DARK FOREST: Nature as inspiration


DarkForest_Photo2The first part of this feature consists of an interview I conducted with main man Christian Horton in September 2011. I decided to include it for a couple of reasons. It has never been published online before, it covers many aspects of the time around and between the releases of the band’s self titled debut and the follow up “Dawn Of Infinity” and it’s also a damn good read, due to Christians interesting and in depth answers even when my questions turned just a little bit critical. The second part is brand new, done in mid January 2014 with Christian again, and focuses on the time between “Dawn Of Infinity” and the upcoming album “The Awakening”. The new album itself is of course covered too.

Part I: “Dawn Of Infinity”

Even though Dark Forest had some demos and EPs from before, your name became more known to the underground when you released your first full length “Dark Forest”.  Did you deliberately keep a low profile with the first releases, or was there simply little interest from the media cause the releases weren’t strong enough?

– When the band first started out we had no allies at all. We didn’t know of any other bands playing a similar style or of any promoters putting on heavy metal gigs. Our first demo was recorded basically to pass around local venues to book gigs. Then as time went on and we built up a small local following and recorded a couple of EPs to sell at the shows. While this was going on we had just started to get the band onto the internet and straight away we were getting orders for the self made EPs. This eventually led to the first signing and debut release. Eyes Like Snow saw potential in the roughly recorded EPs and we took the offer up. I think it was a natural progression which couldn’t really have come about any quicker, especially as the UK scene was so small. We were quite isolated in that respect and in a way we still keep ourselves to ourselves and don’t really take part in any movements or say that we belong to any specific sub-genre. We just play the music we love to play and take each step as it comes.

The two full length releases and the “Defender” EP have been brought out by three different labels. Christian explains the lack of consistency when it comes to partners in this way:

-Each label we’ve been on has helped us according to the stage we were at at the time. Eyes Like Snow was nessesary to get the first album out there and they helped us to spread our name around Europe but we naturally wanted to progress to a label with wider promotion and distribution for our future releases. At the time it was the first label who had shown any interest in us and what they offered suited us at that point. Though we were only signed for one release we were ready to propose more albums with them if we had no other offers on the table. Iron Kodex approached us next and again it was perfect for us at the time. The debut was out and we weren’t contracted to any more releases with Eyes Like Snow, Iron Kodex offered a broader range of contacts and distribution. We released the “Defender” EP with them and that sold amazingly well. They also helped us to get gigs outside of the UK. We were originally planning to release a full length with them as well but there were a few problems which came up to do with points in the contract and also the label seemed to be loosing steam by that point. We decided it was better to search for another label before releasing our second full length and that meant we had to go into the studio and record new material to send in promo packs to as many labels that we could think of. We were actually contacted by Cruz Del Sur Music before we’d sent the promo’s off but as we’d already prepared the packs we thought it was best to see if any other labels would offer us a deal and then weigh up the best one. We did hear back from a few other labels but Cruz Del Sur was clearly the best choice. Now we’re contracted to another two releases after “Dawn of Infinity” and the relationship between the band and the label is going very well.

To me, Cruz Del Sur is one of the very best labels in Europe with many top class acts. Do you feel that, with the backing this label, you can reach a bigger audience than what did with your first album? Or is, in your opinion, the market for this kind of old school metal so limited that more or less the same people who bought the first one will also shell out for the new one?

– Yes it’s a great label and we’re in very good company with the other bands that are signed. It’s definately the case that we can reach a wider audience with Cruz Del Sur, they have brilliant distribution and promotional contacts and they also genuinly appreciate our music and care about this genre in general. While I do hope that the people who bought the first album will also buy “Dawn of Infinity”, because I feel that the band has progressed so much since our first offering and we continue to do so, I don’t think that the market for this kind of music is really limited at all. If you look at a band like Iron Maiden the fan base is huge, people from all walks of life enjoy the music not just ones who are heavily involved in the metal scene. That’s one of the things we avoid, we don’t want to be one of these bands who are so elitist that they only want people involved in the metal scene to make up their fan base. Obviously the overwhelming majority of Dark Forest fans are proper metalheads through and through, we also know of a lot of people from other walks of life who attend our gigs and enjoy our records a lot. It’s clear to us that our music has to potential to appeal to all sorts of people and as long as they enjoy our music that’s all that matters, we don’t care who they are.

