Photo courtesy of the artist
The 90s were a dark time for heavy metal. Grunge landed the first blow, sucker-punching out all of our stadium-filling heavy metal fun with earnest songs about feelings, which paved the way for nu-metal with all its baggy jeaned, backwards-hatted bounciness. Unless you were German, heavy metal – that's true, traditional heavy metal, the heavy metal of valor and glory and fantasy, whose frontmen oiled up their chests and wore loincloths and held swords aloft on their album covers—was driven underground. Bands like HammerFall, Sonata Arctica, Rhapsody, and Edguy kept the spirit of heavy metal alive, and while they were too uncool to be written about in music magazines, they gathered a legion of fans desperate for the metallic cornerstones of melodic leads, soaring vocals and lyrics about daring escapades and triumphs.
Then, in the mid-2000s, something remarkable happened. The tide started to turn. Heavy metal seemed to be heading back into the spotlight. It was acceptable to wear a Saxon t-shirt in public again. Power metal seemed primed to have its day in the sun… but, it was not to be. Instead of thanking these bands for keeping the spirit alive in the dark days, a new generation of heavy metal fans rose from the mall metal ashes and regarded the genre with derision. Swapping Asking Alexandria T-shirts for studs and spandex, this new mob hailed Jameson Raid and Ethel The Frog as their heroes, NWOBHM bands so D-list that even legendary music journalist Malcolm Dome (who was therethe first time 'round!) was baffled. Clarion cries of "Samson are cooler than Iron Maiden!" reverberated around the globe, and power metal shrugged. At least the hordes spitting on them were wearing Angel Witch T-shirts instead of Korn logos.
And so to today, power metal is not beaten. The bands proud to fall under its brave banner are still touring, filling venues, and putting out albums with questionable photoshop artwork of wolves and wizards. Old-school heavy metal may be enjoying a revival at the moment, but it will come and go, and power metal will again prove the test of time. In the meantime, there are bands like Dark Forest, who've been secretly infiltrating the heavy metal inner circle with all the hallmarks of power metal's check list—melody, magic, and might.
Dark Forest have been stealthily incorporating their love of power metal into their music since they formed in England's industrious Midlands in 2004. Over 12 years and four albums, they have been accepted as one of the UK's leading lights in the small but growing retro metal movement but—unlike those who would rather burn an original Virtue seven-inch than admit they like Blind Guardian—the men of Dark Forest are willing to use their epic new album, Beyond The Veil, to rally the troops to the true cause.
Noisey: Dark Forest is a heavy metal band, you've been accepted by the heavy metal hordes, but 'Beyond The Veil' is power metal—admit it, Pat. Do you dare admit you love this most mocked genre of heavy metal?
Patrick Jenkins: Yeah, sure. It's all subjective, isn't it? I try not to go so far in categorizing genres of music. It's whatever sounds easy on the ear. I love so much of that music. I don't know why it's now considered to be uncool, because I wouldn't agree with that. I think categorizing Dark Forest as power metal is partially reasonable, but it's not entirely that, is it? I think power metal is a very specific term. All of the bands under that blanket aren't exactly like each other either, are they? They're all slightly different; operatic vocals, loads of guitar harmonies, octavated leads, maybe a few synths and orchestral instruments, loads of double bass drums, dragons and all that business. It's a real tricky one, because the people saying it's not cool are quite young; these guys in spandex and all the new wave of British heavy metal revival gear.
You've signed to Cruz Del Sur, home to bands like Mausoleum Gate and Argus. Do you feel you've made a home in the retro heavy metal scene?
It's nice to have dedicated fans. In terms of the style, like I said, we're not trying to fit into that revival scene, it's nice to fit in across different genres. We're not trying to create a genre either, we just are what we are. To be honest, I think this album in particular sounds very modern. Cruz Del Sur have been amazing. They've got a load of cool bands and they've been really helpful with promotion, helping us with recording, organizing gigs, it's just been great to be on such a label.
You've only been in the band for the past two years, but you've all been friends since the start, right? Was it heavy metal that brought you all together?
We all went to school in the same area and met by going to the same gigs. We've always listened to a real variety of music actually, not just rock or metal. We listened to classical music, folk music. I've always been into the Irish folk stuff. I listen to Enya! We all share a similar melodic interest, so that helps with the writing. We like the same sorts of melodies and chord progressions, so we gel like that. I've known them since we were about 16 maybe and I'm 29 now.
The folk influence is clearly present in Dark Forest, even moreso on this new album.
My mum's Irish, and she played a lot of Irish music when I was growing up, so you can hear some of the Celtic melodies on the album. Occasionally I will play in Irish folk sessions, just in pubs with small groups of people, and it's the Irish music or English folk songs that I like, the traditional reels. They're good fun to play and I love those melodies. Folk brings such a distinctive edge. You obviously have the more rocky bands, like Motörhead—you wouldn't really hear any Irish folk or medieval influences in their music—but there are so many bands that do incorporate it, and it definitely gives them an edge and more melodic magic.
Talk to me about magic, Christian Horton, your co-guitarist and lyricist is a bit of an English eccentric with his knowledge of the otherwordly, and that plays in to Dark Forest's theme so much.
He loves reading about folklore, Arthurian legends, the past, the paranormal, anything like that. But he's got a very open mind, so it's great for the conversations we have. But I also enjoy looking into that too. There are so many elements in the folk world, or in folk lore or legend and magic. All the different songs pay homage to that on the debut Dark Forest album too, there's so much to it. This one is similar to the first album in terms of folklore but there's more depth of meaning. The song "Autumn's Crown" has got medieval melodies in there, and it talks about the season of autumn and all the symbolism and magic in there. There's "Lunantishee," which are, in Ireland, the guardians of the blackthorn tree, and there's also a song called 'Blackthorn', which links into that. It's one of the first trees to blossom, and the whole song uses that as a metaphor for a hopeful future—everything's a cycle, it all comes around again. There's so much on this album compared to the others, and even musically, we put so much into it.
You're from England's industrial heartland, the Black Country. Do you get to go out into nature to gather inspiration?
Dark Forest is based in the Black Country, but Christian, Paul and Sid are all in the Black Country; our singer Josh lives in Spain now, and I'm down in Wiltshire, but I'm from the Midlands originally. Both places are surrounded by countryside, and so there's the option for any one of us to go out into the woods and up into the hills. It's all around us, and we regularly do; we all love walking and going to the woods and having a fire. All of that counts as inspiration. I think there is a misconception about the Midlands that it's all industrial and all built up, whereas there is actually some beautiful countryside. If you ever get the opportunity to go to Kinver Edge, you should.
I'll try! As for extending the invitation the other way, do you think you will ever play the US? What are your plans now that the album is out?
We'd have to do a tour if we went over there, we couldn't do a gig and then come back the next day, could we? It would be great to do it, America and Canada. It would be really good fun, whether it's touring with another band or supporting another band, we'd all love to do that.
There isn't a plan as such, we'll just keep writing new material and we all get on so well so it's just a massive laugh when we're together so that's a really positive thing to have in a band. In terms of a plan, I think it's just to create more and improve the music each time. We haven't got aspirations in earning wads of money—I know it sounds cliche but it's all about the music for us. Everything else is a bonus, and if things happen that push us further in that respect, then that will be brilliant, too.
Louise Brown is keeping the faith on Twitter.