Traditional metal warriors Dark Forest return with new lineup, awesome ‘The Awakening’

Dark ForestI used to take a lot of grief for my love of classic and power metal. Whatever, man. It sounds goofy to some people because it can be kind of bombastic and over the top, but I’ve loved it as long as I can remember. And that passion never has gone away even a little bit.

I relished growing up around cassettes from bands such as Iron Maiden, Dio, Judas Priest, and Helloween, and all of those bands remain in high regard in my heart today. In fact, for as many records as I own, those bands comprise one of the largest percentages of my collection. There is just something about the music, the ability to escape into their fantasy worlds, and get caught up in something larger than yourself. When I hear a great dual guitar part, or a singer who can blow away planets, or songs that just immerse you in fun, it takes me back to my youth when I spent every day defending my music choices and basically costing myself parts of my hearing from having these bands blasting in my ears.

Dark Forest coverUK metal band Dark Forest (not to be confused with the multiple black metal bands with the same name) bring me back to those times when I was sitting in my humid bedroom in the summer blasting “Somewhere in Time.” They have a knack for knocking out classic heavy metal that sounds like it originated in the 1980s, and even though they don’t hail from that country, have some Teutonic tenets to their style that are what make me think of early Helloween and Gamma Ray, when those bands could do no wrong. Dark Forest’s third record “The Awakening” is one of the better classic/power metal records I’ve heard in some time (meaning the last few years or so), and ever since getting their promo early this year, I’ve listened to it at least a few times a week, which is a lot when you consider I have numerous albums to hear each week for review.

There have been some pretty big changes since the band’s last record “Dawn of Infinity” in 2011, one of which being new singer Josh Winnard. He takes over the mic from guitarist Christian Horton (who remains in the band) and does a fine job keeping his vocals both grounded and energetic. He has the right amount of passion, never goes over the top, and delivers his words in a way you can both feel and understand. Great choice here. The other new addition is second guitarist Patrick Jenkins, who adds some added muscle to the band, that also includes bassist Paul Thompson and drummer Adam Sidaway. These guys are powerful and have a knack for fluid melodies, and they sound like they’re really hitting their stride on “The Awakening.”

The record gets off to a rousing start with the title track, that opens with lines from “The Masque of Anarchy” and then blows open into full-fledged power, with glorious guitar lines, a sense of true majesty, and a rousing chorus that’ll get stuck in your head for weeks. In fact, the band has a real strength carving out killer choruses, which you’ll learn going through the record. “Sacred Signs” gets a little heavier, with strong guitar work, and more of that Germanic metal influence barreling through, and that leads to “Penda’s Fen,” were Winnard howls, “I stand on the last horizon,” as the rest of the band surrounds him with huge melodies and undeniable passion. “Turning of the Tides” has an opening so heavy and pulverizing, it nears death metal territory, but it all evens out eventually, with the tempo chugging along, and Winnard even hits some high points vocally that remind of Michael Kiske. “Rise Like Lions” then comes in, with upbeat guitar work, some classic-sounding tones, and talk of breaking “the chains of slavery.”

“Immortal Remains” could be called a ballad if need be, but it’s not syrupy or sappy. In fact, the track is pretty dark, looking death in the face as Winnard notes, “I hear the final melody,” and the band backs him up with proper amounts of strength and somber sentiment. Really strong song. “Secret Commonwealth” is a decent one, but probably the weakest of the bunch, though the singing is solid, and the soloing hits the spot. Things kick back in with “The Last Season,” opening with Iron Maiden-style guitar textures, hitting a solid power metal gallop, and with Winnard pulling back a bit vocally as to not overwhelm what’s going on here. It’s a good decision and proves he can bring his voice down to match what’s going on. Closer “Sons of England” brings everything back to a head again, as the band plays with passion and energy, Winnard belts out lines such as, “Your freedom is calling,” and things go into a Euro power metal assault. It’s a great epic cut from the band, one that sprawls, rises and falls, and hits all the right buttons over eight minutes, before ending in an explosion of power before acoustic guitars and church bells ring into the darkness.

Dark Forest are one of the most promising pure heavy metal bands out there, and the changes they made from their last record absolutely have been for the better. “The Awakening,” as fitting a title as any, as it really does bring back the memories I have of discovering metal and finding what about it made my heart soar. I hear those same things in this band, and with more seasoning and experience, they could have some real classics ahead of them.

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