A FOREST OF STARS
Beware the Sword You Cannot See
I cannot frankly remember feeling so drunk on a recorded piece of music in a long time… This is a glorious concept album in all aspects, where each single instrument can be heard telling its own engaging story, conspiring to paint the most cohesive and gripping piece of theatrical music that has emerged in a while. It sounds like a continuous eruption of musical references which ignite and expand the senses, yet it feels like a wholly spontaneous creation. One wonders how such a complex, continuously morphing entity will translate on a ‘metal’ stage. How exciting to see largely self-taught musicians keep challenging themselves! Granted: AFOS are not the only ones to sail through crazy oceans while following the black metal lodestar, but I hate comparisons, name-dropping and all that business, so I shall just move on with further praising.
I am delighted that the AFOS collective has grown in such a strong manner, grabbing hold of the British rock heritage in a refreshing and touching way: if I block out the dramatic lyrics, I see dazzling daisies bearing Peter Gabriel’s face swaying all over the breathlessly beautiful album epilogue… You see, my dodgy personal taste was forged through a childhood steeped in British prog rock so unfashionable to be discovered first by us crazy and decadent Italians. Yes, the land of Dante, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo took to Genesis first: it is any wonder my consciousness taps in a “suspiciously” direct manner into that of one of AFOS’ makers, The Gentleman?… (See interview)
So here is the scenario: the two guitars travel back and forth in time, setting the atmosphere free and unhinged by engaging in dizzying black metal, progressive rock and what not; the keyboards, here more prominent and engaging than ever, spark off vintage multiverses to a dazzling effect; the drums are a copious avalanche creating a manic level of energy – there are many incredible rhythmical sections and patterns that got me to press the replay button, like for example the one over Katheryne’s superb vocal part in ‘Have you got a Light Boy?’; the bass fluctuates from being a brilliant cohesive agent, pulsating molten lava and a smooth vessel rolling towards apocalyptic clouds bubbling at the horizon. And what about the the violin and the flute?… They sound like living entities, forgotten ghosts who found their voice again to sing their melancholy songs.
Few ‘metal’ albums manage to make sure that every single instrument is a true protagonist on its own accord. Few ‘metal’ albums display high levels of creativity, freshness, passion, drama and -YES – beauty, all at once. Few ‘metal’ albums can boast vivid understanding of the best of British vintage rock and boost it with avant-garde driven black metal that does not feel forced or redundant.
And that is not all: the best instrument is arguably the human voice… Mr Curse’s performances have always come from somewhere not of this world: a place full of visions and revelations. As his confidence grew, his expressiveness, passion and fears seem to have become even more universal and unique. He is easily one of the most individual vocalists out there, not to mention a supremely gifted lyricist. AFOS would not be the same band without his feverish story-telling, his desperation, rage, frustration, wit and infinite sadness. And Katheryne’s voice, like a fresh spring well, adds to a head-spinning carousel about man’s mortality and delusions that deserves to be heard and appreciated from all its angles, from music to lyrics, artwork and videos. Everything here is top quality, and an important contribution towards maintaining the underground heathy and meaningful.
The romantic in me has always liked to imagine AFOS’ music like an alchemic process which begins in some sort of candle-lit laboratory where self-appointed mad scientists, philosophers and magicians feverishly experiment on a magic formula to crack the riddle of existence, amongst opium clouds and absinth vapours… to end right inside our heads, provoking chemical explosions we did not know were possible. In spite of the wrenching existential themes it delves in, this album does not inspire anything but joy in me, for which I am eminently thankful for: AFOS are one of the lighthouses in my musical pantheon.
3rd-eye view: 9/10