Showing great consistency on their recordings, Dark Forest, has slowly, but surely grown into one of my favourite acts formed in the new millennium. Their new album is called “Ash, Oak & Thorn” and continues what has become almost a tradition now by delivering classic heavy metal with exceptional guitars, kind of laidback and mellow vocals and some really fantastic melodies. Since we covered most of the history of the band on previous occasions, in extensive interviews you can find here and here, this one is a bit shorter than usual, focusing mainly on the new album out now on Cruz Del Sur Records.
It’s almost four years since you released the excellent «Beyond The Veil». How will you describe this period of time compared the other intervals between the albums you have released?
– It’s the longest break we’ve had between albums, back in the day we might have had multiple releases in that time, but it doesn’t really feel like it’s been four years to me. This album was actually written a few years ago now, but with various set backs and lives to lead outside the band, we didn’t get round to recording until last Summer, says guitarist and song writer Christian Horton.
In retrospect, is there something about “Beyond The Veil” that you would have done differently?
– I don’t think so, no. I’m very happy with how that album came out. There is perhaps a song or two I may have worked on a bit more or changed around, but generally I think it’s a good, strong record.
Apart from the excellent reviews the album got from guys like myself who have followed you since the beginning and the fans of old that seemed to embrace it, did you feel you managed to reach out to new fans and an audience that was a bit wider with «Beyond The Veil»?
– Yes I think so, we certainly got a lot more followers on the likes of social media and they were a real mixture of people from many different countries. It’s great to know that your music is being enjoyed around the world.
When you look back at your career so far, there is certainly a huge improvement to be heard by comparing «Oak, Ash & Thorn» to the self titled debut album, but do you feel you have raised your game and delivered one album better than the other all the way, or do you think there have been backward steps in between?
– I wouldn’t say there’s ever a step backwards regarding the music you’re writing. The music is a continual expression of your inner world and feelings. In that respect, they’re neither better nor worse but just reflective of an era in your life. I would, however, say that we’ve had production issues from time to time. For example, I personally think “Dawn of Infinity” has some great songs on there, but the production let it down. Either way it’s all down to a matter of opinion really, some people think our debut is the best we’ve done, some people think “Beyond The Veil” is. It’s all subjective.
Do you still feel as distant from the heavy metal scene as you have pretty much always felt, or do you feel closer connected to it now that you have released some albums and surely made some connections within the scene?
– Well I have the bands which I love and grew up with and then, very occasionally, I hear something new which sounds decent, but I don’t really feel connected with any scene at all, that sort of thing doesn’t interest me. We do our own thing and the music we write comes completely from us. Of course, we hugely appreciate the people who enjoy and support our music but I don’t think there’s any need to see them as an exclusive scene but just as individuals who like what you do.
You have said about the new album that it has a «more conscise nature» than the albums in the past. What exactly are you thinking about when you refer to this as one of the main differences?
– I just mean that it’s a shorter album but there’s still a huge amount of music going on in the songs. “Beyond The Veil” was quite a long album with twelve tracks and although “Oak, Ash & Thorn” only has nine, each song is rich and full. I think we were a bit stricter on what made it onto the final record this time round. In the past I’ve said that whatever is written down has to be used, but it wasn’t like that this time. We did a lot of stripping back and cutting down so that in the end we had, what we believed, to be only the very best and strongest material left.
While the last album clocked in over 70 minutes, the new one is a more modest 53 minutes long. Did the fact that the album is almost ¼ shorter make it an easier and not that time consuming album to create?
– No not at all, I think this album probably took longer. Despite the album length, both the recording and mixing took many hundreds of hours and the writing itself took years. These days, I tend to come up with melodies and lyrics as I go about my daily life, rather than sitting down with a guitar and can have fully formed songs in my head for months without them actually existing anywhere as recordings. We’ve all got many things going on in our lives outside the band which is part of the reason why it took so long to enter the studio, but once there, we were putting in up to ten hour shifts each day recording. There’s a lot of energy, time and effort gone into this.