How do you view your first self titled full length today?

– To me our debut album belongs to a certain era of the band. Even though it was only two, nearly three years ago, the band has evolved so much since then. Some of the songs which are featured on “Dawn of Infinity” were being written just after the debut was released, the most recent song on there is probably a year old itself and we have nearly completed writing material for what will be our third album. So in terms of songwriting and musical ability the debut album is quite inferior to what we’re doing now. Having said that it doesn’t take anything away from the songs on the debut, because they are what they are from that particular era of the band. I’m now at a stage where I can appreciate it far more than I used to be able to. I was never happy with the production, especially the guitars. We only had three days to record the whole thing so, as you can imagine it was a big rush.

I think many people felt like me, that there was potential there, but that the vocals were the weak point. 

I agree the vocals were a weak point and we felt they could put some people off, but luckily people like yourself could hear the potential. After you’ve recorded something it takes a long time to be able to listen back to it objectively without listening out for mistakes or aspects of it which you don’t like. But like I say, I can now enjoy it for what it is and see it as humble beginnings of the band.

Was it because of the feedback on the album, that you decided to step down as a vocalist and search for a new one?

– No we have always wanted a frontman for the band. Back in the early days we used to search for singers locally, putting up adverts or going to see other local bands to see if we could steal a good singer but over time we lost hope, there was just nobody in the area to do the job. At that time I had begun to fill in on vocals as well as guitar because i’d written all the lyrics anyway and we wanted to carry on playing gigs while searching for a full time singer. Over time as the gigs gradually got bigger and we were building up a local fanbase, the band just got used to me singing and we didn’t think anything of it for quite a while. Now and then the issue came up and we would go on a vocalist search again which would always be fruitless. I think when our debut was released that’s when the issue properly hit home again. We had reached a new level, being signed and getting good exposure in magazines etc, and the main criticism was the vocals. That’s why we decided to put the matter to an end and finally find a proper frontman. When we did find Will (Lowry-Scott) we were all relieved and excited about where we could go musically with his range.

Did you feel that you had to let go of some of your control when you got a new singer in?

– It was the opposite for me rather than feeling I had to let go of some control, it’s exactly what we had been looking for for years. It allowed me to be able to focus on the guitar, where as before I was restricted in things like writing guitar leads because I’d have to be singing over the top and also it meant that I could never relax on stage, I wasn’t keen on trying to concentrate on guitar playing and vocals at the same time, both things ending up suffering as a result.

For a short while you also played in Cloven Hoof. What was your role in the band, and why was it such a short stint? The whole thing seems a little chaotic seen from the outside, with members in and out of the band, and cheap DVDs and rereleases of their albums done by the band themselves.

– Yeah I played rhythm guitar for about a year in Hoof. It came about when Dark Forest were playing on the same bill as Cloven Hoof at Metalbrew festival in London. I received an email shortly after the gig and was told to give Lee the bassist a ring. He explained that they had watched us play and were looking for a replacement guitarist. I was already a fan of Cloven Hoof so naturally went for it. It was a good experience but the band was very unsteady, the reason why I only lasted a year was basically because the whole band was on the verge of falling apart. I left the same time as the singer Russ North after being asked to choose between them and Dark Forest, Lee then sacked off the drummer and lead guitarist and it ended up being just Lee in the band. I think he’s now rebuilding the band back up from scratch but I don’t have anything to do with them anymore. Yeah it was just as chaotic inside the band as well as how it appears from the outside.

Christian met the band’s new singer Will through a mutual friend who he played with in the acoustic side project Grene Knyght.

