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Forest Swords - Engravings Album Cover

Forest Swords - Engravings

Reviewed by
9.0
Forest SwordsEngravings
Record Label: Tri Angle
Release Date: August 26, 2013
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
In the “Allegory of the Cave,” when one of the previously cave-ridden prisoners escapes what was his only perspective and discovers the reality, none of his fellow prisoners are willing to listen to him and instead believe him to be insane. After listening to Engravings, the debut from Matthew Barnes under his Forest Swords moniker, I am left wondering which of us is the escaped cave dweller. Without doubt, though, one of us has been blessed - or cursed - with knowledge of another world, desperately banging on his fellows to understand - but without context or a framework, no one is able to even imagine the world he’s seen. Barnes seems to have sunk into the recesses of the cage, watching us from afar and building sounds that have little relation to much of anything around them in an attempt to take us to what he’s seen. It’s an enchanting odyssey that is steeped in the tantalizing mysticism of the unknown.

Perhaps it is a tad arrogant for me to assume that I am similarly blessed, whether by virtue of experiencing the record as the “other” reality, or by understanding Barnes’ perception and expression. But that arrogance - whether mine or, if you share my views, yours - can be easily forgiven: Barnes does an incredible job of enveloping you in the cacophonous stitches that are the fabric of his reality. The people in Plato’s “Allegory” were famously unable to envision what was being described, but Engravings sees nearly unprecedented success in creating its own insular world. The phantom vocals and crashing cymbals of “Ljoss” and the unnaturally processed woodwinds of highlight “Irby Tremor” evoke the uneasy feeling of being stalked by the inhabitants of a cavernous world where each note reverberates endlessly against the unnatural landscape. That there is a certain sense of pseudo-druidic control over the elements in the album is no doubt owed at least in part to Barnes recording in northern England, where ancient rituals and mystic practices are greatly indebted to the environment. Engravings feels like a record produced in a world where the earth and magic are intertwined and have led to stunningly twisted growths of the natural world. Words are not needed to give the land its shape, but the guttural and primal chants and exclamations that Barnes utilized are spliced and subsumed into the atmosphere flaunt the innate connection between the inhabitants and the land.

Music that creates a world to escape to is nothing new - this year has seen two stellar releases from The Haxan Cloak and Jon Hopkins that do exactly that, albeit in a much different manner from one another. Forest Swords, however, has upped the ante and has made a world to escape from, rather than to. This is the work of a man with a vision, driven to new heights of craftsmanship by an illness that caused the songs to shift and change insidiously each time he heard them. This is a record that already feels displaced from its time of release, and instead rests comfortably alongside the visionary singularity of Burial’s Untrue, which has come to be recognized as a modern classic. Untrue plumbed the depths of urban life, but Engravings ventures into the depths of the wilderness, where greens and blacks are indistinguishable beneath the night sky. Beasts inhabit the few corners and spaces in the lush sounds of Engravings, ready to lash out the second that Barnes relinquishes his tight control over the cycling sounds.

Nightmarish, dim landscapes and imaginary feral monsters might make Engravings sound like a difficult listen that would be difficult to return to. But the way Barnes structures his nocturnes, by building them around perfect repetition of uniquely ominous sound, makes Forest Swords’ debut full length a comforting listen that is instantly familiar even as it remains alien and distinct from anything that surrounds it in the current musical landscape. By the time you’ve reached the garbled gasps of “Gathering” or the subtly triumphant hope of closer “Friend, You Will Never Learn,” you feel like a seasoned traveler for whom the strange, hostile locale grows closer to the heart on each return. The natives greet you with something resembling kindness before returning to their foreign customs, and you await the wavering first notes of "Ljoss" to begin anew.


9/10
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 20
10:13 PM on 09/02/13
#2
Ryan Dennehy
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things i wanted to mention but didn't due to length constraints

the serenity of the end of "onward"

the excellent use of stick-like percussion throughout the album, which is definitely a pretty large reason that the record has such an awesome proto-civ vibe

why i dont like using the word druid the way i did but did anyway

etc
07:27 AM on 09/03/13
#3
Gin
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Got my interest! I found two songs on the interweb (http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/...ds-engravings/) if someone else is interested.
09:02 AM on 09/03/13
#4
phaynes1
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One of the best reviews I've ever seen on the site. Excited to check this out.
09:09 AM on 09/03/13
#5
jenovaproject
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I'm glad to see that some people on this site are diversifying the content and reviews. I really enjoy most of this album, but I feel like the overall score is high. There are better albums in a similar vein that would merit scores of 12 or 15 or 20 on this scale.
09:16 AM on 09/03/13
#6
Holly HoX!
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A very singular, interesting listen indeed. It's very cool and one of the best electronic releases this year.....until Darkside comes out
09:27 AM on 09/03/13
#7
Ryan Dennehy
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One of the best reviews I've ever seen on the site. Excited to check this out.
Thanks bud <333 hope you enjoy it
I'm glad to see that some people on this site are diversifying the content and reviews. I really enjoy most of this album, but I feel like the overall score is high. There are better albums in a similar vein that would merit scores of 12 or 15 or 20 on this scale.

The score is, for the most part, an arbitrary choice that also has a little bit of a "well, Man Overboard's garbage record got a 65 on this site, so that kind of fucks the whole scale for me."

I'm glad you're reading and I'd actually like to hear what else you think would garner those scores - I'm always looking for new stuff.
09:28 AM on 09/03/13
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Ryan Dennehy
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A very singular, interesting listen indeed. It's very cool and one of the best electronic releases this year.....until Darkside comes out
Can't wait for that one. Holding off on the single so I can take it all in at once.
09:37 AM on 09/03/13
#9
Holly HoX!
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Can't wait for that one. Holding off on the single so I can take it all in at once.

I've listened to that track a dozen times already. It's so good.
11:41 AM on 09/03/13
Jake Jenkins
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Top 10 album, possibly top 5. Great work Ryan.
02:32 PM on 09/03/13
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i streamed the whole thing last week on pitchfork. definitely top 10 for me when it drops.
02:34 PM on 09/03/13
Ryan Dennehy
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Top 10 album, possibly top 5. Great work Ryan.
:rose:
i streamed the whole thing last week on pitchfork. definitely top 10 for me when it drops.

It came out last week! Go pick it up!
10:20 PM on 09/04/13
ireqewezoko
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05:47 PM on 09/06/13
phaynes1
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Thanks bud <333 hope you enjoy it


The score is, for the most part, an arbitrary choice that also has a little bit of a "well, Man Overboard's garbage record got a 65 on this site, so that kind of fucks the whole scale for me."

I'm glad you're reading and I'd actually like to hear what else you think would garner those scores - I'm always looking for new stuff.
well yeah when you're right you're right this is incredible
01:05 PM on 09/14/13
Ryan Dennehy
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I wish this wasn't the review that kept getting spammers

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