ThisIsNotAScene‘s James Conway had a friendly chat with the gents from progressive black metal outfit A Forest Of Stars. Topics include the latest album, the band’s fascination for the Victorian Age and the addition of new members.
Your new album “A Shadowplay for Yesterdays” is a much more focused effort than previous releases with noticeably shorter song lengths. Was it a conscious effort to trim away some of the fat?
The Gentleman: Indeed it most certainly was. I think we’ve fully explored all that we wanted to with extended songs lengths, really and it was time for a new challenge. There was a great desire to be as concise as possible musically. Originally, we were aiming for a classic two sides of vinyl, 45 minute album type affair, but that failed spectacularly. Maybe next time? Or maybe not!
Given that the Victorian era is such a fascinating period of history, are you surprised that there aren’t more bands exploring its themes?
The Gentleman: Hmm, I don’t really know – I certainly haven’t given it much thought to be honest. With the rise of Steam punk over the last decade, there’s certainly a lot more people looking towards that era (perhaps more from a fantasy point of view?), but most of these bands are even more obscure than we are – I certainly can’t point to anyone more in the public conscious. It’s a probably a niche thing, like us really. Or I could just be ignorant, that would be a distinct possibility!
Curse: I know there are other bands associated with the period, but can’t honestly say that I’ve given much thought as to why others have not explored it. I’m sure there are plenty of Steam punk bands out there, though personally I have not looked into it.
What originally made you choose a debonair dress sense and 19th Century themes over corpsepaint and bulletbelts?
The Gentleman: That was entirely my fault, and really it was a way to frame our ideas, to encapsulate the band as a whole: the music, lyrics, storytelling, art, live performances, etc. I can’t really say how the idea popped into my head, other than I’ve always been fascinated and obsessed with the era, so it was more a matter of grim inevitability than anything, I suppose!
Curse: We just like to dress comfortably! I have nothing whatsoever against corpse paint, apart from to say that if worn, then it should be worn with genuine feeling and intent – not as some sort of assumed passport to so-called kvlt acceptance.
How has the addition of new members affected the band and what have they bought to the table? Was writing the new album made easier or more difficult as a result?
The Gentleman: In terms of the direction we were heading musically, our wonderful new recruits helped to solidify and channel us into what you hear on the record – it really would not have been possible without them, to be frank. In terms of writing, you can’t create a song with seven people all in the same room at the same time, nothing would get done and it’d be chaos, but we never write songs like that anyway (more as individuals or in pairs before presenting it to the group as a whole), so that wasn’t a problem at all.
What inspired the theme of the new album and how, if at all does it relate to modern culture?
Curse: The concept was originally inspired by discussions between The Gentleman, The Projectionist and myself. A tale called ‘Der Sandmann’, written by a gentleman by the name of E.T.A Hoffman was something of an influence upon the initial conceptual thinking. On the subject of modern culture, I would say that the common themes of dread and insanity relate to any and all cultures! Where’s there’s absence, faith, absence of faith and filth, there’s fear..?
It was previously thought that A Forest of Stars would never play live, yet you now claim to enjoy the experience. What bought about this change of heart and who would you most like to share a stage with?
The Gentleman: The idea of not playing live was only toyed with right at the start, simply because of the physical lack of numbers to do it (on the first record each person played two instruments, which would have been a bit tricky on the stage!) As we found people to help us out, things became easier and before you know it, we’re playing to every Tom, Dick and Harry and loving it. There’s a fantastic channelling of energy I think we all soak up and enjoy. Or something. As to who to play with… I have no idea. No one I like would even be remotely interested in us, so we’ll just leave that one blank.
Curse: People seemed to want to see us falling over ourselves on stage for whatever reason, and as people kept asking, we thought we should give it a try. As for whom to share a stage with there’s too many to even start to try making a list! Mr. Dr’s Devil Doll would probably be number one for me. He could then overshadow me like the shade that I am!
The artwork for ‘A Shadowplay…’ is fascinating. Can you reveal what it signifies and how important do you consider album art in the modern age?
The Gentleman: We are very proud of the cover art Karolina did – she’s an amazingly talented artist. I’d rather not reveal everything about it, the intention to discover things for yourself, somewhat pretentiously, I suppose! The idea though, is that it represents the album concept and indeed includes many images and events from the story, all summed up into one image. Or a mess, I’m quite sure which.
