Album Review: Dark Forest - "The Awakening"

Let’s start at the top – the first thing that attracted me to Dark Forest’s new record “The Awakening” was the cover art. I was pretty sure I had seen that cover on a ‘Magic: The Gathering’ card, definitely green, probably an enchantment. Anyway, while that’s obviously the least important aspect of Dark Forest’s new effort, it does speak to the continuing power of cover art, even during this new digital age.

Moving on. Dark Forest is a traditional metal band hailing from England, which is usually enough to solicit an eye roll from modern fans who find traditional metal predictable, pedantic and boring. Do yourself a favor and don’t be so quick to categorize Dark Forest, as the band has a pretty solid grip on what makes metal, in its base, universal elements, work.

While it seems cliché to suggest, Dark Forest has learned a lot from the lessons of Iron Maiden. More than many of their traditionalist contemporaries, Dark Forest understands that proper execution of traditional metal is not just a recitation of the tropes, but must employ those around a core accessible emotion and melodic theme.

Melody as a principled concept is really the crux that holds together the entire record. There is a smoothness about Dark Forest’s music that’s hard to deny, a listening ease that makes “The Awakening” such a pleasant experience. The feeling is similar to the first album from timeless classic rock pillar Boston; a collection of songs where tone and timing mean more than virtuosity. To that end the title track, which opens the record, is a reminder that melody alone can carry a song or album all by itself – that when properly executed, the need for bombastic harmony or exhibitions of out-and-out talent wankery becomes secondary.

Conversationally, it’s very easy to talk about “The Awakening” in generalities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it shows consistency across all tracks, but it also means that the performances of the band members are almost too well-meshed. With the exception of closer “Sons of England,” the songs on this record don’t typically pop relative to each other. While the album is an enjoyable listen, there are few ‘wow’ moments.

Lastly, there was a lot made in the release accompanying this record talking about how it recorded in 444hz rather than the conventional 440hz. There’s a long-winded explanation about the difference in frequencies that ends with the healing of DNA. I’m not qualified to say whether or not that’s all mumbo-jumbo, but I can say that in truth, “The Awakening” is a solidly good, affirming listen.

Said and done, that’s probably more a product of the music then the recording frequency. Dark Forest had produced a memorable record that may not make you stand up in exhortation, but has full mastery of the stereotypical British understated aplomb. It’s anything but just another traditional metal record, so make sure to at least give it a shot. And if you happen to figure out its casting cost, let me know.

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