Forest Swords, aka Matthew Barnes, woke up an unsuspecting audience in 2010 with his stunning EP `Dagger Paths'. This EP crept up on you and then never left you, perfectly summarised by the spellbinding single `Rattling Cage'. Forest Swords sound is an enigmatic web of field recordings, folk, modern RnB, Dub, Hip-Hop, wiry electric guitar, pounding percussion, rumbling bass and mysterious vocals. Somehow, Barnes makes it all sound completely natural.
`Engravings' is Forest Swords debut album, the wonderfully jerky `Ljoss' starts proceedings with a bang. A strange intro which sounds like extremely fast strummed guitar, but you aren't quite sure. It doesn't take long for those bursts of chiming electric guitars, drums and treated vocals to appear. `Thor's Stone' intimidates you straight away, but like many tracks on `Engravings' there is a grounded quality to all the strange sounds and textures that amass in front of your ears. `Irby Tremor' has an even more indecipherable opening than `Ljoss', which i can only describe as harsh murky fuzzy analogue scrapes. Its a messy track, with flat echoey beats, jangling guitars, bass, treated vocals, all manner of sounds comes and goes and somehow it all works harmoniously.
A lot of the sounds on `Engavings' are bolder and harder, such as on `Onwards', than on `Dagger Paths'. There is a palpable use of space and silence which adds weight and mystery. `The Weight of Gold' is one of the best tracks on the album, this thrilling track encapsulates what Forest Swords is all about. The vocal manipulations on this and many other tracks creates an emotional tension, a ritualistic balance of uneasiness and euphoria.
Though heavily reverbed flashes of guitars still dominate Forest Swords' sound, there is a greater emphasis on the range of instrumentation used to create a more augmented sound. The euphoric gospel groove of `Friend You Will Never Learn' shows a new direction, a more expansive and forceful sound. But even on less beat-heavy tracks like `Gathering' there is a new focus, without losing any of the subtlety and textures. The broad range of instrumentation used by Barnes allows him to concoct a diverse set of arrangements and structures, and he makes it all sound very natural and understated.
`Engravings' is hard to put down, theres so much depth and creativity to Forest Swords music. Barnes never overreaches, and theres a strange sense of familiarity and warmth to this album which sounds both ancient and contemporary. This is an intimate and uplifting album that shows the musician is in tune and at peace with himself and his surroundings.
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