Nature Above All... Death Before Disco
Death - not only since yesterday a central theme with the English
Gentlemen's Club A FOREST OF STARS, but on their newest work "Beware The Sword You Cannot See" it's as centrally in all its facets as never
before. Time to take a glimpse behind the curtain...
With "A Shadowplay For Yesterdays" the septet released a unique masterpiece
in 2012, which still occupies an unusual position within the realms of extreme metal. Thus the successor is highly anticipated, and The Gentleman
(keyboards, percussion), Mister Curse (vocals) as well as Mr. T. S. Kettleburner (vocals, guitars) readily give an in-depth insight into the creational
process and the background of "Beware The Sword You Cannot See". Questioned on the main changes and/or improvements in comparison to the predecessor,
one can easily imagine The Gentleman rolling his eyes, an air of slight desperation about him. "Oh goodness, where to start?
I'd hope there was some sort of natural progression. We all fear stagnancy, and although we never set any particular rules on what we can/can't or
should/shouldn't do, there is always the lingering doubt. The biggest difference (speaking personally) was that "A Shadowplay For Yesterdays" quite
naturally came together, almost too easily and with very little effort required to create a full album we were proud of. For "Beware the Sword You
Cannot See", I don't know why, it just took a long time to get right – partly because of weight of expectation (in as much as it had to be at least
as good as the last album or we'd be wasting everybody's time) and partly because we just couldn't get traction on it. We discarded more fully written
material than all the previous albums put together I think, but equally, we're very proud of the end result, so I'd rather go through all that again,
than release an album that we felt was beneath our capabilities as songwriters." Mr. T. S. Kettleburner sees the new album as their most
collaborative effort, which "prompted quite a few creative tug-of-wars and subsequent jettisoning of much material. All for the
greater good, of course." And Mister Curse adds that he feels more at home with "Beware The Sword You Cannot See" than their previous effort.
"I think that this is a heavier album. That is not to say that I don't like the last one, though; just that this particular record
is more of an A FOREST OF STARS album to me."
But how to grasp this special sound of A FOREST OF STARS, considering the media find themselves trying to put all kinds of tags
to it and somehow are destined to fail in the end. The Gentleman also doesn't have to offer a universal solution. "We've no idea
what to call our music, so I can fully understand if no one else can – and I mean that in the most charitable and forgiving way possible. In the end,
I'd rather the music just spoke for itself and each person can make up their own mind what to call it. The only labels we've added were because we were
forced to give it some sort of description, like psychedelic, or progressive or whatever. I suppose the only thing we would always say is that we are
Black Metal – though equally I would agree with anyone who claims we stretch that definition to breaking point! The whole point of creating the band,
the very kernel of the idea was the inspiration of the Black Metal bands we loved (along with a lot of other genres, I will grant you), but Black Metal
it was, first and foremost, and we've always tried to stick to that guiding principal. And mostly failed."
Failure is by no means represented here; even though many styles are interacting in the music of A FOREST OF STARS, black metal is
undeniably the base. The sound arrangements brim with a love for detail, and so do the artworks. The artwork for "Beware The Sword You Cannot See"
features well-known scenarios such as Orouboros, the crucifixion scene, Odin hanging from the tree, accomanied by his two ravens. Whereas death is
often involved, so are rebirth, the achievement of knowledge or cycles. Thoughts come up if death is not the end, or if A FOREST OF STARS rather
consider themselves to be explorers of various philosophies and religions regarding what happens after death. "I can only speak
personally", ponders The Gentleman, "but I do not believe in any kind of afterlife, and I don't see the need for one
when you have a universe so full of amazing wonders – the fact that after my life is done I will be broken back down into my constituent atoms and
become a literal part of this amazing universe again is a huge comfort to me. So, no afterlife, but not in a late stage atheism-descending-into-nihilism
type way, just a stupid, simplistic way." Mister Curse, naturally, is speaking only personally as well but a bit more verbosely.
"I’ve had a few close calls in my life; one in particular lead to me effectively dying for a few minutes. During that time I saw what I perceived to
be a disco-ball effect amidst pitch darkness. I felt that I had a choice to make there and then between dying or giving life another chance. I chose
the latter. Perhaps it was just the morphine haze... I believe in no particular god as such, though believe in higher power. My head seems to think
that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are part of the same whole. Any ‘god’ is a manifestation of both. So, Nature Above All, then. DEATH BEFORE DISCO."
Let's immerse ourselves deeper in the universe of "Beware The Sword You
Cannot See". For the opening track ´Drawing Down The Rain´ an animated video has been announced "that considerably dwarfs even the impressive clip for
´Gatherer Of The Pure´". That is quite an announcement, bearing in mind that this clip is absolutely overwhelming and perfectly captures the essence of
the song. "Ha!", The Gentleman calls out. "Well, I will say that that quote was from our wonderful,
flattering overlords, Prophecy, not us – there is no way as a group we would dare to make such a bold claim! I am certainly very proud of the new video,
but in the end, it is not up to us to proclaim how good it is, just as it is not up to us to say how good our album is – that is for everyone else to do.
