Album Reviews

Gandalf’s Fist – Forest of Fey

A Revelation (not the album by Journey or the book in the New Testament of The Bible) is said to be something revealed or disclosed, especially a striking disclosure, as of something not before realized.

To persevere is to persist in anything undertaken, maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement, to continue steadfastly.

Here is a conundrum for you, has the advent of the internet and social media made it easier for music reviewers and bloggers? We no longer have to work to a traditional deadline for a print copy so, does that mean we can invest more time into writing our reviews and articles or, does it mean we can write about more albums?

Your old traditional music publication would need a review submitted in plenty of time for it to be edited etc. and inserted into the final copy. To me, this would mean short, succinct reviews perhaps but, also, that the writer would not have the requisite amount of time to listen to the album intensely enough to get the hidden nuances and delve into the deeper meanings.

So, to get back to my two definitions at the start of this review (you did realise they would be relevant, didn’t you?), I often have to persevere with an album until I have a revelation and what the artist originally intended finally dawns on me. I mean, crikey, if there were just printed reviews with incredibly tight deadlines, I’d stand no chance would I?

So, the latest slice of musical pie to enter Progradar’s review emporium and to get many coats of looking at, is the latest release from the admirably monikered Gandalf’s Fist, ‘UK purveyors of Medieval Space Rock’ (their words, not mine).

Originally formed in 2005 by multi-instrumentalist Dean Marsh and lyricist Luke Severn, the band draw heavily on their love of the so-called ‘golden era’ of progressive rock, the new wave of British heavy metal and even renaissance folk to create concept albums that both nostalgically engaging and experimentally innovative.

Gandalf’s Fist released ‘Forest of Fey’ on October 20th this year and it has already garnered many favourable reviews. It is the first release by the band as a four piece and has Dean on lead vocals, guitars, mandolin, keys and additional bass, Luke provides backing and lead vocals,  Chris Ewen is the bassist and Stefan Hepe is the drummer. Melissa Hollick, who provides the female lead vocals, heads a list of celebrated guest contributors which also includes John Mitchell, Clive Nolan and celebrated guitar impresario Matt Stevens.

‘A Forest of Fey’ follows the story of a young girl trapped in a malevolent woodland and this fantasy idea runs throughout the album beginning with the introductory first track Childhood Ghosts. I have to be honest, it is not a particularly auspicious opening as a voice over begins the album, trying to set a picture of an ominous nature. It tries a bit too hard to be fantastical with sinister vocals and a low lying suspenseful musical backdrop. Things don’t improve much with Garden of the Lost, another dark and creepy track that, once again, feels a bit pantomime and over the top. The heavy riff and manic flute combination feels a bit forced to my ears as if trying too hard to give you the impression of the chaotic madness of the faerie. Melissa’s mellifluous vocals stop it from descending too much into a pastiche though, she has a voice that drips a honeyed sinister maturity and gravitas. The album seems to be hell bent on following this route as we move into the title track Forest of Fey (Including Wisdom of the Reptile and the Lament for a Silent Verse), a promising introduction leads into some distinctly excessive vocals, there is no doubting the musicianship on show here but it seems to be struggling for cohesion with the storyline. The initial vocal contributions are almost a put off for me on this song but then something brilliant happens, a carefully judged acoustic guitar heralds a kind of chorus where the vocals just, basically, work and what was becoming an average record suddenly bursts into life with a concerted vivacity. The further you move into this song you begin to appreciate what the band are trying to achieve. I love the manic and chaotic guitar solo in the centre of the song as if it is the product of a devilish mind.

The Figure Speaks is a very short soundbite that bridges two tracks and carries on the story, this leads into the superb The World We Created and , to me, anyway, this is where the album finally finds its feet and kicks on. A great progressive track with an underlying edge, Luke’s initial vocals are hushed and intentionally imprecise, giving a feeling of suspense as the song carries on but, as the song builds to a crescendo, Melissa’s voice breaks into a catchy chorus and you can’t help but join the ride. The laid back verse and energetic chorus follow each other again and it all comes to a close with a superbly crafted guitar solo running behind the vocals. The Circus in the Clearing (including the Fanfare for the King’s Tounament) introduces itself with a circus merry-go-round fanfare before a precise and muted vocal lays over a synth heavy backdrop. A pounding electronic beat accompanied by thumping drums knocks you back before everything takes a back seat to what appears to be a musical dream sequence that is quite deliciously disturbing. The keyboard heavy fanfare that follows is superb and the guitar gives it a feel of a medieval tournament as intended.

Another short track that seems to be an interlude, Blood for a Royal Pardon, is a plethora of different soundscapes playing across your mind, windswept as the eerie vocals play about in the eddies and leads into the best track on the album Drifter on the Edge of Time. Everything seems to have been building up to this delicate introduction as a piano note resonates in your mind with the promise of something more profound to follow. The ambient introduction demands your attention and then the vocals begin, smooth and earnest. There is an emotional timbre to Dean’s voice as the track builds layer upon layer. It grabs your heart and mind and reels you in and the ethereal chorus is a thing of heartfelt beauty as Melissa adds her tender voice to the mix. I am held, enthralled, as this exquisite song continues to strip my soul bare. The intensity of it leaves you emotionally drained as it comes to a close, a superbly inventive track. Who let Ian Anderson into the room? The intro to Forest Rose (Coming Home) has that Jethro Tull style of mischievous minstrel to it, flute playing with your mind before the track takes a heavier edge with a powerful riff and strong vocals. The whole song has a distinctive folk rock edge to it, an exceedingly clever folk rock with some classy guitar work and the insistent drumming of Stefan, which is becoming something of a signature.

Return from the Tournament is like a particularly well done folk song with a definite medieval edge to it. The vocals are delivered in a bard-like fashion and you could see this being sung in the hall of a Lord from the middle-ages. Stories Old and Stories Told (Of Children Brave and Children Bold) begins with a benign and laid back introduction before John Mitchell’s voice cuts in with an impassioned edge. This track seems to throw of the veil of fantasy and folk and be happy just being a well written song. Slightly out of keeping with the rest of the album, there is still a fierce honesty at its core. The band show they don’t need any cloak and dagger tricks to produce something special and I like its unfettered approach. It is only as it comes to a close that it seems to fall in line again. Well this fabulous tale must come to an end at some point and ‘Forest of Fey’ closes out with A Poison Tree. Another shortish track at just over two minutes, it is a song unadorned with any pretence and seems to be there to finish the album on a noble and honourable note, almost like a nod to the audience from a company of accomplished players.

So, to come round in a complete circle, if I had not persevered with this album, I would not have had the revelation of how good it is (see what I did there?). Like all good music, it requires more than one listen to appreciate its undoubted quality. Yes, I still have my doubts about the start of the record, which I feel is a bit incoherent but, lavish it the attention it deserves and you will see its minor flaws are hiding quite a polished gem and, in places, it really does reach the heights.

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