Dark Forest – Oak, Ash, & Thorn Review

Score9/10
GenreEpic Heavy Metal
CountryBritain
Runtime52:45
Release Date24 April 2020
Record LabelCruz del Sur

Oak, Ash, & Thorn is the fifth offering of medieval power metal from England’s Dark Forest. These veteran warriors have lost none of their lustre with time and, even though they’ve been around nearly twenty years, this is one of their best albums to date.

As far as the overall sound goes, you can expect epic metal with aspects of Skyclad, Iron Maiden, and a tiny bit of classic Rhapsody thrown in. The mixing is a bit more lo-fi, which is perfect for creating that nostalgic, traditional feel. On a sidenote, Oak, Ash, & Thorn plays like the opposite of albums from Grendel’s Syster; where Grendel’s Syster plays a slow, steady, doomy epic metal, Dark Forest drives on with a questing spirit that’s worthy of any power metal band.

Needless to say, this album is killer. I can’t even pick favourite songs, because each one offers something completely different. Whether it’s in the gallop of ‘The Midnight Folk’, the dynamism of the eleven-minute title track, or the bombast of the instrumental finisher, ‘Heart of the Rose’, the vocals are strong, the drums are expressive, and the guitarwork is incredible.

Oak, Ash, & Thorn is excellent from start to finish. There’re plenty of highs, lows, and details (be it fills, countermelodies, or harmonies) so you can expect to get a hell of a lot out of it with consecutive listens. Showing nothing but endless variety and skill, Dark Forest continue to prove they’re worthy of knighthood.

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Stormrider – What Lies Within Review

Score6/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryEngland
Runtime22:53
Release Date27 July 2019
Record LabelIndependent

Following their 2018 EP Heavy Metal Machine, Stormrider’s What Lies Within is here. The English newcomers have evidently been hard at work, and their latest efforts will find favour with fans of classic heavy metal. While What Lies Within doesn’t quite achieve greatness, but it makes for an easy and enjoyable listen.

In a word, this EP is good. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s a good classic metal album. There’s just not enough going on to really get me excited about it. All of the parts are pretty simplistic and neither the songs nor the melodies are very memorable. It’s a lot more laid back than I like my heavy metal to be, but it’s not bad.

Stormrider’s sound is akin to what Iron Maiden would sound like if they had a Swedish heavy metal singer who’s comfortable with singing exclusively in his speaking register (except for some falsetto shrieking). And, like Iron Maiden, Stormrider’s drums and bass parts, while not technically challenging, are a good driving force for the band; they coordinate well with eachother and provide a stable footing for the guitars and vocals above.

However, unlike Iron Maiden, the guitars and vocals fail to take advantage of their foundation and, rather than running with memorable riffs or powerful melodies, they sink back into the comfort of the rhythm section. Again, this doesn’t make Stormrider bad, but it keeps them stuck as being just another traditional metal band. Additionally, the guitar solos are decent, but they lack excitement or flare.

That is, until the last half of the final track, ‘What Lies Within’. As if out of nowhere, the presolo gets invigorated by a driving gallop and rides all the way to a great solo, before ending on an epic chorus filled with vocal layers. If the rest of the EP carried as much energy as these two minutes did, it’d easily be a 9.

So, if you want some straightforward metal to add to your summer playlist, give What Lies Within a go. It’s far from being a waste of time, and, who knows? You might find something about it I missed.

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Atorc – Under the Raven Banner Review

Score6/10
GenreHeavy/Folk Metal
CountryEngland
Runtime44:06
Release Date4 Apr 2019
Record LabelIndependent

If folk metal was a thing in the 80s, it would have sounded exactly like this album; its production quality, dramatic warrior anthems, and dual guitar riffs are reminiscent of early Iron Maiden and Saxon. Honestly, Atorc could easily be considered straight heavy metal if it weren’t for the exaggerated use of violin and the occasional shanty. As their second full-length release, there are both great things and not-so-great things about Under the Raven Banner that make it, when everything is considered, a pretty fun album.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The foremost complaint that I have with Under the Raven Banner (an all-encompassing complaint, actually) is with the blatant sloppiness that’s all too present in most of the tracks. This sloppiness refers to the out of sync mixing/playing, especially prevalent between the violin and the band ‘Maidens of the Shield’, as well as the iffy quality of playing. In a classic metal band, it’s normal to have a looser and less refined sound, but there’s a limit to how loose it can be before it becomes apparent that the band is either inexperienced or just plain bad. I believe that the former is the issue here, because there’s a fair amount of inconsistency among the songs. I wouldn’t say that the songs are shit, because they’re not. My issue is that most of the songs have a select amount of shit within them, which is completely different. Otherwise, with the exception of the uninspired ‘Down at the Mead Hall’, they’re all solid heavy metal bangers.

On the flip side, there are a couple entirely fucking awesome tracks on this record. ‘Voice of the Storm’ is a great ‘Fear of the Dark’-esque tune. The build in the intro is really well done, the drums kick away like crazy, and the guitar solo is a true facemelter. The backing female vocals are a miss for me (as they are in the rest of the album) but it’s otherwise an excellent song. ‘Sheildwall’ is super epic, namely in its chanting chorus, and ends the album with a huge bang. The fact that Atorc have managed to produce songs that are un-sloppy almost pisses me off because, clearly, they know full well what good music sounds like, but they decided to ride with some lazily refined tunes anyway.

When all is said and done, Under the Raven Banner is far from perfect. However, Atorc’s charismatic enthusiasm is contagious and their old school-fuled folk metal will get you moving despite their flaws. A little more time in the forge is all these guys need to produce something worthy of glory.

Atorc – Shieldwall

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