Have you ever thought of putting a dramatic audiobook reading over melodic metal music? If you answered yes to that question, you and the band A Forest Of Stars are on the same wavelength. If you answered no, then get with the program. Expand your mind.
In a more detailed description that is a bit less hyperbolic, A Forest Of Stars is a melodic metal group (possibly labeled as progressive metal as well) that features growled vocals mixed with spoken word parts strewn about, many power chords, keyboards to set the mood, and violins.
The album itself, Beware the Sword You Cannot See, comes together fairly nicely. Driving drums and distorted guitars create an ambiance that isn’t at all off putting. It seems that the band create a mood of medieval masochism. That is to say it seems the vocals talk about some medieval era, but to tell you the truth I have no fucking clue what the lead singer is saying half the time. Even during the parts when they shift to spoken-word narration, all of the other instruments are mixed much louder. Trying to make out the lyrics is damn near impossible. I am probably being too hard on the vocals, seeing as it’s fairly normal for the genre to have barely understandable lyrics. To tell you the truth, the vocals are pretty well executed. It’s just that, in this particular setting, they’re too quiet. It makes the spoken word portions feel a bit out of place.
Another thing that I found a bit off about the album is that all of the songs are too similar. Every song is fundamentally the same mixture of guitars, cliched metal drums, and ambient keyboards/violin. I actually had a hard time figuring out when the songs would change. They seem to just blend into the next one so seamlessly that the album is kind of just one 52 minute song. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because progressive bands usually have an overarching story being told and can effectively blend their compositions together into one long song, but even then stories usually have a bit of variation to keep you interested for the whole time.
That said, this band features one of my favorite aspects of progressive bands: ending the album with a multi-part song. I loved it in Dream Theater’s Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes From a Memory and I love it in almost every Coheed and Cambria album. Here though, the scheme was a bit different in that the songs were all the same. If I played “Part II: Have You Got A Light, Boy?” and then played “Part IV: An Automaton Adrift” you would assume that they were from the same song.
I do have to say I love the violin parts throughout the album, especially in “Drawing Down The Rain.” This could be because the variety that they bring is more refreshing than to hear the same guitar chords over and over again. Even the solos suffer. On a typical progressive metal album there are usually many different guitar solos that display drastically different styles. Take Symphony X’s Paradise Lost, where you get a spectrum ranging from some crazy fast solos to insane acoustic picking. It felt like this album is just lacking in variety, even in that sense. I do have to note that there is one song that is notably different, the very last song “Part VI: Let There Be No Light.” However, to get there, you have to wade through about 45 minutes of roughly the same song. As a bit of a side note, the end of “Let There Be No Light” is eerily similar to the music played throughout the Mario 64 level Jolly Roger Bay. I actually overlayed them and it matched up creepily well. Watch out Queen, these guys are coming for you next!
As a whole the album isn’t as bad as I seem to make it sound. It has a great ambiance and was interesting enough to listen to a few times over for this review. However, on the third play through, it did get a bit taxing and boring. Still, it’s a fun and interesting ride for the first two listens.