There probably are finer ways to slice this song from the forthcoming Beyond The Veil, Dark Forest’s fourth full-length: NWOBHM, trad, power metal, etc. But, as lead guitarist Christian Horton said to Ave Noctum, this English quintet’s style is “… just Heavy Metal.” And, really, that’s all you need to scry “The Undying Flame”‘s pleasures. Leads and harmonies are revved up to maximum anthem levels. Belter Josh Winnard sings like his heart will stop if he doesn’t. There’s an irresistible loping, galloping rhythm. Heavy metal. Simple as that. Don’t let anyone write it otherwise. Because, well, why it sounds legit? That’s the complicated part.
So, yeah. Even though we’re in a swell of traditional heavy metal, with streaming services making the old new and the new old again, the legit-o-meter does not ping for all bands. For every Dark Forest, there are players who can’t stifle a wink while wallowing in camp. There are also hordes that so slavishly strive to embody past principles, they come off like historians rather than musicians. That’s fine, both approaches have their place. But neither exude that metal-down-to-the-marrow feel, at least not like Dark Forest do.
In a 2014 interview with Grim Tower, Horton said, “I always say that these days it’s not so much bands that inspire me, but it’s more to do with finding inspiration from nature or atmospheres. Having said that we’ve obviously been inspired by the bands that we listen to and yeah Iron Maiden is a big one along with many traditional bands like Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Rainbow, etc., and the NWOBHM movement.” That Horton is able to bring in other influences, personal influences, in addition to near-universal touchstones is the key here. In a way, he’s checking two of metal’s important but often opposed boxes: respect for established legacies along with the importance placed on finding a unique voice.
No surprise then that this comes through in “Flame”‘s subject matter, which, as Horton relayed to us via email, is the “… archetypal story of Lancelot and Guinevere, this is the inner battle fought between integrity and desire.” So, true to his nod to integrity, “Flame” is packed full of classic elements. While the chorus that modulates to a yearning melancholy is bullet point number one, Winnard’s voice with its tip-of-the-tongue quality and Horton and fellow guitarist Patrick Jenkins’s nailed-it shred skills are also ample proof that “Flame” can hit the needed marks. But, jeez, do Dark Forest ever work their asses off to go beyond that and be interesting. Check out the way “Flame” dynamically dips and dives, a busy compositional needle stitching a few different feels into a whole. Plus, bassist Paul Thompson and drummer Adam Sidaway inject personality into their performances, shaking off the expected, watered-down plod that’s usually the rhythmic downside of sons of sons of sons of heavy metal. In fact, all members add personality, really, making Dark Forest into its own thing instead of yet another thing. It’s the work of five new minds instead of a ghost one from the past. Of course, it rips, too. As heavy metal should. Listen.
Dark Forest’s Beyond The Veil is out 8/26 via Cruz Del Sur.