Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Forest of Stars: A Shadowplay for Yesterdays (2012)

Shtick Notwithstanding

Throughout the history of hard rock and metal, there have always been bands with a shtick. Kiss's alternate personas. Gwar's alien thing. Ghost's anonymous Satanic proselytization. Brujeria's claim to be Mexican drug lords. It's nothing new. Even considering that tradition, taking on a ridiculous backstory is a gamble, because it can raise your profile, but cause people to unfairly dismiss your music.

I initially dismissed A Forest of Stars because they claim to be of the Victorian era, regardless of how much that particular gimmick appeals to me. But I may have been a bit too hasty. A Shadowplay for Yesterdays is their third full-length, and clearly an accomplished piece of work.

In the simplest analogy I can offer, they sound like Sigh crossed with Agalloch. That's quite a stretch between the two groups, but they clearly have some of the showmanship and ADHD of the former, with the cinematic songwriting of the latter. They also have an ordinary amount of bombast, so it's split between the two, and share the black metal roots of both. Keyboards, piano, accordion, and plenty of violin ornament their expansive compositions, with the violin playing an important melodic role in just about every song.

Their Victorian angle is more than just a story; it plays into the music as well. The whole thing comes off like a 19th Century variety show as in the theater from Tombstone. That's enhanced by the variety on display, such as polka ("Gatherer of the Pure") and Orphaned Land-like Middle Eastern folk ("A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh"). The male vocals have an old-timey side show promoter aspect, making them perfect to narrate a story that could be played out on the stage.

It is over an hour long, but it's presented so well that it's eminently listenable. It has plenty of variety and memorable melodies, held together by a thread. This one should not be dismissed out of hand, shtick notwithstanding.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Buy A Shadowplay for Yesterdays

1 comment:

  1. Already have their first two albums. Haven't given them all that much play over the longer term, but the musicianship and showy songwriting is definitely there.

    Speaking of a Victorian schtick...have you ever heard Eibon La Furies? Like a Victorian Gothic Cradle!