Three-Part Special Feature!
2. Mr. Curse
3. Visual Artist Ingram Blakelock
A FOREST OF STARS’ frontman and lyricist is a fascinating and mysterious artist and human being. On stage he provides a powerful, unsettling, touching experience. He certainly belongs to the category of incredible performers: one of my personal favourites in the UK, alongside that physical portent that is David Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh; the way I perceive them, two sides of the very same coin.
Here is Part Two of 3RD-EYE’s Special Feature on AFOS, an interview with Mr. Curse.
Photo by Mystery Flame
I shall shamelessly quote myself: “I cannot frankly recall feeling so drunk on a recorded piece of music…” (see review of Beware the Sword you Cannot See). Maybe it is possible to handle it in small doses without feeling feverish, but performing this material live in its entirety would be dangerous for the listeners and musicians’ health alike! Have you rehearsed this material for live concerts yet, and if so, how daunting/draining/elating was it, or do you envisage it to be?
Curse: We have played bits of the songs in rehearsal, though not actually settled down to try to properly hammer them out. I am very much looking forward to doing so, though – this is some of my very favorite material we have ever recorded. I think that the lyrics are fairly well ingrained into my mind now, though there are always exceptions to that rule. Emotionally it will be very interesting, though I am looking forward to the catharsis (there’s that damned word again) of performing them.
Your extreme vocals are surely amongst the most unique, intense and expressive out there, and the juxtaposition with Kathy’s sweet voice has brought them forward even more. Did you feel that there was a need for a certain balance between the melodic and the extreme also in the vocal department?
Curse: First of all, thank you for your kind words. If I am completely honest, I just did what felt right at the time – I do feel somewhat guided once I start to put words to tape, I’m not entirely sure that it’s all me. Also, I feel it is essential to maintain a full sense of dynamics in the vocals as well as the music surrounding them. Katherine’s voice serves as a grand counter-weight against my mumblings, and she always wrings the most out of the sections she sings.
The human voice is an amazing instrument because it is not merely evocative of certain feelings or mental images: it is the complete package because it IS that feeling and that mental image. These days the sentiments that characterise black metal are generally limited to hate, dejection and vexation while your vocals convey many other human sentiments such as frustration, sarcasm, confusion, terror, heartbreak and so on. One might guess that your art stems from real life in a very personal way…
Curse: Everything I write is from the heart and tends to have at least some (often veiled) relation to my own life and experience. I don’t like to limit the range of feeling in my delivery. In my opinion, if you feel it, there’s no reason not to express it. The old light and dark / night and day thing, and all that goes in between. I would be lying if I said that my time has been easy, there have been many steep climbs and sheer drops. In all fairness, this gives me the fire that I need to forge ahead, so all is as well as it can be in that respect.
Describing you as a vocalist is very reductive as you effectively enact a dramatic role with your voice. For example, in the stunning Virtus Sola Invicta there is a great example where you combine very expressive lyrical content to a spoken voice style which reminds me of certain radio plays:
“Riding the head wind through Shangri-la, HA!
Aghast in Agharta, a shambolic frolic in Shamballah”
Curse: In all honesty, I am not intending to sound theatrical, more to give full vent to whatever it is I am ranting about at the time. I don’t like to restrict my options; if it sounds right, then hopefully it generally is right. There is a large amount of very heartfelt sorrow, disgust and trepidation in the lyrics to this album. I would be lying if I were to say that it wasn’t a very emotional experience recording this album. Not that that is not the case for them all; just that this last album is the culmination of realisation on paper and tape of some of the hardest times in my life. I suppose there was no way that this would not show and that the vocals may come across as raw. This is how things had to be….
Your lyrics have a strong element of bitter irony. This is a clear sign that beyond the scorn, you care profoundly about the insanity and profound injustice that plagues human society. The fact that your lyrics are written from a very personal point of view often makes them quite sibylline… Are the images you describe the fruit of your imagination or do you have specific sources of inspiration for the shaping of your powerful metaphors? Proboscis Master versus the Powdered Seraphs comes to mind… (“I’m willing to risk an aneurysm if you’ll just shut up and wait in line”: classic!!)
Curse: I very much like to play with words, having never actually snorted an angel, it’s hard to say quite what I was talking about – I often write when under the influence of extreme tiredness, alcohol, marijuana or otherwise, and the original source of a thought can get somewhat lost. I often start with an opening line, and the lyrics will stream (of consciousness) from there. At times I will go back and add / subtract from a given set of words, though this is the exception rather than the rule. As regards inspiration, let’s just say that all of the serious stuff comes from very real life experience; whilst some of the more blackly humorous bits are part imagination, they are often mostly real happening, if that be the product of a fevered mind, thrown around a little to disguise the origins of any thoughts that may be left evident in the resulting brew.
