Anyone who has attended a summer Metal festival in recent years will in all likelihood have witnessed, and may even have participated in some drink-sodden tomfoolery involving plastic Viking helmets and swords. It’s a nice thought that we can revel in the imagery of our ancestors, safe in the knowledge that they aren’t turning in their graves as their heroic sagas and epic deeds are recreated by those whose only experience of true hardship is when their mum suspended their World of Warcraft subscription as punishment for an un-tidied bedroom. Aren’t turning in their graves, because they were laid to rest on a gigantic funeral pyre with broadsword in hand that is.
Brothers Athelstan and Wulfstan, who make up Leatherhead warriors Forefather have no interest in Dark Age japery. They’re not even interested in our Scandinavian cousins; resolutely stating that the music they play so thrilling well is Anglo-Saxon metal. Much like brothers-in-arms Winterfylleth, Forefather take inspiration from the tragedies and faded glory of their English homeland, weaving tales of sorrow, discovery and triumph as intricately as the Norns of ancient lore. This is showcased victoriously on their new album; “Last of the Line.”
Music wise, Forefather are unafraid to look across the Northern Sea for inspiration to pepper their galloping Maiden-esque riffs with. Large dollops of Falkenback, Immortal and of course Bathory make for an engrossing feast that demands second helpings. The joyously trad widdling of brief intro ‘Cometh the King’ segues perfectly into the rapid-fire assault of the title track, evoking images of a headlong charge into battle, topped off with Wulfstan’s rallying cry of “They will not see the English flee!” Next track, ‘Chorus of Steel’ maintains the pace with an instantly hummable melody snaking its way through the precise Ensiferum style riffing with an effortless grace that will bring wide grins to all those familiar with the duo’s back catalogue.
Athelstan chimes in with his passionate clean vocals on ‘By Thy Deeds’, providing a nice contrast to his sibling’s gruff croak over some more melodies that Janick Gers would give his left hand for. The mournful ‘Up High’ offers a mesmerising journey over a green and pleasant land seen through the eye of a raven before the Christian-bating ‘Wolves of Prayer’ announce its intentions with a thrilling voyage of blackened riffs and infectious chugging simplicity.
What sets “Last of the Line” apart from the irritating hordes of battle metal wannabes is that it wholeheartedly embodies the courage of its convictions. Those looking for a ‘Wenches and Mead’ (yes, I know it’s about pirates but it means the same thing) style novelty number to jig and gurn to in a muddy field will be sorely disappointed. Forefather are deadly serious about their craft but are in no danger of being labelled po-faced history nerds, for the passion that resides in their music is alive and kicking, as anyone who hears the red-blooded early Satyricon sounding bite of ‘Spears of Faith’ can attest to.
A near non-existent bass and slightly unimaginative drum pattern are a couple of niggling flaws that could have been ironed out in the studio, but when the songs are this anthemic, sophisticated and fist-in-the-air exhilarating, such troubles become irrelevant, as the glory of metal and of a once great land become all that matters. “Last of the Line” is as refreshing as a horn of mead after a day spent bathing in the blood of your enemies.