The info sheet that came with the promo tells me that you were half finished with the album when you discovered the book “Puck Of Pook’s Hill” by Kipling. Does this mean that half the album is influenced by this book, or did you go back and rewrote lyrics?
– I was working on the album and had started to get the general vibe of where the lyrics and themes were going. When I read the book it all sort of came together. The story is of two children who meet ghosts from different eras from England’s past and they learn about how people used to live, the old cultures and how the country was formed. They are guided between the spirits by Puck who casts the leaves of the three magical trees, oak, ash and thorn. The whole concept fitted perfectly with what was to become the title track and also songs like “Relics” and “Eadric’s Return”. As ever, it isn’t a concept album as such but there are two themes which run throughout. One is a sense of loss and recovery of heritage and the old ways. The other is a sense of natural magic, belonging to nature and exploring the sacred landscapes.
Was there one or a few stories from the book in particular that spoke to you, or was it a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts?
– It was the whole concept really. I personally feel that we’ve lost ever so much of our past. The way people used to live, their ethics, community, their general outlook and attitude to life. I can see how much it has changed just since my grandparents time, so going back far in time must truly be like another world. I think it’s important that we don’t loose our past altogether, we should cherish and preserve what we have left for those in the future. An understanding of the past allows us to have a greater understanding of ourselves as human beings, where we have come from and where we’re going to.
The title track is by far the longest track this time around. Tell us little about how this track came to life and how it evolved in to a 11 minute + epic?
– The very first part of that song which came into being was the vocal melody for the verses. It came into my head whilst on holiday in Cornwall. We were driving along the narrow winding lanes, flanked by dry stone walls and wild flowers, the sea in the distance, and I started humming the tune. I knew I was onto something, so I kept repeating it all day until it was fixed. The rest of the song grew around it. I had the idea of the song being in two sections, with a slightly different lyrical angle in each. The first part describes various seasonal folk traditions of the rural year and the second part goes into how all this has been lost, to our own detriment, and the vision of regaining it.
If someone asked me to play a song for them that is typical Dark Forest, I would probably pick «Wayfarer’s Eve», the first real song from the new album. It includes pretty much all ingredients that Dark Forest is about in my opinion. Do you think there are songs on the album that represents the band better, or at least on a similar level? And are there songs you feel are untypical Dark Forest?
– I agree with that but I think “The Woodlander” is also a pretty good representation of our sound. Perhaps that one is slightly more down the folk route. There’s quite a variety of music on this album though, I think “Relics” is perhaps one which is slightly untypical for us. The melodies, especially the chorus, are quite different to what we’ve done before and the gentle nature of the verses stand out too.
I guess it’s right to say that the label folk metal has some negative connotations among certain fans, as it a description used on very different expressions. Do you feel it hurts you more than it helps you if someone uses the word «folk» when describing your music, as it is after all, a relatively moderate part of your sound?
– Yes we’re not “folk metal” in the true sense, in fact I don’t like attaching any specific sub genre to the band, we’ve always just called it heavy metal because we use the vehicle of heavy guitars, drums and so on to carry our music. I’ve always considered labelling in that way to be very restrictive, we don’t write songs to fulfil the specifications of a genre, it has to come from the heart. That said, we definitely do have a folk current running through our sound, so it’s not especially out of place for people to drop the word in descriptively, but it would be untrue to use it as a label.
The new album is the third featuring the singer Josh Winnard. Do you feel his contribution to the band has increased with each album?
– Definitely yes, he’s contributed more in the way of material on each album but especially in the way he has continued to develop his voice, he adds a whole other dimension to our sound. He has a wonderful ability to carry emotion and feeling in his voice which is something we lacked before.
You sang in Dark Forest until 2009. Do you sometimes miss singing?
– No, I could never really sing anyway!
I believe you have been without a bass player for a while. Are you actively looking for one to add to the lineup, or will you just look for someone who can fill in at gigs?
– We are very much still looking for a bassist yes. We’ve been fortunate to have had the help of Alex Morris for both recent live gigs and for the album recording, which he did a great job of, fitting it in between the duties of his own band Storrsson. But our hope is to find a permanent member to join our ranks.
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