Curse: I think artwork is of the utmost importance – whether that comes in the form of a black and white Xeroxed cover, or something hand painted and intricate. It’s the intent and feeling behind it that counts for me. The cover of our new record is intended to represent the man at the centre of the story, and the tales he has to tell. The image is very much related to the content of the songs – I wouldn’t want to spoil it by saying too much – rather leave those interested to look into it for themselves.
“A Shadowplay for Yesterdays” seems tailor made for vinyl, preferably experienced in a dark opium den. Do you consider CD or MP3 a suitable medium for your music?
The Gentleman: Indeed I do. Personally, I’m a big fan of the much maligned compact disc and I find it sad that it’s dismissed as unnecessary. All I ask for in my music is listening to it clean, crisp and in high quality – as near to how the band would have heard it in the studio during mixdown. Vinyl is a great, lavish medium, but I’m not really a fan of colouring the sound, I’m too much of an idiot purist. MP3’s serve a great purpose and are very handy, but I do have to shake my head at people that think that a compressed format is anywhere near the quality of a CD.
Curse: I can see the validity of any delivery form for music. Personally, I do prefer physical media over file-based any day, as I grew up with records, and can’t help feeling that an album is at its best when housed within artwork of the artist’s creation. I believe that you get a far better idea of the intent behind the music when physical artwork is included. I also prefer the printed page over words on a screen, but that is another question.
Given the scope of your ambition do you think it’s a sad thing there aren’t more bands willing to push the envelope and experiment? Is the current UK metal scene worthy of much attention?
The Gentleman: I think there are plenty of excellent bands out there, just some maybe more buried than others. And of course, whatever’s being pushed loudly in your face constantly may not be the best thing in the world, but that’s the way marketing works. The greatness of the internet means you can hopefully choose to ignore what’s being pushed and explore for yourself, but that can also be a daunting task (I know it is for me)! The current UK (general) metal scene is not something I’m in the position to comment on, others in the band would be far better qualified for that, but in terms of Black Metal newish-blood I could have a stab at recommending: Wodesnthrone, Haar, Acolyte (all of which we’ve just toured with), Winterfylleth, Fen, Old Corpse Road and Dragged into Sunlight among many, many more that I’ve completely forgotten and will get shot for not mentioning later. Oops.
Curse: Whilst not particularly caring for the idea of ‘scenes’, I think there are some great underground metal bands in Britain at the moment. Our recent tour mates Wodensthrone being an excellent case in point. Then of course, there are Altar of Plagues, The Axis of Perdition, Haar, Winterfylleth, Fen, Sleeping Peonies, Subvertio Deus, Acolyte, etc. etc. in no particular order! I see no point in experimentation for experimentations sake – I say follow your heart.
What figure from the Victorian era do you find most intriguing/most admire and why?
The Gentleman: That’s a good question and I’m not sure how to answer. There are far too many people to choose from for many different reasons and without a qualifier it’s hard to hone it down! I should really go for Jules Verne, but instead (because it’s slightly more relevant to the new album) I’ll go with Elizabeth Siddal. A great, melancholic beauty, fundamental in the progression of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, amazing artist and poet (I used her poem “Dead Love” as the lyrics for what became the bonus track), a passionate and yet tragic young woman, who died at only 32. I like how she inspired (and unintentionally controlled by the virtue of just being in a room) other artists, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whom she had a torrid (that’s putting it mildly!) relationship with. I am also very fond of the fact that when she died, she inspired such a state of profound grief in DGR that he wrote probably some of his best poetry ever and had it buried with her as a mark of his undying love. Of course, a few years later he realised the error of his ways and had her disinterred to get it all back so he could publish them and generate money (something he was always so desperately in need of). Fantastic rogue! And finally, she had red hair and I like red hair, so that would be a perfectly good reason alone in my eyes, without all the above, really. And at this point, I think it’s time for my medication.
Curse: The obvious for me being Poe, Crowley, Tesla. Poe for his wonderful writing and dark life, Crowley for being Crowley, and Tesla for having a mind so bright that it had to be hidden away!
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! Is there anything you would like to add or any message to readers of Thisisnotascene?
The Gentleman: Only to say thank you for taking the time to interview us, it was an absolute pleasure!
Curse: Thank you for your questions.