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Dark Forest - s/t (8/10) - Great Britain - 2009

Genre: Heavy Metal / Power Metal
Label: Eyes Like Snow
Playing time: 49:26
Band homepage: Dark Forest

Tracklist:

  1. The Battle Of Baton Hill
  2. Pipes Of Pan
  3. The Wizard Of Alderley Edge
  4. Dyed In Crimson
  5. Excalibur
  6. Hollow Hits
  7. Fear Dearg
  8. The Wrekin Giant
  9. Fight For Metal
  10. Dark Forest
Dark Forest - s/t

Bands that take a retro approach to a style of Metal often get an unfair wrap as being overtly derivative and unoriginal. While often these bands will resort to production methods that are considered obsolete and contrary to common recording practices, often the “period piece” nature of the music carries with it a fresh approach to songwriting that could have been done at the time said style was big, but wasn’t for some reason. This is particularly true of the British Power Metal outfit DARK FOREST, who have a unique take on the style which marries a lot of the old school NWOBHM and early Heavy Metal conventions of the late 70s to early 80s with some newer elements not touched upon by most at that time, nor in the later 80s when this analog sounding recording approach was used to bring Speed and Thrash Metal to the masses.

 

The first thing to establish about this band is that their sound basically free of all the clichés attributed to the European Power Metal scene. There are no keyboards, the vocals are not extremely high and 100% squeaky clean emulations of Michael Kiske or slightly rougher ones of Rob Halford, and the songs tend to switch up between slower epic elements not all that dissimilar to MANILLA ROAD or MANOWAR, while still keeping it a good bit faster than most in the 80s scene. Melodic lead passages tend to invoke images of IRON MAIDEN (as does the band’s image), while the riffs are a bit more reminiscent of RUNNING WILD with occasional commonalities with JUDAS PRIEST inspired bands such as HAMMERFALL and MESSIAH’S KISS. Folk music is brought in from time to time, usually in the form of an acoustic intro with a fairly memorable theme, though occasionally melodic material will droning alongside vocal passages in a manner somewhat similar to ENSIFERUM, albeit without the harsh vocals, keyboard arrangements, and in a much more subtle fashion.

 

The most attractive aspect of this album’s sound is the super crisp and crunchy rhythm guitar tone. Comparisons can be made to the pre-synthesizer portion of the 80s Bruce Dickinson era IRON MAIDEN in this respect, particularly with “Powerslave”. Another comparison could be thrown towards MOB RULES’ debut album “Savageland”, which also achieved a similar effect, though with a slightly higher fidelity production. This is especially noticeable on riff driven intros to songs such as “The Battle Of Badon Hill” and “Dyed In Crimson”, both of which perfectly capture that chunky, kick ass pre-Thrash guitar sound that DIAMOND HEAD used to inspire the early Thrash Metal scene. When superimposed on a much more melodic style that leans towards early HELLOWEEN at times, what results is something can’t quite be labeled as consistent Thrash, Speed, Power, or Heavy Metal, but a unique sort of middle ground between all 4 styles that looks upon all of them through a sort of hindsight that the NWOBHM, which also contained elements of all 4, lacked.

 

Though the band puts itself off as a follower of the traditions set forth by IRON MAIDEN, the band doesn’t come off as a clone of said band at all. Though the bass is a good bit more active than your typical Heavy Metal band and several passages in songs such as “The Wrekin Giant” and “Pipes Of Pan” takes a heavily prominent role, none of these songs see the sheer level visibility the instrument had on entire songs as observed on “The Number Of The Beast”. The band does often resort to galloping riffs and melodic material comparable to MAIDEN’s work as well, but takes the former up in intensity to the point of crossing over into Thrash territory, while elaborating the latter to levels more in line with RUNNING WILD, as observed on up tempo songs like “The Wizard Of Alderley Edge”, “Fear Dearg” and “Pipes Of Pan”; not quite to the “Painkiller” level as heard on “Pile Of Skulls”, but more in line with the later 80s works of “Port Royal” and “Death Or Glory”.

 

All in all, the only thing that is really holding this album back is that the production, even by 80s standards, is a bit rough. The drum sound and the vocals can get a bit overpowering at certain points, as is the case with the guitar solo passages. The rhythm guitars will often sound distant during the verses, then phase to the forefront when the vocals drop out. Vocalist Christian Horton, who also plays guitar currently for the pioneering NWOBHM act CLOVEN HOOF as a younger addition to a seasoned outfit, tends to play it a bit safe and comes off as a little contrived and a tad too smooth for the style. He does an adequate job, but doesn’t quite reach the level of distinctiveness and passion that you’d get from a Bruce Dickinson or a Mark Shelton. Nonetheless, this is a great collection of songs and definitely worth checking out if you like your Metal straight out of the bag, free of all the morose and flowery extremes that would later split the style into several differing genres.

(Online March 3, 2009)

Jonathan Smith



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