Dark Forest, Oak, Ash & Thorn review (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2020)

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.

Links.

https://darkforest-uk.bandcamp.com/album/oak-ash-thorn

https://www.facebook.com/Darkforestuk/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

Dark Forest, Oak, Ash & Thorn review (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2020)

Death the Leveller, II, Review

Death The Leveller is an Irish doom metal band that has found the perfect name to describe the vibe and turn of its music. Clear, resonant vocals travel over the solid ground of heavy guitars and steadying percussion to convey elegantly the profound message of mortality.

The name of the band comes from a poem (published in 1646) with the same title written by James Shirley, an English dramatist. Shirley tells us in the poem what we already know but we like to pretend isn’t true: death will claim us all, and in that sense, we are all the same. Death is the great leveler. This theme is fertile ground to plow for a doom metal band.

In some ways, Death the Leveller is a continuation of the band Mael Mórdha, from which three members of the current line-up came: Dave Murphy (bass), Shane Cahill (drums), and Gerry Clince (guitars). Denis Dowling joined on vocals, and the band released its first album, I, through Journey’s End Records in 2017. Although it is referred to as an EP, the four songs on I total almost 40 minutes and that makes a full-length release in my book. Compared to the last Mael Mórdha release, I was more somber, more ponderous, and had no whistle. The thematic focus has tightened, too, and the attitude engendered by the name of the new band showed through on all the tracks.

The new release, II (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2020), is an expansion of the ideas from the formative release. Soaked with melancholy, the songs have the sense of epic ballads and the stories of loss and tragedy. This is not folk metal in any way, though. It is heavier. It is doom. The first song, “The Hunt Eternal,” sees life as an endless hunt where everyone plays a part: Are you predator or prey? This notion is fundamentally human. What the song brings out is the truth that the hunter/hunted, predator/prey relationship is also animalistic, and the proposition that this conflict is eternal. The music gave me a deep sense of solitude which is a juxtaposition to the universal nature of the roles – we all share in the situation and at the same time we are all alone. Primed by the opener, the second song, “The Golden Bough,” named after the famous mystical book, carries you away into the ether in the first half then blasts you with lightning in the second when the guitars turn sharper and more aggressive before finishing off with a shroud of pure desolation. “So They May Face The Rising Sun” is a bit more funereal at the beginning and the end, while the final song, “The Crossing,” is nearly an homage to the earlier album, but it is laced with the more biting tone of the inevitable future that awaits us all.

Death The Leveller II is out March 13th and you can listen to/watch the lyric video now for “The Hunt Eternal” (link below). You can also pre-order the physical from Cruz Del Sur Music – streaming and downloads will be available on Bandcamp and other platforms. If you want to see them live you need to go to Ireland, for the moment at least. With any luck Death the Leveller will play a few US dates in 2020. They would be a perfect surprise addition to Psycho Las Vegas …

Links.

Lyric video for “The Hunt Eternal,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSgcfhx1mjg

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/deaththelevellerdoom/

Bandcamp, https://deaththeleveller.bandcamp.com/

Cruz Del Sur Music, https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

Death the Leveller, II, Review

The Neptune Power Federation, Memoirs of a Rat Queen (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2019).

I have really been out of the loop on The Neptune Power Federation. From Australia, the band members are a colorful collection of personalities. To wit: Imperial Priestess Screaming Loz Sutch – Vocals; Inverted Crucifox – Guitar; Search and DesTroy – Guitar; Jaytanic Ritual – Bass; and Mr. Styx – Drums. Despite the over-the-top stage names, the band’s sound is not a gimmick. The music is often described by reviewers and in press releases as space rock and metal. OK, sure. I’d say mainly it is catchy guitar-based rock and roll that lands on the heavy side, with numerous (too many to count) theatrical splashes. It reminds me a little of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, except with a lot more variety. Also maybe a sinister hybrid of Blue Öyster Cult and Judas Priest. One of the most unique characteristics of the band’s music is the large number of sharp changes in the songs. They keep you guessing, and thereby interested.

This is how side one struck me after two listens. A snappy radio anthem “Can You Dig?” starts the set off with a spacey whurr. Next is the melodic beginning of “Watch Our Masters Bleed” that turns into a grinding guitar saw before rolling hooky into a pop metal valentine. “Flying Incendiary Club for Subjugating Humans” throws out great guitar licks to complement what might be a mission statement. “Rat Queen” has a de-synched dual vocal that is positively flabbergasting. It takes a hard left turn three minutes in with a transition of musical theater cowboy clicks that somehow lands in between squealing lead guitar and harmonica. Then the tempo changes. It is hard to keep up. And that’s just the first half.

Memoirs of a Rat Queen is available starting September 20 in full, but you can see a video of “Watch Our Masters Bleed” on YouTube now, and also a couple of live performance videos. Check them out. The music is solid and different. I have my fingers crossed for a US tour so I can see them live. Recommended.

Links…

Buy: https://theneptunepowerfederation.bandcamp.com/album/memoirs-of-a-rat-queen
Band website: http://www.theneptunepowerfederation.com/
Band Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theneptunepowerfederation/

Words by Wayne Edwards, © 2019.

The Neptune Power Federation, Memoirs of a Rat Queen (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2019).