TTI: Back when you were just starting out, were you considering any other names for the band apart from A Forest Of Stars? What about that particular name and its metaphorical implications made you think that you should stick with it?
The Gentleman: Oddly, I don’t think there were any other choices, or if there were, they were rejected so quickly they didn’t even have time to impinge on the conscious mind. We were very wary about getting it right and in the end it came about by complete accident. Curse and myself sat in a cosy pub by the blazing hearth, slowly getting sozzled and desperately trying to solve the problem. I had my little black book of notes with me, which contains all my doodles, poems and ideas, and he flicked through, plucked out that phrase from something or other I’d written and that was that. At the time it just seemed right. Retroactively, it seemed to suggest an ideal of our music, namely that we are reaching out into the cosmos, but with our feet planted firmly in the earth. Or some such bollocks.
Curse: Indeed, the unavoidable fact that we are small specks all intermingled among the matter of the universe, all part and parcel of an unavoidable whole.
TTI: An immense percentage of reviewers who ever reviewed any of your albums did so by labeling you as avantgarde black metal band. Do you find that tag fitting and, if not, which other ones you feel would serve the purpose of dispelling that misconception better?
The Gentleman: Oh, I hate this. Loathe it, actually. Not out of any passion for a particular crusade, but just because it’s impossible and you’ll never get two people to agree. I’ve never quite understood the avantgarde tag I’ll be honest. To me, that suggests something completely left field, uncompromising and alien to the ears and brain, like Stockhausen for example. Whereas we are just a black metal band with fancy bits bolted on. We’ve called ourselves psychedelic or atmospheric, but even those don’t quite do it justice and there are bands out there who fit those descriptions far better. Just plain old black metal will do perfectly fine for us, though I’m certain others would loudly object to that, or Kettleburner’s personal suggestion of post good is a particular favourite of the band. So let’s say post good black metal.
Curse: Necro prog is the term I would use. Or indeed post good.
TTI: Obviously, the title Beware The Sword You Cannot See is there to raise awareness of a certain danger. What the sword stands for in that context?
Curse: The title is simply a warning. To be aware that there is far more at work in the universe than just that which we see, taste, hear and smell. To me, the sword is the curse. Keep the inner eye open lest the outermost impinge deleteriously. So called progress is also to be watched out for, of course. The material world seems to be spinning in such asinine directions at present that I for one could have done with being forewarned against it. I do not feel at peace in these times. I am surrounded by plastic and the artificial. This is poison for the soul to my mind.
TTI: Virtus Sola Invicta is my favorite song on the album. What is it about?
Curse: This is also my personal favorite, though I am more than happy with the others too. Virtus Sola Invicta is about descent into madness, groping for spiritual guidance in a maelstrom of sewerage. Whirling down foetid drains clutching at the bones of long rotted gods.
TTI: All those little, seemingly unrelated details on the front cover, are they just a bulk of random images thrown together or something highly meaningful?
Curse: The whole album’s lyrics and artwork are intended as a celebration of sorts. Of death and madness. Of rot and sorrow and self-destruction. I would prefer the listener to find their own meanings in the artwork. It all relates to the lyrics in one form or other, whether that is immediately apparent or not.
TTI: Is the seventh song on Beware The Sword You Cannot See a tribute to Pink Floyd and the third song on their Wish You Were Here album? Some of the guitar parts in that song sound as if being played by David Gilmour himself.
The Gentleman: We’ve never denied the Pink Floyd influence in our sound and writing, I personally wear it like a badge of pride. For good or for ill, and I shudder to think what they’d think of it themselves. Best not to dwell on that. But yes, that’s what we were channeling, probably more Breathe on that bit than Cigar, but who can really tell? It’s more a giant general influence than trying to take certain bits and hammer them into our own songs. That would be a bit rubbish, I think.
TTI: What is your favorite Pink Floyd album and which of their prog rock contemporaries were also a considerable influence on A Forest Of Stars?
The Gentleman: Wish You Were Here or The Wall, impossible to say which. Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, early Genesis, Tangerine Dream, Roger Waters’ solo work… It’s all been a big influence, along with hundreds of other bands, some of which I’ve completely forgotten off the top of my head. We call ourselves musical magpies, which we feel is a fitting term. To us, at least.
Curse: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Meddle and Wish You Were Here for me. Alan Parsons, Jethro Tull, Genesis and too many others to mention also influenced me along the road.
TTI: Curse, you have developed very unique singing style that, combined with moments of spoken word narration and heavy breathing, makes for a powerful, intense and emotional performance. How did you come up with it?
Curse: Thank you for your compliment. In all honesty, I don’t know. I was kicked out of the choir as a child for voicing irreligious sentiments, and for being a bit shite. My voice is what it is, I suppose. I never set out to copy anyone, though I do hear Martin Walkyier in there, which is no surprise since he is a huge influence on me. I always try to let my performances be as honest and from the heart as humanly possible. There can be no other way for me, it would feel false. This is the greatest outlet that I have for the various demons inhabiting my mind and shell. I want my outpourings to reflect this honesty. Warts and all. More warts than anything else. Having loved music all my life, there is nothing worse than perceiving a vocal performance to be forced or dishonest. I see no point in this. If it hurts, let if hurt. If it smiles, let is smile. As a great man once said, art must hurt.
TTI: You often refer to yourselves as Victorian metal band. Would you say that there is something inherently British about your sound?
