Dark Forest – Above and BeyondSaturday, 17th September 2016
“I don’t mind what people categorize us as, really. It’s true there are a lot of different elements going on which is why we’ve been called so many different things over the years. We just call it ‘heavy metal’ as a broad definition because we don’t like putting too much focus on a specific genre, we just write and play whatever makes us happy.”
So says Dark Forest guitarist Christian Horton, a man who has overseen the band since their 2002 inception. As demonstrated by their four-album output, the U.K. metallers have come to successfully split the divide between straight heavy metal, and gallant power metal. It’s a regular battle to fight, yet on the band’s last two albums—2014’s The Awakening and this year’s Beyond the Veil—it’s readily apparent Dark Forest belong to the tried and true classic metal boys club, aided by the vintage, yet graceful lungs of Josh Winnard, soaring twin guitar harmonies, and song structures plucked right out of Diamond Head’s rehearsal room notepads.
Like its predecessor, Beyond the Veil is a confident, hearty listen, with Winnard displaying perhaps displaying the most growth. (“Earthbound would be a prime example.) According to Horton, Winnard was a little wet behind the ears prior to joining Dark Forest, although given the results, you wouldn’t know it. “Josh is a natural vocalist but surprisingly, when he joined us it was the first time he’d ever been a frontman for a band,” he says. “The Awakening was his first proper performance as a vocalist. Even though that record sounded great, he’s really been growing in confidence and skill since then, constant practices in between gigs, his voice has developed a wonderful tone and he’s discovered new styles of delivery and use of range.”
On the topic of new styles, the implementation on folk serves Dark Forest quite well, most notably on “The Wild Hunt,” which reminds of Newcastle’s Skyclad, arguably the first true folk metal band of its time. Songwriting is a group effort in Dark Forest with “The Wild Hunt” in particular penned by guitarist Patrick Jenkins.
“I think what you’re noticing are the other members’ songwriting coming out more on this album,” says Horton. “It is a highlight for me yeah. When I first heard the song, it sounded like a ‘panic’ in some way, maybe someone being chased. I put the lyrics to it based on that sort of vibe. It’s based on Scottish folklore concerning the Unseelie Court which are evil spirits or fairies that abduct mortals travelling at night. The mid-section is actually taken by a piece that Pat wrote for our side project, Grene Knyght.”
Artwork for Beyond the Veil was provided by Duncan Storr, a man who has previously lent his expertise to Edge of Sanity, Elvenking, Rage, and the aforementioned Skyclad, among others. Cruz del Sur Music (to whom Dark Forest has been on since 2011) is giving Beyond the Veil the full presentation, complete with a 16-page booklet. Sure, it’s redundant to talk about how the importance of quality artwork and packaging is dwindling in the digital age, but for a band like Dark Forest, it feels right and proper.
“We wanted a new artist for this album and it needed to be someone whose work already had an earthy, pagan, magical feel to it,” says Horton. “I was already familiar with Duncan’s work so I just sent him an email and that was it. He was great to work with. All I did was give him a rough idea of the album themes and sent a few lyrics over and he did the rest himself. He managed to work in numerous song references as well, like the arrow falling in the background, the spirit girls and such.”