A Forest Of Stars is a group of Victorian gentlemen, and a lady, inviting us to a strange session, the telling of a vivid story with more than just a little something from the grotesque. “A Shadowplay For Yesterdays” is their third release, taking the form of music we would nowadays call black metal, but of a peculiar twisted sort, with elements both progressive and avantgarde. The story itself is philosophical, to some part abstract, tinted with dark magic as well as the appearance of the death angel Azrael. By the label it is described as a concept album “dealing with a man at odds with himself, torn between virtue and the path of blasphemous (self-) destruction”. There is alas little light to find in it, but quite a spectacular show.
The shadowplay starts with “Directionless Resurrectionist”, an instrumental landscape formed from suggestive ambient, built-on spoken verse and guitars. The lyrics tells of a certain Miss Crow, being raped and giving birth to a bastard son, setting the tone to this journey through the miserable and tragic. Then the show throws us right into the progressive black metal part that has made A Forest of Stars (UK) a name to recognize. Something completely psychedelic covered by soggy darkness streams through the notes, as if something on the circus, or the Moulin Rouge, has gone terribly wrong. In “A Prophet For A Pound of Flesh” the singer starts to sound like a screaming, charming director, and I can see those burlesque girls dance more obscene than ever before. The deep layers of aggressive metal, synthesizers and violin continue to swirl around each other in a pattern inviting, yet mad. “The Underside Of Eden” is heavily influenced from classic British doom, a streak that is present also in the other songs, but not to the same extent. It is beautiful, strangely calming, even though telling of hell itself. Following “Gatherer Of The Pure” is the masterpiece of the album. It opens with accordion, pigs squealing in the background, slowly enveloping itself around folk style black metal parts. The progressive melody is full of malice, totally captivating. In the middle of the song it explodes into a choir, almost Danny Elfman-esque, and a single violin sends shivers through it all, before it turns back to the main melody, carrying it even further, ebbing away in strange whispers and crackling sounds from something like fire. The animated video for it all is some of the most stunning work I have seen in a long while.
Instrumental “Left Behind As Static” gives some rest after the vicious wild ride, the folk tunes heavy with sorrow, passing over into “Corvus Corona”. This two-pieced composition starts with the spoken verse telling of the last chapter of the poor bastard this shadowplay is all about, and let’s just say it’s not a lucky one. We are indeed falling, into madness, but the music is exceptional right to the end.
“A Shadowplay For Yesterdays” is intense, extensive and more than a bit dramatic. There are so many elements crammed into the album it comes across as slightly hysterical, which goes well in line with the story told. At some points it turns almost pretentious, lingering at details, not driving the narrative forward fast enough to keep the nerve quivering during the full hour it takes to tell. Parts of this is counterbalanced by moments of pure brilliance, especially those when violin and doom chords becomes part of the mix. There is an enjoyable musical quirkiness within the compositions, as well as points where the destiny of Mr Crow truly grips the heart. The undertones of religious and social critisicm are important part of the setting, telling for the time when his downfall takes place. And thus it comes to the realization that A Forest Of Stars engorge in both history and the complexity of the human mind, without romanticism, instead filling themselves with the shitty, sticky parts, presenting them in a most decadent way.
01 Directionless Resurrectionist
02 Prey Tell Of The Church Fate
03 A Prophet For A Pound Of Flesh
04 The Blight Of God’s Acre
05 Man’s Laughter
06 The Underside Of Eden
07 Gatherer Of The Pure
08 Left Behind As Static
09 Corvus Corona Part 1
10 Corvus Corona Part 2