– Will was singing in Pat’s other band at the time and we played some gigs together. That was around the time of the debut release and the point when we were looking hard for a new singer. We were impressed with Wills vocals so decided to try him out, alongside a few others who auditioned around that time. Will was easily the best, the only concern was how far away he lived from the rest of the band. We’re all based in the West Midlands and he lives in Angelsey in Wales (originally from Yorkshire). Luckily it turned out fine, Will being very dedicated and not seeing the distance as a problem himself. Going back to the other candidates, none of them really suited our style. One guy sounded like a cross between Bryan Adams and Joe Elliot from Def Leppard! But we couldn’t have asked for anything better with Will, he has the classic operatic metal voice but sounds quite unique, rather than trying to immitate someone like Bruce Dickinson as a lot of vocalists seem to do, his voice is his own and we liked the the fact that as well as the incredibly high notes he can reach, he also has a deep, rich quality to his voice.

You introduced him on the single “Defender” with a short instrumental, one brand new track and a rerecording of one of the songs from the first fullength. What was the purpose of this release? To present Will and also show what he could do with the material that you originally sang on?

– Yeah it was pretty much both those reasons. At the time we weren’t quite ready to release a second full length, we were still writing material. We had just signed to Iron Kodex and they suggested an EP release before the second album. We agreed that was the best move, it gave us something to put out there while people waited for the full length and was the perfect opportunity to give them a taster of Wills voice. We decided to re-record “The Wizard of Alderley Edge” because it was a live favourite and the fact that both “The Wizard…” and “Defender” had a patriotic vibe to them, we decided to record the intrumental “I Vow to Thee, My Country” which is what we had been playing as a live opener at the time. It turned out as a nice little package and I believe both the CD and 7″ vinyls sold out. “Defender” wasn’t to appear on “Dawn of Infinity” and I don’t think there has been any re-pressings, so that EP is becoming quite a rarity.

You are also responsible for the artwork of “Dark Forest” and “Defender”. You obviously have talent, but (with all respect) at the same time there are probably more skilled painters out there. Do you feel that your work adds even more identity to your albums, or is it a case of wanting to do it yourself and keeping the the costs as low as possible?

– We got another artist to do the new album cover as you can probably tell! He’s a good friend of the band and goes by the name of Tawdry Piffle. I did the cover art for our self made EPs and the debut album firstly because we weren’t in a financial position to pay for another artists work and also I think it did give our covers a unique identity. My style is basically picture book illustrations and that fitted in well with the lyrical content of the earlier songs, which dealt with a lot of folklore. When we recorded “Defender” we did think about using another artist but then decided to just go ahead with my painting. Looking back I would have preffered to use someone like Tawdry Piffle for that release, especially as Will had just joined the band, it would have been more like the definite start of a new era. With “Dawn of Infinity” it became very apparent that my style wouldn’t work at all for a space scene and that this time we would definately need to get a better artist on board.dawnofinfinity-coverWEB-499x500

Christians fave song off “Dawn Of Infinity” si “Under The Greenwood Tree”.

– It’s one of the more upbeat, energetic tracks on the album and i’m just very fond of the melodies and vocal lines. Also the lyrics deal with Robin Hood, of course one of the great English folk heroes. There’s a wider variety of lyrical subject matter on this album, but there will always be a place for folklore and legend in Dark Forest! I’m proud of every song on the album of course, some of them took much longer to write than others but that doesn’t mean they’re any better in my mind. Sometimes you can write the bulk of a song in just a couple of days, it can just flow out of you naturally and they can end up being one of the strongest songs on a record. Likewise a song which is more complex and took longer to write and stitch together can seem weaker on the finished recording. But with “…Greenwood Tree” it’s just the mood and feel of the song itself, it’s one that always gets me going.

