The British underground is thriving once more, and one band that have been there and back again through it all, are Forefather. Since 1999, the duo of Athelstand and Wulfstan have been delivering the prophecies of Anglo-Saxon Britain to the ears of the underground.
The debut album Deep into Time started a cult following for the duo, heralding a new direction for Pagan / Viking styled black metal. Forefather obtain their intrigue through the use of Anglo Saxon ideology and Anti-Christian lyrical themes. 18 years later, and after 7 full-lengths, Forefather are back with a 30-minute EP entitled Tales from a Cloud-Born Land.
“Opening” charters the course of this particular EP with a fanfare introduction of swirling guitar, welcoming the listener to the fable about to be told.
“Two Sacred Oaks” takes a huge lending from the Jon Zwetsloot (ex-Dissection) school of guitar, with bouncing rhythmic sections engulfing the listener in soaring riffs and melodic hooks, the verses have an onslaught rarely heard on a Forefather record previously. As the chorus kicks in, the clean vocal style of Forefather returns. Hauntingly chanting in nature, guiding us deeper into the feud between two ‘Princes’ who are heading to battle to claim each other’s land.
“One Blood and One Bone” continues the homage to Dissection in the opening verse, as well as borrowing heavily from a number of other bands in the genre. The vocal stylings are even more rasping in this opus, creating a bleak outlook, across a more sombre main riff. The chorus is exceptionally catchy, and then makes way into a more upbeat and uplifting folk-etched solo. It is easy to picture the blood-soaked battlefield here; bodies littering the ground, and the shrieks of the wounded in the air.
“Strongbow’s Death” slows the speed of the EP down a notch, with more complex and tortuous guitar work taking a sliver of appreciation from some later Nokturnal Mortum material. Forefather are masters of using the dual-lead guitar, and create deeper meaning in this, driving the point of the arrow home into the heart of the listener. The atmosphere and tone of the EP lowers here, with the death of an important figurehead a deeper moment, in this otherwise ferocious and buoyant material.
if “Strongbow’s Death” was sombre and dispirited, “In Victory We Feast” is the soundtrack to a victory the early middle-ages should have had. Violent, fast tremolo picked riffs lead into bounding and forcefully driven verses, pounding the enemy into oblivion and if one can reach the end, the victory feast. Certainly a soundtrack to raise your drinking horns to!
Personal opinion is always a point of contention, however, the final full track on this EP “Out of Time” is one of the most stirring and potent passages of music that has graced my ears in some time. Signalling the obliteration of a kingdom, and the ending of its legacy, this track drops the black metal almost entirely in favour of melancholic folk guitar work, with mournfully sung clean vocals, ravaging the strength of one’s convictions from the previous barrage and sundering them until only a vacant husk remains.
“Daughter of Twlight” rounds off the EP. A fully instrumental track, this has more than a hint of The Meads of Asphodel in the keyboard backing (which is no surprise considering this was released as a split with the same band), and swirls back and forth between lustrous, fantastical passages with piano and soaring guitar melodies. This track does seem a little out of place and could easily have replaced “Opening”, as “Out of Time” clearly feels like a more natural way to end this concept EP.
Overall however, some of the best material I have listened to all year, and on a par with anything Forefather have produced before. This definitely lifts them back into the top tier of black metal talent in the UK at present, without a shadow of a doubt.