Photo by Ingram Blakelock
Is the style of your lyrics, where you almost play with words building amazing riddles, an exciting technique to experiment with content and rhythm, and perhaps also a way to make you feel less naked and exposed?
Curse: I certainly take pleasure from riddles and word play, though I would not honestly say that it is a way of obscuring myself; more a way of expressing things in broader strokes in order to give the appreciative listener some ambiguity with which to pay out enough rope to hang themselves alongside my confusion. I was and remain heavily influenced by Martin Walkyier of Skyclad when it comes to lyrical delivery, and I have certainly ripped off his sardonic rhythmic delivery (though in a natural unforced fashion). The main reason for this I suppose is that when I got my first CD player in 1990 or 1991 (I can’t remember), Prince of the Poverty Line was my first CD purchase (Handle with Care by Nuclear Assault the other), and I have never grown weary of the record. It was formative for me, and I love it just as much to this day, despite having played it to death.
You always perform with your eyes to the ceiling: the effect is that you are actually communicating with some ghostly spirits, but surely it must help helps you to focus? It cannot be easy to memorise your lyrics…
Curse: It does indeed help me to focus; my memory is not what it was since my unfortunate long term health shitfest began. The lyrics are fairly well ingrained upon my brain, though in moments of pressure (ie on stage) my brain can and will decide to stone wall whatever I am focused on and leave a fogbank in its place. Frustrating this is. On another note, I must admit that I can feel the presence of some great people who are no longer with us in this iteration, almost egging me on as I rant in place. There have been a few occasions when I have felt a hand on my shoulder whilst on stage that was most certainly not one of the band. I shall say no more than that.
Reading the lyrics outside their musical context is a wonderful experience: I felt like I was engaging with pure modern tragedy! Are you a fan of theatre? You certainly have an outstanding natural gift, I feel that being creative is a necessity for you? An all-consuming but very rewarding type of therapy!
Curse: Thank you. That is quite the complement. In reality, I am quite the plebeian when it comes to the arts. I very much love to read, but as a rule if you wanted to get me into a theatre, I’d either have to be performing there or be dragged in by the feet. Music and books are my lifeblood, but I don’t feel particularly at ease in environments where I feel hugely out of place. Fight or flight type stuff. Our music is very much hands-on therapy for me, exercising (not exorcising) demons, as Howard Levey would have had it.
Could you please explain the new album’s title choice and conceptual content?
Curse: Beware the Sword You Cannot See is a reference to the throwing of curses. The curse being the aforementioned unseen sword. Conceptually, the album is a play on death, fear of being trapped in a body that is no longer fit for purpose; juxtaposing that with the idea of being buried alive – active mind, unwilling limbs. Also, rot, maggots, mould, religious hatred, drug references, general self parody and the loss of the well tread path. The hope of finding ones way down a road of briars, to a better path, whilst finding only unscalable walls and barbed wire (or a premature slope topped box) at the end.
Now a long question for a long masterpiece: Pawn On The Universal Chessboard, divided in VI parts, is a glorious example of AFOS’ own approach to prog. You guys are truly inviting us on the Disorient Express (quote form Catafalque Caravan Quandary)! This epic ride takes me right in the thick of the head-splitting/heart-breaking conundrums of life & death: reality checks are harsh to digest, especially when we see how what used to be sold to us as a beautiful, perfect creation is actually a circus where beings endlessly feed on one another:
“Together we fester;
life giving life to life.
Feeding on life”
It is staggering how even today there exists a great level of misunderstanding with regards to scientific knowledge and atheism, a word which makes believers, monotheists and pagans alike, shake in anger! I feel that if people understood more about what their emotions and thoughts actually are, where they come from and how the fluctuations of the chemicals inside our brain affects all our senses and behaviours, there would be less propensity to turn hopeful yearnings into sets of beliefs?
Curse: If I’m utterly honest, I think that without a major so-called miracle, mankind is too far gone. Unless there is a seismic shift in attitude and folk stop pursuing false wealth and plastic ideals I can’t see humanity reaching any form of ‘epiphany’. Having said this, if all is just chemical fluctuations and imbalance, then belief be damned. I am a hypocrite in this respect, firmly believing both in ‘higher power’ (not necessarily creator, but nature as governess) and the unshakable feeling that we are nothing more than fertiliser in waiting. I reconcile this for myself with the thought that this is simply part of nature’s great plan anyway; we are nothing but the dust of stars gone before anyhow. Into the bloody hole we go, ho ho, oh no… mankind is God and Satan and I don’t much care for mankind.