How important is it for the music of Dark Forest to sound original? I am asking cause there are stuff on the album that reminds me of several bands. One example is the song “The Green Knight”, I am sure I have heard some of the melodies and vocal lines in the chorus before, but I can’t really remember where.  Maybe that is what borrowing some musical ideas is about, not to make the whole thing too obvious?

-Well we certainly haven’t deliberately copied any other music, usually if we write a tune and then realise that we’ve subconsciously copied it from elsewhere, we scrap it straight away. In that respect I suppose you could say we think it’s quite important for us to sound original, but it’s not something we think about much the same as we don’t think about even what specific sub-genre we belong to, we leave things like that for the fans and the media to decide, to us we just play heavy metal and leave it at that. Maybe the chorus of Green Knight sounds like another song, I don’t know, it might be something you’ve heard and I haven’t, but as far as we’re concerned as long as we’re happy with our songs and they’re well received what more can you ask for?

Part II: “The Awakening”

When we spoke last time you sounded quite optimistic about your new singer Will Lowry Scott. After having finally found a good singer, was the fact that he left the band frustrating for you?

– Yeah it was something that none of us wanted but we just had to accept and respect his decision in the end. Will had played a big role in the development of the band and we certainly wouldn’t be where we are now without him. Towards the end there had been a few signs that he was thinking about leaving and I think we just tried to ignore it and carry on best we could, which was never going to be very healthy for the band of course, and then one night after playing a local gig he decided to leave. We were stumped at first, especially as we were all feeling the post-gig high and things seemed to be going from strength to strength generally for the band. After a month or so we realised that we needed to pick ourselves up and start looking for someone else.

Things like these are always easier to accept if you get an explanation. Did you receive one?

– I think it basically came down to a choice between two different lifestyles. Although we never got a completely clear explanation from him, it did seem that the band was starting to clash with his personal life and in the end he decided to choose between them.

DarkForest_CoverYour new singer is Josh Winnard who used to be in Wytch Hazel. How did you recruit him? Was he still in Wytch Hazel when he joined Dark Forest? I believe you held an audition this time as well, were there other capable vocalists turning up?

– We’d announced that we were looking for a new singer online and there had been various people contacting us, some of them sending vocal demos and others wanting to arrange to meet in person for an audition. One of those was Josh, who we knew was currently playing in Wytch Hazel, and we were quite surprised because his role in that band was guitar and only backing vocals so we had no idea if he had what it takes to be a lead vocalist. We originally asked him to send some recordings singing our songs, rather than risk wasting his and our time if he wasn’t up to the job. We were really impressed with what he sent us and we quickly arranged for him to come down for a real audition. In the meantime we tried out a few other people, none of which really grabbed us. During the audition Josh proved exactly what he was capable of and right then we all knew that he was the right man to recruit.

I believe you have done concerts with Wytch Hazel also after Josh joined Dark Forest, so I guess whole thing didn’t spoil your relationship with that band?

– No not at all, both bands are good friends and if anything, it was more fun to have both bands playing together, although it proved to be quite tough for Josh playing two full sets back to back as you can imagine! We did only share one gig with Wytch Hazel after Josh joined though and now he’s no longer with them, so at least he doesn’t have to worry about doing that again.

So he played in both bands for a while? Were you okay with that?

– Yeah totally, we actually wanted to make sure that if Josh joined Dark Forest, then it wouldn’t mess things up for Wytch Hazel because we’re fans of the music, though as it happens he was already starting to drift away from them.

Long time member, guitarist Jim Lees also quit Dark Forest last year. Is it harder to accept loosing an original member than a person who has only been in the band for some years?

– Yes that was really difficult for us to accept as well, especially as it was only a few months after Will left. Jim had been in the band since the very beginning, ten years, joining when he was just thirteen! You can imagine the amount we’d been through basically growing up together. Although he was never really a songwriter he contributed so much to the band in other ways. We still are best of friends with Jim and in fact he may soon be starting another project of his own, so certainly keep an eye open for that!

In came Patrick Jenkins, a guy you knew from before, as he plays in Grene Knyght with you. Was he the first guy you thought about when you had to look for a new guitarist?