The Gentleman: I think it is inevitable, all the members being English that there should be some perceived unity of sound that is connected to our country. Nothing deliberate of course, but it will inescapably cast its influence, I have no doubt. The trick is probably to just go with it. In England, people say we have a Northern feel, which again, as we’re all from the North, also rings true. So you could probably narrow it further and further if you cared to zoom right in, to the genetic level. The Victorian thing, well, we used it to frame the music and imagery as a way to unify all the various bits and give it a frame to encompass. It seemed to fit like a glove, and gave us our own corner of black metal to play with. We loved the late era especially, when religion changed, and you had all the seances, mystics, psychics, magical orders and so on coming into being, it was a great time for duping spiritually adrift people who needed to believe in something that wasn’t monotheism. And it created all these great, dark characters and secret societies. It’s a really fertile ground to mine for the sort of music and image we wanted to try to project. Of course, we have fallen on our faces and arses more times that we can count, but it’s the spirit of the idea.
Curse: We sound as we sound irrespective of genre or dress. This sounds arrogant, but it’s not meant to. I just very much feel that we are the sum of our parts and that placing boundaries of time and place on this music is somewhat unnecessary.
TTI: Do you have any expectations from the upcoming Paradise Lost and Cradle Of Filth albums? Speaking of Cradle Of Filth, as a couple of eloquent native English speakers, what do you think about the quality of their lyrics?
The Gentleman: I long since lost interest in both bands, to be truthful. Not out of any particular reason, just one of those things. In their The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh days, Cradle Of Filth were actually a big influence on us. Oddly enough, Curse and myself actually met at their gig back in the ’90s. That was a really great gig actually, with Dissection and Ancient Rites supporting. Gosh, that was a long time ago, and wow we are old buggers. But, I digress. In some way, in that gig, that meeting, lies the seed of this band, without a doubt. Paradise Lost I never really got into, but then, that’s nothing personal, I was just more into Anathema and My Dying Bride at the time. Gothic is still my favourite album by them, so I’m way behind the times. I don’t think I follow any band from back then now and I can’t really work out if that’s a pity or not.
Curse: Regarding Cradle Of Filth lyrics, I am completely unfamiliar with anything post Cruelty And The Beast, though as much as I honestly have no time for their music, Dani’s lyrics have always been great, genuinely artistic and interesting. I would far rather read his lyrics than listen to their music. I don’t wish to sound like an arsehole here particularly, I just like what I like. As for Paradise Lost, I am always interested to hear what they are up to, but Shades Of God was the last album of theirs to truly grab me. I am far more of a fan of the old early ’90s doom style, Anathema’s Serenades, Crestfallen and Pentecost III being cases in point. I fucking love Solstice as well. Everything they’ve ever done. Stupidly underrated. But I digress.
TTI: What are your biggest regrets?
The Gentleman: Lots of regrets, but wouldn’t change anything, simply because however painful they are, it’s what makes you who you are. If I was selective and could go back and erase or change everything, I’d just be a bland mess, as opposed to a refined neurotic mess. I’m a great believer in learning from mistakes. Everyone makes them, and most of the time what seems devastating to us goes unnoticed by everyone else, simply because they’re dealing with their own regrets and mistakes. Similarly, not doing something you wished you’d done leaves you in a dream-like limbo. So, lots and lot of regrets, like anyone else, but I’ll just let them lie as what they are and try to stumble on as best as I can.
Curse: I regret letting people tell me what I was capable of, when the only person who really knew was me. That’s in the distant past now, but it made me what I am. Whilst I regret many things, I would change nothing, bar one particular moment when I may have been able to help a friend but didn’t make enough of an effort. He’s no longer with us, and I feel a little responsibility for this. Perhaps a kindred spirit in his time of need may have stopped what was to occur. Probably not, who the hell am I to say? And yes, once again I am rambling. In a nutshell, I am who I am now because of the trials and mistakes I have been party to. Whilst I am indeed a miserable fatalist fuck, I’d rather be that than a starry eyed, plastic-minded parasite.
TTI: Tolstoy once said that music doesn’t have a higher meaning or purpose and that it basically represents unnecessary irritation of senses. Is this in line with your thinking?
Curse: No, I think that he was talking utter bollocks. To me music is a path to the inner, a road to the spirit. The music I love resonates with me in such a way as I could not possible cheapen it by saying it was a mere distraction.
TTI: Since you’re British, I just can’t afford not to ask two short questions. Only Fools And Horses or Fawlty Towers?
The Gentleman: That’s fine! Fawlty Towers, because they created a timeless, perfect masterpiece in just 12 episodes.
Curse: Fawlty Towers. Every time.
TTI: In addition, are you fans of the old Sherlock Holmes series with late Jeremy Brett portraying the famous detective?
The Gentleman: Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke are the best representation of Holmes and Watson ever put on screen, hands down, by a country mile. There is simply no one better. You don’t often hear people talking about that version of the series though, so it’s nice to see it mentioned. I’m looking at my box set of that series as I type this, weirdly.
TTI: How many A Forest Of Stars albums A Forest Of Stars members have left within themselves? Do you have plans to retire anytime soon?
The Gentleman: Well, it would be complete folly to say anything other than we don’t know. But we can extrapolate! We’re just about to start writing the new album, for which we’re all brimming with ideas, so there’s at least one more within us, I’d say. Beyond that, well, we’ve always said we’ll keep going until the music becomes crap, as we don’t want to sully the name or the back catalogue. That’s entirely subjective of course. But we seem to have a good handle on when a song is crap and not worth bothering with, and when we end up with an album full of them, it’s probably time to call it a day. Whether that’s in a year or 20, I don’t know, it will go on as long as it has potential, I suppose.
Originally published on 3rd May 2016.
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