The only thing we have to satisfy is our own pride and self-imposed standards; telling others what to think about our work would be a horrendously
egotistical and ultimately insulting way to treat our fans, or even just the simply curious. We'll just produce it, and let everyone else decide what
to think for themselves. That seems like a fair trade?" It does, indeed, although a few more details would've been tempting. Regarding the title
of the track Mister Curse complements that "´Drawing Down The Rain´ is simply a play on the ritual of drawing down the moon. It’s
just that it rains an awful lot around here."
"A Shadowplay For Yesterdays" depicted moral decay based on an individual fate, whereas "Beware The Sword You Cannot See" explores death
in all its physical and metaphysical aspects. Death offers inspiration in abundance, beauty and ugliness, serenity to some and religious fulfilment to
others, peace and decay, et cetera. All these elements as well as contrasts seem to be united in the music and the diversified vocals.
"Without speaking for Mister Curses' lyrical themes, which he will cover shortly, death is a very personal subject isn't it?", a pensive
Mr. T. S. Kettleburner answers. "As you have described already, it represents many things - finality, rebirth, regret, even humour
(I am whistling "Always look on the bright side of life" while typing this). Death is in the eye of the beholder. I think a reminder of your own
finality can keep you closer to your own centre emotionally and will always influence you in some way. Personally, for me it does not influence the
music directly apart from in the way that it influences everything." Here Mister Curse takes the floor. "Death is somewhat
close to my heart. I have been party to quite a lot of it through my life unfortunately, so it is a constant companion. My own mortality has also been
on my mind somewhat of late, which has led to inspiring the majority (if not all) of the lyrics on this album. I agree with the Count in that death
influences everything – it can be somewhat all pervasive as a thought process for me at times."
The title ´Hive Mindless´ sounds like everyday human carelessness which suggests that mankind should stride through life with a
sharper consciousness, not being so shallow and imprisoned in a sheep mentality but just be more aware of things beyond their own lives.
"Indeed", Mister Curse agrees. "Cliché notwithstanding, I do very much feel that a lot of people really could do with
stepping back from their consumerist, social tedium led lives and perhaps looking around once in a while. Oddly, this desire goes hand in hand with not
giving a damn about most other people; I am deeply misanthropic when it comes down to it." ´Virtus Sola Invicta´ (virtue alone is invincible) in
turn is about "seeking but not finding solace in belief, the cold, dead feeling of belonging nowhere, and the thought that
finding acceptance of this should perhaps be the ultimate aim. The phrase ´Virtus Sola Invicta´ features on our family crest."
´Proboscis Master Versus The Powdered Seraphim´ shows an open and lovingly quirky sense of humour. "The
Proboscis Master is a frost giant with a very large nose and a severe powder habit", explains Mister Curse.
"Despite being rather time consuming, he very much likes to blast angels to ash and coat his lungs in their mind altering crumbs. The powdered seraphs
are simply that – angels in zip-lock bags. They cost him more than £50 or so a gram though, not least of all because of the time taken to scrape them
The sexpartite ´Pawn On The Universal Chessboard´lasts for almost the
complete second half of the album. Who hasn't given it a thought that we are all but pawns on a universal chessboard and who the players are. At the
same time the six parts seem to reflect a lifetime, and in one of the parts we encounter the Fenris wolf. Mister Curse is of the opinion, indeed, that
we are all pawns on a universal chessboard. And the players? "Who knows, but I certainly don’t trust the bastards. You have it
in one – it does reflect a lifetime, but it also brings in spiritual bit-part-players throughout. Lyrically, it was written as a stream of
consciousness, all in one go. Fenris is mentioned simply because I have always been enamoured with the idea of wolves consuming the sun and moon.
I think that lyrically at least, the song is very negative, as over the course of the stumbling automatons existence, it has tried to find meaning
in the day to day, to overcome the pitfalls and pratfalls of human existence, only to find squirming maggots and stinking earth at the end. He had
tried to contact gods, but his messages bounced. To quote Mr Dr, ‘Some flowers in the first month, then just… earth’."
After analyzing some lyrical contents, let's return to the music of A FOREST OF STARS. With this unique blending of many styles
musical influences can certainly not only be found in black metal. For instance, some moments on "A Shadowplay For Yesterdays" do remind me of bands
like Current 93. Again The Gentleman wonders how to start answering this question. "There are simply too many influences to list,
if I'm honest – we tend to take ideas and inspiration from all over the place! It's down to how you personally interpret and regurgitate it I
suppose – a song can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. Personally speaking broad influences would be: Kate Bush,
Pink Floyd, Steeleye Span, Tangerine Dream, GSY!BE, Vangelis, Swans, Fields of the Nephilim, Type O Negative, John Carpenter's early works;
those would be the start of the more obvious influences (or as we term them, the people we directly rip off)." Basically Mister Curse goes along
as "being a lover of music my influences are manifold; your mention of Current 93 is definitely on the money. Some other
non-metal influences for me would be Coil, The Legendary Pink Dots, Tom Waits, Alan Parsons, Shockheaded Peters, The Tiger Lillies.... the list is
pretty much endless." But it's not only the way A FOREST OF STARS blend musical styles in the melting pot, which sets them apart from other
bands. Another characteristic is the quasi-Victorian nature of their style. According to The Gentleman the marriage of modern extreme music and their
timeless aesthetic "is all in the wrists, I suppose. That or, well, I have no honest idea. We crave a certain atmosphere from
what we do and it just so happens that it sounds like it does. And when you add in all the photos, the costumes, the artwork, our nationality and
everything else, it just all seems to fit together and work. We use a lot of “traditional” instruments (piano, violin, flute, organ) constantly
throughout our work, not just as the occasional flourish, and that mixed with the way we naturally write material somehow all comes out with that
feeling. We've never, ever sat down and asked “how can we sound Victorian today?”; that would be as ridiculous as a real Victorian asking the same
question! It is what it is..."