– Yeah we went to Pat straight away. He’d been friends with the band for years and helped us out with album graphics and layouts in the past and like you say, I’ve played with him in Grene Knyght for a few years as well. His vision and approach to music is completely akin to mine and to what Dark Forest is all about. He’s an incredible guitarist and is already bringing a lot of ideas to the table, as is Josh.

Christian says that a lot of the material was already written when the new guys joined, but that Josh and Patrick nevertheless have had the chance to put their mark on the album

– It would be hard not to for Josh, being the voice of the band. I think he’s given us a more complex sound because he’s able to handle both powerful and very soft vocals equally well, so he’s really been able to add some feel and emotion to the songs. Although Pat didn’t have any part in the songwriting, he did do some rearranging and built on a lot of the lead melodies. Also his solos have definitely given the band more of an edge in terms of technicality. Like I mentioned though, both of them are songwriters and will certainly be contributing a lot more in future.

Although I remember you viewed “Dawn of Infinity” as a big improvement on your debut, were there aspects about the second album that you weren’t fully satisfied with and wanted to improve further on the new album?

– I still think it was a big improvement on the debut but “The Awakening” is also an improvement on “Dawn of Infinity”. It’s usually the way when you look back at previous releases, there’s always things you’re not happy with and you want to improve on. For us, the overall production of “Dawn of Infinity” just isn’t what we wanted. I know a lot of people like it but to us, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s quite tinny with not enough bass sound. “The Awakening” is certainly the closest thing we’ve ever come to how we think our music should sound. It’s got a lot more weight and also has a clarity to it which lets all the instruments stand out but not so much as to make the music sound separated, it’s just the right balance.

This time you have worked with Ajeet Gill again, who also produced your debut along with the “Defender”-EP. After having used another producer on “Dawn Of Infinity”, why are you back with Ajeet in Hellfire again? Is it about the fact that he has upgraded the studio? DarkForest_Photo1

– No, his upgraded studio was just a big bonus! Like I say, listening back to “Dawn of Infinity” after the passing of time, we agreed that we didn’t want the same production again, in fact it was quite far off what we wanted. We decided to go back to Ajeet after agreeing that “Defender” was the best production we’d had so far and then we discovered that he’d been keeping on top of his game since we last worked together, with a new studio and plenty of new skills and experience. It was perfect because it feels like both Ajeet and the band have been progressing in our own areas at the same time, so we’re always at the right level to work together.

“The Awakening” is the title of the album and one of the songs, and I guess it’s also reflected in the cover art. What sort of awakening are you talking about? Is this what you would call the theme of the album, or is it only connected to the title track?

– No I’d say it’s pretty much connected to all the songs really, although maybe some more blatantly than others. “The Awakening” is about a shift in consciousness, the beginning of an age where humanity will have a clearer understanding of reality and existence. Some of the songs deal with the problems like mind control, the police state, the secret ruling powers, geo-engineering etc and other songs deal with the solutions like developing spiritually, returning to nature, rediscovering your roots and sovereignty. The figure on the album cover is supposed to represent downtrodden humanity, but just at his lowest point, he sees and realizes the true power we all have shining from within.

Christian confirms this is something he expects to see happening in the future.

– I think it’s a cycle which spans over aeons of time, shifts from dark to golden ages. We’ve just entered the age of Aquarius, which will be a time when things that were always hidden will now become known and that’s already starting to happen. I also see it as the next step in our natural evolution, which will be a spiritual one and by spiritual I just mean to truly know and understand ourselves on a much deeper, metaphsyical level.

The album starts out with the last verse of  the political poem “The Masque Of Anarchy”. Is the idea of non-violent resistance, as presented in this poem, related to the awakening? Is the lyrics to the song “Rise Like Lions” also connected to this poem?

