted guitar aggression, there’s a faintly cinematic intention that plonks you slap bang in the middle of a 70s horror film soundtrack. Something the ten minutes plus of “Scriptually Transmitted Disease” illustrates twistedly, a toppling of riffology tumbling forth as Mister Curse barks, howls and scowls. And yet mid-song synths takes over, tripping beats and almost Jean Michel Jarre on a downer like washes of sound surging forth. Of course, it’s a calm before another storm, and yet with the low end rumble of drums countered by a high pitched but darting melody and The Queen Of Ghosts’ clear vocals, the clash of despair and hope is almost tangible.

It’s a feature throughout, but then so is the incredibly tight songwriting and the ability to convey the album’s themes without using them as a crutch to carry the weight of heavy intentions. Instead, as the message is conveyed through sound and lyric, so “Decomposing Deity Dancehall”, “Taken By The Sea” and beautifully tragic “Precipice Pirouette” create a mood, tone and atmosphere that quickly becomes utterly believable.

A hugely multi-dimensional album, Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes hits its mark in a huge variety of manners; bold, beautiful, terrifying and captivating. Few albums are this capable of laying out there intentions in such clear, but still beautifully nuanced ways. It isn’t an easy trip, but then, it was never meant to be…

Track Listing
1. Persistence is All
2. Precipice Pirouette
3. Tombward Bound
4. Premature Invocation
5. Children of the Night Soil
6. Taken by the Sea
7. Scripturally Transmitted Disease
8. Decomposing Deity Dance Hall

Added: September 20th 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes at bandcamp
Hits: 1310
Language: english

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