The UK Black metal scene is thriving. We have some of the most progressive and original bands in the whole genre here and at the very top of the pile are Leeds-based psychedelic occultists ‘A Forest Of Stars’. Louder Than War’s Andy Santiago has long time been a fan of AFoS & when the opportunity to have a chat with the band before their recent set in Leeds reared it’s head he jumped at it.
Last year saw the release of AFoS’s third album, the incredible ‘A Shadowplay for Yesterdays’. They followed this with the groundbreaking and visually stunning video for the track ‘Gatherer of the Pure’ (see below) and with a co-headlining tour with fellow UK Black Metallers, Wodensthrone.
A Forest of Stars live show is not the usual ‘metal’ gig wherein the band just get onstage and hammer it out. Everything is carefully considered down to the finer details such as dressing in the finest of Victorian-era clothing and to the employment of a member who takes care of the lighting and projections. It’s this attention to detail (not to mention superb musicianship) that makes the AFoS live experience into much more than just a gig, it’s an event. And when it was announced they would be playing a one-off gig in Leeds with Falloch and Cnoc An Tursa, a ticket was bought immediately and an email sent to the band requesting some of their time to meet up and be interviewed. Graciously, they agreed!
After taking the most extortionately priced taxi ever from Leeds Station to the venue for the gig, The Brudenell Social Club, located in, shall we say, one of the more insalubrious areas of town, I found the band sat alone in the venue’s live room waiting for the other two bands to arrive from Scotland. After formal introductions were made, it was agreed that we would converse after the soundcheck.
At this point I would love to say I was transported back to an opulent and decadent era past, taken to a plush club with velvet upholstery and plied with Absinthe and Opium. Sadly, the reality was slightly different. We adjourned to a wooden table outside the venue, cleared away the discarded cheese ‘n onion crisps and began our conversation in the drizzly early Leeds evening.
I was joined by ‘The Gentleman (Keyboards and Percussion), Mister Curse (Vocals), and Henry Hyde Bronsdon (Guitars)
. Here’s how the conversation went.
So, what exactly is AFoS currently doing?
HHB: Album!! Next album is being written and demoed.
TG: It’s nearly finished
HHB: We’re looking at recording between October and Christmas, early new year time, hopefully should be mixed by the end of February and then released summer or towards the end of 2014.
TG: That’s more for Prophecy to say!
TG: Oh, yeah, they’re great!
Much laughter ensues.
TG: He likes them so much he signed to them twice!
HHB: No, they’re in it for the right reasons, they’re music fans first and foremost but they do run a good business.
MC: There’s no bullshit with them.
Earlier this year, the band played a special gig at the well-respected Roadburn festival in Holland. It was a one-off performance of the ‘.. Shadowplay’ album in it’s entirety with a full light show and projections created just for the event. I asked how it went.
HHB: Good fun but we didn’t feel our set was up to scratch really, it was one of those things where you’re your own worst critic even though we had a lot of positive comments after.
TG: Mainly from people who weren’t at the gig!
I then asked why it was a one-off, moaned about the lack of warm-up gig prior to Roadburn and enquired as to whether they would consider doing the ‘..Shadowplay’ gig again.
TG: Yeah ,I don’t see why not but all our time at the moment is taken up with writing, recording and demo-ing the new tracks. Next year we’re gonna be gigging everywhere.
I then brought up the subject of Mister Curse’s vocal style and where it comes from.
MC: It’s my ‘Mr Hyde’, my alter-ego.
Have you heard of Martin Walkyier? The vocalist from Sabbat and Skyclad? Your vocal style reminds me very much of his delivery and your lyrics are similar in the way you play on words. Would you agree?
MC: That’s kinda the biggest compliment you could give me.
TG: That’s what he does, the play on words.(MC) Yeah, I’ve always written in that form anyway, I like to pick holes in things. I’ve been listening to ‘Skyclad since I was 12 years old so it’s been there forever. ‘Prince of the Poverty Line’ was one of the first albums I ever bought.
A few years ago the band took their full production to the apt setting of a small Victorian theatre in Bradford. The show was filmed and there was talk of a live DVD release. I asked, what happened?
TG: We filmed the whole thing, it was just on the filming side…..
At this point Chris from Winterfylleth ( without doubt, THE happiest man in UKBM) turns up and comes over to say hello to the band.