– Yeah it’s about non compliance with the control system that humanity is under, which is in the hands of so few. The understanding that humanity is all one consciousness having individual experiences and that we’re so much more than material beings. “Rise Like Lions” particularly focuses on the new world order police state which seems to be growing rapidly around the world.

Nature always seems to have been important for you, as reflected in band photos, artwork, band name and to a certain degree in the lyrics as well. Does nature represent inspiration more than recreation for you?

– Yes definitely, I think that reconnecting to nature is very important. We live in a time where we’re being pushed further and further away from it and to me it’s a very damaging, negative thing. I always look to nature for musical inspiration. I find that ideas and melodies come to me much more fluently if I’m out in nature compared to being in the towns or cities. It’s just the inspiration you get from walking through the woods at twilight, standing on a hilltop at sunset or through fields on a misty autumn morning, for me it’s the best way to stimulate my creativity.

Most of your choruses on this new album have this strong melancholic, almost longing touch that to me make a nice contrast to the folky, often uplifting melodies. Is this something that you have worked on during the song writing process, or is it mostly Josh’s voice that adds the melancholy?

– We haven’t deliberately worked it that way, I think it’s just something that naturally happened. In fact it’s been said before that we have quite melancholic melodies, choruses etc but I can’t say that I see them in that way myself. It might be partly because of the tone of Josh’s voice in some songs and also partly due to if we already have the lyrical theme in mind for a song, and with this album it’s quite brooding, acknowledging there’s a problem and longing for better times, so the choruses could have come out fairly melancholic to suit the lyrical themes, though, like I say, I think it was more of a subconscious thing.

DarkForest_Photo5There aren’t many really fast songs on the album, although there are fast parts in quite a few of the songs. What do you want to achieve with the focus on the mid tempo oriented material and increasing the tempo mostly for parts, not for whole tracks?

– Again I don’t think this was a deliberate thing. When I personally write songs I never really have an idea of how I want it to sound in terms of pace or heaviness etc, I usually either have a lyrical theme in mind and want to write music which fits or otherwise I’ll try and capture a certain atmosphere I might have felt whilst being out amongst nature for example. I think this album definitely reflects how I felt during the time I was writing it and I know that the next album will be different again.

You once briefly mentioned to me that you hoped for a fresh wave of traditional metal out of England, apart from bands Asomvel, Wytch Hazel and Arkham Witch, why do you think there have been relatively few traditional metal bands coming through since many years now?

– There have been a handful that I’m aware of other than the ones you mention like Amulet, Eliminator, Ascalon and a few others but yes there’s certainly not many and I have no idea why. There’s plenty emerging from Europe and America but nowhere near as many from England which is a shame considering this is really where it all started. Also this is the perfect time for new traditional metal bands, so the fact that there’s barely any now, I think sadly means there’s never going to be much of a chance.

Do you feel the climate is changing? Do you think things would have been easier for Dark Forest, if the band had been formed in 2012, not in 2002? That a record deal and more exposure would have come faster?

– Yes it’s probably true. These days bands can be seen and heard online by hundreds or thousands of people in such a short space of time and take off really quickly. When we started we had nothing online at all, we had to rely on word of mouth and we didn’t even really go online until around 2007 or so. Things have definitely got easier for us as time goes by though, in terms of gigs and people appreciating what we do, we’re just glad of what we have managed to achieve.

What is the status of the band Grene Knyght, which I believe you and Patrick were involved in. There are some samples available on the internet, but not a lot of other information to be found. Apparently the material was recorded during the period from 2008 to 2010. Was this intended to be an instrumental project, or were you looking for a singer? Were there plans to release an album as well?

– Grene Knyght is a purely instrumental project yeah. We will be doing an album at some point, we have the songs written, it’s just finding the time to do it. The album copies will be hand made to order and will contain all sorts of curiosities, antique photographs, pressed flowers, handwritten passages in ink etc. It will always remain low key, maybe playing the occasional pub or woodland gig but when the album is finally released we will make sure to advertise it in some way as best we can!

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