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White Noise: Forest Swords – Dagger Paths

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Forest Swords – Dagger Paths

New genres seem to be invented everyday. Every week the music sites show some band with a name like Posthumous Tiger Learning Centre with their new fusion between doom metal, ambient and calypso (yes I think we should definitely attempt to make this a reality). So it's not unusual to encounter an artist like Forest Swords -Matthew Barnes, a lone producer from England- who doesn't really give any clear indication of belonging to any specific genre. What is unusual is to encounter something that sounds new but that is also as beautiful and atmospheric as this album.

The album clocks in at about 40 minutes, putting it rather on the short side. But the depth of the music here will certainly mean that no one will feel short-changed by this LP. Barnes conjures dark and sprawling soundscapes that completely engulf you with their dense atmosphere. Yes, this record is all about atmosphere, and yes it sounds better as a whole than when played as single tracks; but when it's as good as this it really oughtn't make a difference. Opener Miarches establishes his aesthetic flawlessly. Somewhere far-off a creepy distorted cry is heard. A crackling drum slowly establishes a beat. Ghostly vocals echo offstage. Then the guitar kicks in. And what guitar- this album has some of the finest, most brilliant guitar pieces around. They storm into each wordless track on the album and create swirling riffs that will distinguish each song from the next instantly. Minor atmospheric noises punctuate the thick fog that the track creates, and it goes on, leading you by the hand down a misty path into a spooky forest. Or some other image equally atmospheric and creepy.

All the tracks clock in at around the 6 minute mark apart from a couple of exceptions. Though the instrumentals sound organic and atmospheric, potentially placed somewhere between post-rock and ambient, there is a surprising amount of dance influence to be heard in the album. The length of the tracks seems to take some cues from techno, allowing them to develop and unfurl beautifully at their own pace. This isn't the only evidence of a slightly dance-influenced mind, though – the beats are stronger than you'd expect from music so drenched in atmosphere, pounding out through the fog of carefully textured sound. The tracks never once get boring, Barnes gets a remarkable range out of his few instruments and production techniques. Tracks drift in unexpected ways with surprise silences or cymbals clashing out of nowhere- and although the sounds are similar each track is easily distinguishable from the others.

Holylake Mist is a thumping piece that could be set in a far-flung temple in the mountains, shorter cut Visits has a strong vibe all to itself with a fantastic riff and a dubby underlayer. Album highlight (but they're all so brilliant it's hard to choose) Glory Gongs echoes and arrests attention with brilliantly distorted and textured instruments penetrating the glorious (ha) central riff. The surprise inclusion of Aaliyah cover If Your Girl reveals an absolutely inspired take on the original, and closer The Light is a cooler, off-kilter retrospective on the sound of the album, almost as if it's taking one final look at itself before moving on.

This isn't ambient music. The beats are bold and striking, and the overall aesthetic of the record is strong and uncompromising in its relentlessly enigmatic feel. Each track shines with nuance and overwhelming atmosphere. If you like your music rich and evocative, knock this up to a 10. If, on the other hand, synths and vocal hooks are what you're after, it may read more like an 8. This album won't be for everyone but if you're into atmospherics, this will be the treat of a lifetime.


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