If you like your metal with a medieval story woven in, Dark Forest has a new album that fits the bill. Their fourth release, Oak, Ash & Thorn, is a well-crafted set that stands out among fantasy-oriented heavy metal music.
I have listened to all sorts of metal over the years, and I remember with admiration fantasy bands like Omen from way back (and Manowar and Iced Earth) and even individual albums like Fates Warning’s Night on the Brocken, which had a fantasy theme. You could argue The Sword’s Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth albums land in this genre, too, and they are highly technical metal. Then there are bands like Battle Beast which are fantasy-themed but push more in the stadium anthem direction. Another lane is folk metal, with bands like Korplikaani and Finntroll being good examples. It goes on and on. It is good to stretch out from time to time and listen to music at least a little outside your usual arena. If you are feeling adventurous and want to take the challenge, give Dark Forest a try.
Oak, Ash & Thorn is the first album I have heard from this band whose members include Christian Horton (guitar), Josh Winnard (vocals), Pat Jenkins (guitar), and Adam Sidaway (drums). I went back and did a deep dive on Spotify to catch up on their earlier releases before listening to the new one, and what I heard was solid writing and technical acuity. The themes are fantasy themes with a focus on English folklore. The new album points an eye toward the three sacred trees of England (see the title) and gains its launching point from a Rudyard Kipling book published more than 100 years ago. Very specific.
The album begins with a one and a half minute long intro, a nice quiet lute-like refrain with running water in the background. The first full song, “Wayfarer’s Eve,” opens with a piercing guitar, then a second, followed by a cavalry of percussion and rhythm introducing an epic tale. The vocals are clear and melodic, putting the listener in mind of a tale told by a travelling bard. The music is metal, and no mistake. Technical, precise guitars trounce along at a fast pace, and there is are excellent, well-paced lead breaks at just the right moments. There is a lot of production in the compositions – by that I mean there is a ton of harmony, the guitar often playing as a second voice along with the vocal. The songs are fairly long, most in the five minute range, with a couple of sevens and one just short of twelve minutes. The songs are virtually all fast-paced, even the short instrumental closer that sounds like a single. In all, it is an excellent, solid set. Recommended.
Oak, Ash & Thorn is out now from Cruz Del Sur Music and streaming everywhere.