Dark Forest – “Oak, Ash & Thorn” (Cruz Del Sur Music)
Battle Helm Rating
Anyone who heard the last album from this amazing heavy metal band will need no introduction to their delightful music steeped in English folklore, literature and history. Indeed, “Oak, Ash & Thorn” is themed on the 3 sacred trees of England and inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s 1906 fantasy, “Puck of Pook’s Hill”, which is a powerful depiction of England’s past, told through the lens of the people who have helped shape the country through the ages. With its crucial element of magic and folklore making an instant connection to founder guitarist Christian Horton (ex Cloven Hoof), the scene was set for this 5th epic release! True to their heritage, the 9 tracks do not err from what has been the band’s steadfast formula of exuding charming medieval melodies driven by a strong epic spirit as sung through the heart stirring vocals of Josh Winnard (ex Wytch Hazel). Although this album is more concise than its predecessors, fear ye not as the band have been swift to point out that all this has meant is that they have concentrated even more into each song, with nothing spared in their labor intensive composing to make each one able to stand on its own as an instant classic! Recorded in Staffordshire, “Oak, Ash & Thorn” lives and breathes Englishness in every regard, and as such is a valiant effort to match the long and storied history of the country. After the appealing naturistic intro of ‘Ælfscýne’, complete with birdsong, the twin guitars of Horton and Pat Jenkins (Grene Knight) sound the medieval melodic pageantry to steal your heart instantly, while deep epic riffs add their stirring measure as Winnard’s passionate bard like song wins your soul over not just for this album, but all eternity. Charging in with knightly valor is ‘Avalon Rising’, overflowing with chivalry and gallantry resonating from its melting epic riffs and Winnard’s emotional croons – but oh for those rousing medieval English melodies – be still my beating heart! Flowing with Celtic grace on ‘The Woodlander’, the thick epic riffs and melodic guitar majesty are contrasted superbly by the dancing folk melodies and Winnard’s enchanting voice backed by ethereal harmonies that immeasurably rekindle the deep feelings of love, joy and strength found by the grace of God, in England. Here begins the journey through time, through reality, and straight into the Heart of the Rose.