In this context the creational process of a A FOREST OF STARS song is certainly of interest. And what is more important to
them, the music or the lyrics, or can't one exist without the other... The Gentleman makes it clear that everything is of great
significance as a synthesis of the arts, but that the songs play a key role. "What is important – the marriage of everything
we do; the aesthetic we create as a band. It is very, very important to us that everything dovetails. We take an extraordinary amount of care and
pride in everything we do and present to the world. Of course, that doesn't mean that what we do is any good (and we'd agree with you). But we're
always trying to aim for that lofty height – and failing. That said – and I cannot state this clearly enough – it is always, always about the songs
as a whole. That comes first and everything else afterwards. We could have the most expensive costumes, lavish photographs and artwork, but if there
are no good songs to back us up, then it is just a useless empty shell, which for us would be a terrible crime. Our songs have to stand or fall by
themselves and anyone may judge us as they like, but we always ask by that alone. And there is absolutely no difference for us between music and
lyrics – it is impossible to separate the two, they are of equal grounding and one cannot be without the other."
"Beware The Sword You Cannot See" will once again be released by
Prophecy Productions, a label known for having a keen sense for extraordinary artists and delivering the releases in really beautiful packaging. As
expected the gentlemen are full of praise for the label. "Oh yes, very much so", consents The Gentleman.
"There's not much to say on this, at least that is interesting; I could fill a paragraph gushing with praise about how fantastic they are (they are!),
about the jaw dropping amount of artistic freedom they give (they do!), how they really understand our group and their willingness to put up with our
crap and my constant questions and correspondence. It's a thankless task for them, I must say. We've said it before, but there is no other label we
would rather be with and we absolutely mean it. Unless someone were to offer us the exact same benefits (including people) and a ten million pound
advance; that might just about sway us. We have a lot of expenses to cover (running an exclusive Gentlemen's Club is not cheap, you know)."
Mr. T. S. Kettleburner shares this opinion and adds that "however, accounting for inflation, even a musicians wage in 2015
Sterling creates a relatively tidy income for a man of the 1890s." Mister Curse joins in the chant of praise as well.
"Agreed – Prophecy are a great label. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about them. They produce music for musics’ sake. Wonderful people, too."
Wonderful people who will hopefully be open to a tour whereby the choice of joining bands should be thrilling.
"Yes, there will be a tour, but behind the scenes planning unfortunately means discretion is the better part of valour at this stage", The
Gentleman chooses his words with care. "As to bands? Anyone who could actually put up with us without either breaking down in
tears of frustration and/or wanting to murder us in particularly inventive ways is welcome in our books." Mister Curse equally doesn't put the
cards on the table but gives away one or another favourate. "Aye! A tour should be in the works, it is in nebulous stages of
planning at present though. I'd love to play a gig with Virus. That band has been a huge influence on me, as were Ved Buens Ende. We nearly played
with Ulver last year, though that fell through due to circumstances well beyond our control, so I very much hope that the opportunity will arise again.
In all honesty, there are many, many bands I’d love to gig with; whether or not they’d give us the time of day is another matter, for certain!"
(Shortly after this interview was done a tour was announced for fall 2015. One of the supporting acts will be Harakiri For The Sky.)
Concerts in Germany have been rare events to date so there are high hopes that A FOREST OF STARS will also tour some German cities. Given the
aesthetics and the strong visuals rising in the listener's mind while hearing the music, visuals like video projections would seem a perfect fit for
a live performance. Or do A FOREST OF STARS merely let the music speak? "No, it's all smoke and mirrors", states The
Gentleman. "Projections, lights - anything to dazzle the audience and distract them form a) our ugly mugs and b) our badly
played interpretation of "music". Hear ye, hear ye, especially the second part of this answer probably couldn't be further from the truth. Mister
Curse, however, would like to think, that the music speaks for itself, "but I also believe that said speech is mostly profanities."
The infamous closing words...
The Gentleman: "Many, many thanks for taking the time to interview us!"
Mister Curse: "I have immensely enjoyed answering your questions - I feel that you understand the lyrics to this album better
than I do. Thank you."
Aye, that I doubt but the joy reading your answers was just as immense. Thank you!
For further information check out the extraordinary A FOREST OF STARS website or their