If I were to draw a life motto out of the music accompanying me through this journey called life, it would probably be the verse “Searching for a distant chilhood dream“ taken from the song “On the Edge of Twilight” from Dark Forest‘s unexcelled fourth album Beyond the Veil. Having lived on the British Isles for the first couple of years of my life I always felt a connection, a yearning for the endless green, the hills and burrows, the creeks and fields. No band has appealed to this distant dream like Dark Forest. For 20 years now, for three EPs and five full-lenghts – unfortunately I never managed to get a glimpse at the demo -, this picturesque songwriting, this enchanting atmosphere has been unrivalled. And in order to celebrate this anniversary the quartet surrounding guitarist and songwriter Christian Horton hailing from the West-Midlands have decided to release an EP with four new songs and a rerecording of one of their best.
When it comes to Dark Forest it’s probably impossible for me to stay objective, but to be honest, I don’t really care. Dark Forest‘s music is driven by emotion and in order to truly get a grasp of the music one has to accept it flowing through oneself, letting it paint a picture in one’s mind unfolding its beauty. The band’s third full-length The Awakening released in 2014 can be considered a landmark in the bands discography featuring Josh Winnard, also known from the first releases of both Seven Sisters and Wytch Hazel, on vocals and Patrick Jenkins on the second guitar for the first time, thereby rounding off the line-up which up to then had consisted of Horton, Adam Sidaway, who has been playing the drums for Dark Forest since 2004 (!) and bass-player Paul Thompson, who left the band in 2018. Eight years and two additional albums later this line-up has fully consolidated by having created and cemented their very own distinctive style.
This becomes especially evident when taking a glance at the rerecording of “Under the Greenwood Tree”. This energizing epyillion about Robin Hood and his merry men was part of the phenomenal second album Dawn of Infinity which most noticably differed from the current sound due to it featuring Will Lowry-Scott on vocals. Humble as I am, I declare it as perfect… which is supported by the overall popularity in the fanbase but also in the band itself. Thus, it was even more exciting to see how it would sound with the now established line-up: Even if there had been any doubts, the would have been washed away immediately. The guitar duo Horton and Jenkins is unrivalled – I can only think of Kyle and Graeme of Seven Sisters coming close – once again merging together subtle, soulful melodies, dancing through one’s mind like a fresh breeze of wind through vermillion canopies, with an endless underlying landscape of atmosphere. Meanwhile Winnard’s vocals, soft and sentimental yet magnificently sublime, also fit the song suprisingly well definitely equalling to Lowry-Scotts vocal performance. And also Sidaways drumplaying, a steadfast constant in the sound of Dark Forest, seems even more precise and powerful when compared to 2014.
Of course the aforementioned aspects are also apparent in the new material. “Skylark”, name after a bird known for its melodious song and a symbol for joy and optimism, functions as powerful introduction to this EP. Several changes in tempo, the relentlessly hypnotizing guitars and magical display of Winnards talent beautifully embody the freedom and insouciance found in nature. “Golden Acre” and “Ridge and Furrow” despite being a little calmer continue the impelling playfulness facing forward into a bright… one might say brighter… future. All is embedded in an overarching, romantic atmosphere flowing into the instrumental “Meadowland” with its own little familiar and welcoming scenery, the perfect landmark for glorious 20 years.
Conclusion: I wish for this review to be seen as an ode to this exceptional band, just as the EP itself is an ode to nature and the eternal beauty we have been gifted with. This time I really told myself to be more reserved maybe a little less biased. Nevertheless, Dark Forest have managed to appeal to my deepest emotions forcing me to simply be honest and authentic. With this release, which indeed is filled with the character of a whole album, the band has set up a beautiful memorial to a legacy of 20 years while illuminating a path into a bright future…
Beneath the arcing boughs of green
A story is weaved
Come listen well this tale I tell
Dark Forest – Under the Greenwood Tree