TG: Hello, hello! It’s a Rockstar! Chris is a very good friend but that’s just us namedropping. Anyway, on the filming side, basically, the guy filming was quite underprepared and a majority of the footage wasn’t varied enough and it’s just one of those learning things. We had some problems with the theatre itself and with the sound too. It came out as a bit of a mess but was great fun to do.
HHB: I can testify to it being a great gig as I wasn’t in the band at that stage!
A Forest of Stars are pretty active with side projects and most of the members are involved in ‘extra-curricular’ activities beyond the Gentlemans club. Tell us about them.
HHB: I’m doing an acoustic, folk-inspired singer songwriter thing and the first album of that will be out November of this year. Katheryn from the band is on it too. I’ve done a small tour around Europe recently and the next gig is going to be really interesting, it’s in Berlin, in November at what used to be a church. supporting Empyrium. That’s certainly going to be the biggest show I’ve ever played, if anyone stays around to watch me.
MC: I joined in with a few screams on ‘The Water Witch’.
(The Water Witch is an earthy Black Metal project from ex-AFoS member Jon Cuminsky. It also features Katheryn in addition to Curse. Check it out, it’s excellent)
As the UK scene is thriving, I asked if there were any bands they would like to mention who particularly impress.
HHB: There’s a guy just signed to Prophecy called Nhor doing some interesting work. It varies from stripped-back piano stuff to full-on Black Metal. It’s just a one man studio project.
‘Gatherer of the Pure’ was a landmark video, are there any plans to do another on such a grand scale?
TG: Oh definitely, we’re getting the same guy from before.
HHB: He’s got a lot of ideas up his sleeve but nothing concrete yet and that’s pretty much all we can say for now.
What epitaph would you like on the ‘A Forest of Stars’ gravestone?
TG: At the moment we’re just tremendously excited about the new album, we’ve got about an album and a half’s worth of new material and we’re completely focussed on that and then getting out and playing it live.
And finally, I feel it’s my duty to ask. What did you have for breakfast?
MC: I didn’t have anything today.
TG: That’s very bad, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
MC: Actually, no. I had an apple when I got to work.
TG: I had cornflakes with a Weetabix.
HHB: I had a burger, it was more of a lunch actually. A chilli burger, on wholemeal bread
I’m apparently interviewing Watain next week, what do you reckon they will have had for breakfast?
Much hilarity and laughing ensues and Curse replies:
” SATAN! And the blood of your pets!!”
As an addendum there was one final question asked which was left at the time because, to quote Rick “I thought it was best if Curse came up with the answer to that one; he’s the witty one!” The question (and Curse’s answer) was: “You asked: “What epitaph would you like on the ‘A Forest of Stars’ gravestone?” and he replies: “Be Seeing you”, a reference I heartily endorse :-)”
And on that bombshell, the rain starts to come down, I express my gratitude to the band and we head inside, the band to the dressing room to prepare and myself, to the bar.
After the Iron Maiden-sque Black Metal of first band of the evening, Scotland’s Cnoc An Tursa, A Forest of Stars took to the stage and for the following hour weaved their sonic alchemy. Quite honestly I can’t think of any UKBM band that does it half as well. I also can’t think of any band who’s audience breaks into sporadic sequence dancing during the intro of a monumental rendition of ‘Gatherer of the Pure’.
Mister Curse is rapidly becoming one of the most compelling frontmen in the scene. During the instrumental parts of tracks he stands motionless, head tilted back as if in some form of trance-like state. When called upon to deliver vocals he snaps out of it and barks and shrieks with absolute conviction and intensity, fixing the audience with a piercing glare that is somewhat unnerving.
A Forest of Stars are without doubt one of the most innovative and original metal bands, not just in the UK but anywhere on this planet. Their recorded body of work is first class, live, they are phenomenal and if all that wasn’t quite enough, the band themselves are intelligent, friendly and a thoroughly decent bunch of chaps (and lady).
If you ever have the chance to see them live, I cannot recommend it enough, you will be blown away.
The set list on the night was as follows:
- [Twa Corbies – the intro tape];
- Earth & Matter;
- Sorrow’s Impetus;
- Gatherer of the Pure;
- A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh.
And to quote Rick AFoS “And that, believe it or not, takes up an hour.”
All words by Andy Santiago. More writing by Andy on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.