Let’s begin with a brief discussion about Outsider Lifestyle and Trend Alliances.
In the 80s, metal was a beacon that provided a seductively tempting “danger” element to burnouts, nerds, freaks and any sort of outcast who wanted to rebel, get terrible and generally buck the trend of the poppy bauble being peddled by the Flocks of Seagulls, INXSs and Culture Clubs of the day. I assume the same sort of thing applies to newcomers today, but despite still professing (for the most part) to loathe trends and trendiness (look how we react when Miley Cyrus shows up to a treasure bath wearing a Live After Death shirt), metal fans appear to have made a Trend Alliance over the years, possibly because such a thing is unavoidable due to human nature, our swelling numbers, etc. Regardless of the reasons, trends are in, even in metal. Especially in metal. If you don’t believe me, I have some atmospheric candelabras and goat-friendly gas masks to sell you at a very affordable price.
Mostly impervious to trends, however, is power metal. Outside of a couple rare instances, power metal and its cousins have remained unfazed by what’s currently “in,” which has always made me wonder why more metal fans aren’t instinctively drawn to its forbidden charm.
And with that, I suppose now is as good a time as any to make the following statement: Dark Forest is not a power metal band. The power metal affinity is relevant, however, because the music these five West Midlanders hawk is similar in its rendering: bright, melodic and bouncy, with a vocalist who can really soar. But just like “slow” doesn’t necessarily mean doom and “rasp” doesn’t always equate to black metal, the sum of the Dark Forest parts ain’t really power metal, at least not the typical Euro interpretation most are familiar with today. No, m’ladies and m’lords, this right here is 100% Grade-A traditional heavy metal with a strong folk influence –– Celtic, to be precise. Like Robin of Locksley and his band of Merry Men happening across an Iron Maiden cassette and deciding “The poor don’t need gold, they need SOLOS!” Medieval metal perfectly suited for the Middle Ages/aged. A metal band ripped right from the heart of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.
But it’s bright, melodic and bouncy, and the vocalist can really soar. So, yeah…not really amidst the current trend of atmospheric Luciferian blackened crust war metal. If lively minstrel metal running alongside the Slough Fegs and Twisted Tower Dires of the world happens to blow your beard braids back, though (and by Ulric’s magnificent lute, why wouldn’t it), you’re one wee bump in the road away from one of your favorite records of 2016…
What, um… What happened to the production direction nailed down on 2014’s fairly unsung triumph, The Awakening? Beautiful balance, deep kicks, resonant bass, bright leads – splendid. The same studio was used for Beyond the Veil, but with a slightly different conclusion. A level of muddiness has emerged to obscure Paul Thompson’s fluid bass lines; Adam Sidaway’s drums sound nearly alien at times; and Josh Winnard’s vocals are simply painted on top of everything. It’s a mix that’s not unmanageable, mind you, but it’s puzzling given the previous album’s precision. It is not, I repeat not, a damning hinderance to Beyond the Veil’s greatness, however. And brothers and sisters, make no mistake, this record is GREAT. A bit long, perhaps, and I might toss “Earthbound” to rework its mildly clunky chorus, but I don’t recall the last time a modern-primitive, melodic heavy metal record stuck to the ribs as vigorously as Beyond the Veil.
Like any folk song worth its salt, these melodies are notably contagious and carry an ageless flair that’s likely to give the record considerable legs. A tune like “Where the Arrow Falls” flashes an intense and vivid blitz right from the gate, and everything regarding the melody at its heart makes it sound as if it could just as easily lift off the fingers of a proficient mandolin player in the dim light of some creaky Irish tavern. Infusing the crux with such an INVIGORATING chorus is just goddamn magical, too. Exhilarating folky infusions such as this tear around nearly every corner here – from the heftier charge of “Blackthorn” to the absurdly miasmic title track, the drink & revel enthusiasm is very strong on Beyond the Veil, but without the clownishness normally associated the oompah metal bands of our day. Listen to the heroic levels realized within the Maiden-steeped “The Undying Flame,” which boasts the sort of bold chorus that might make a listener feel as if they could take an arrow to the chest and still stand at the ready.
Bright and emboldened barrages such as this would likely fall considerably short if it weren’t for the key element that drives the heart of Dark Forest: Conviction. Lion-hearted conviction. These dudes ain’t about to roll off into the glade on 22” rims from album sale earnings, but the level of enthusiasm behind their sentiment remains IMPRESSIVE. Christian Horton and Patrick Jenkins whip up a goddamn invasion of melodic guitar interplay from the opening moment to the last seconds – beautiful and quiet acoustic respites are sandwiched between 93,852 leads that are stirring enough to launch an Adrian Smith & Dave Murray high-five that leaps the tallest building. And the further infusion of even more Dickinson into Winnard’s overall delivery pays ample dividends, particularly on the epic 13-minute closer, “The Lore of the Land.”
In the end, it really doesn’t matter how much praise I throw Dark Forest’s direction. A person simply needs to be able to resonate with a class of metal that’s golden, wild-spirited, primitive and deeply entrenched in chimera and lore in order to call Beyond the Veil a triumph. Just take a look at that magnificent Duncan Storr artwork (a man who’s also worked with Hawkwind, English Dogs, Samson, Scale the Summit, and most notably, a hell of a lot of Skyclad) – if it leaves you intrigued, you’re probably signing up for a suitable campaign. Just please, please, please – for the love of Leucetios – let these guys stay together with this lineup for even half the years afforded to the Maidens and Saxons of our day, because the potential feels limitless, and Beyond the Veil paints an exceedingly favorable picture of what’s to come.
Trends be damned, procure yon canticles, ye dringling fopdoodles!