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A Discussion With A Forest of Stars Guitarist T.S Kettleburner

Black metal has come a long way over the past two decades. What started out as straightforward blasting and tremolo picking has evolved far beyond the limited scale shown in the early years of the genre. Progressive elements crept in and pushed the genre into a direction most could not have foreseen. A Forest of Stars is one of the modern bands taking the fundamentals of black metal and incorporating psychedelic and folk elements to create lengthy, but stimulating, material.

With their second album, “Opportunistic Thieves of Spring,” pushing the band further away from the traditional black metal sound, things look very bright for the future of the quirky British act. Metalunderground.com recently had the chance to speak to guitarist T.S. Kettleburner about the challenge of long songs, the difference between the first and second album, and the importance of music over visuals in a live setting.

Heavytothebone2: What is the central theme behind the band’s sophomore album, “Opportunistic Thieves of Spring”?

The central theme of the new album, “Opportunistic Thieves of Spring,” is, on one side, a continuation of what we got into with “The Corpse of Rebirth,” which is essentially how cycles work and how they influence us on a wider scale and a smaller scale. It’s a continuation of that and bringing kind of…interweaving our distinct take on a more personal subject matter from the point of view of Mister Curse, who is our main lyricist. That’s what going lyrically. Musically, it’s the same idea of wanting to continue, but kind of push forward.

Heavytothebone2: Did the band approach the songwriting for “Opportunistic Thieves of Spring” differently from “The Corpse of Rebirth” or did you do it the same way as the first album?

In terms of songwriting and recording, I’d say it’s a bit more structured this time around. We tried to apply a bit more control to what we were doing in some ways. We were constantly rewriting things and just wanted to make sure for us, it felt like a step up from the production point of view, songwriting point of view, playing, and just getting across everything we wanted to do; just getting the right kind of atmosphere and moods going with the music.

Heavytothebone2: What are the major sonic differences that you notice between “The Corpse of Rebirth” and “Opportunistic Thieves of Spring”?

Possibly, “Opportunistic Thieves of Spring” is a bit more polished of an idea, for want of a better word. At the same time, I feel more personally myself we wanting to push further in every direction a bit more. I definitely wanted to make the more black metal sections kind of really stand out. We wanted to increase…you almost feel like losing yourself in it kind of vibe really. We just wanted to push further that way and really test how far we can take that.

Heavytothebone2: Do you think that this album is more representative of what A Forest of Stars is than “The Corpse of Rebirth” was?

In some ways, yes. In some ways, no, in fact. With “The Corpse of Rebirth,” there was a real kind of naivety about it, which I don’t think we captured this time around. I think a lot of things are better executed, with more experience of writing and being in the studio…I have no qualms in saying that this is us. This is fully representative of what we are.

Heavytothebone2: What song to you on “Opportunistic Thieves of Spring” encompasses everything that the band is about?

I would probably say the first song, “Sorrow's Impetus.” What’s that got is to make us like, ‘What do we sound like in a nutshell?’ essentially. Try to capture as much as possible. You got all the instruments, the percussion, you got the faster sections, some of the slower, more build-up sections. I would say that one.

Heavytothebone2: The band is known for composing epic songs. Is it ever a challenge to have long songs that remain engaging and interesting from start to finish?

In some ways, yes. What remains challenging and engaging I think comes down to the perception of who is listening to it. Some people find our take on doing it to be on the tedious side, but at the same time, others kind of almost want it to be longer and be even more so that way. As a songwriter or a creator, if it feels right to you, that’s kind of all that matters.

Heavytothebone2: Do you think the band is capable of writing shorter material?

That’s a very good question actually. I think if we were to put ourselves to it, we could do it, but whether it works or not is another thing. It’s certainly not experimented with, but certainly we could possibly do in the future…I think we’ve got to the point where they go any longer, they will start to turn into full albums themselves and we don’t really want to go down that territory.

Heavytothebone2: After doing two albums that are epic, with really long songs, where do you think the band can head next? Is there a point that the band hasn’t explored yet? How do you see the future looking?

I think there are different ways of expressing ourselves. I consider whatever happens next will be a turning point. In our band, we don’t try to impose ourselves of going in one particular direction. It feels like things will be a little bit different next time around. From a guitar point of view, there’s new textures we might want to explore and using different aspects of Dan’s vocals, but it’s all guess work at this point.

Heavytothebone2: Do you think the album is better listened to as a whole or each track individually?

I think that both approaches work well, from my point of view anyway. I think they all definitely stand out as their own entities, but as we’ve been in the past, we’re kind of quite mindful how the album plays as a whole. We kind of don’t want it to go too far in one direction, but at the same time, it’s good to have a certain amount of actual flow. For instance, we made a conscious decision to put two of the most ambient tracks towards the end of the record because we felt that would be a bit surprising, but also kind of really bring a consistent tone across the second half of the recording.

Heavytothebone2: This was the first album released under the Transcendental Creations label. How has it been so far with the label?

With Transcendental Creations, they’ve been absolutely great. They’ve been a very attentive label and they’ve been pushing us, which is amazing. They’re very enthusiastic and very talented gentlemen, definitely. There are some great bands on the label as well; it’s a pleasure to share labels with.

Heavytothebone2: What do they bring to the table that other labels did not?

Transcendental Creations was the first label that approached us that really gave us a sense that they were on the same wavelengths. They were attentive towards looking at us as a whole concept rather than the next album by a band. They were very attune with us in terms of how they are as people. I think that is really important and a really healthy thing to have.

Heavytothebone2: Do you feel that’s a problem a lot of bands have with record labels that they don’t get the personal touch that they should?

Yes, possibly so. Its maybe in other cases the band doesn’t understand the label, the label doesn’t understand the band. I guess that can happen sometimes. From a band’s point of view, not being the label’s high priority would be quite a crushing thing to have actually. The fact that we have a label that is into us as they are is a real bonus for us.

Heavytothebone2: The record industry has been through ups-and-downs over the past years. It has affected everybody, including the smallest bands. How has it affected A Forest of Stars?

We only came into being during what is a steep decline, but to be honest, the rise of the Internet as a way to distributing and getting people hearing music is such an incredible thing. I don’t think we would be signed to Transcendental Creations or even sold out the first 100 copies of the first album if it wasn’t for the Internet essentially and word of mouth online. Not to go on too much of a rant, but any perspective of the music industry is a greed point of view basically from the record labels. As long as bands can survive in some way, then that’s the important thing.

Heavytothebone2: Tell me about some of the upcoming shows that the band will be participating in.

There are three concerts coming up. The first one is in October 30th in a city called Bradford, which is quite close to home. It’s going to be at the theater, so it’s going to be an extravagant event. We also got concerts coming up in November as well in Manchester and Edinburgh, so if anybody wants to come out to those and say hi, that would be great.

Heavytothebone2: What is the typical Forest of Stars show like?

Lots of smoke, lots of dim lights to hide us as much as possible, and just an atmosphere and mystique with the music…turning into a force, turning into something that is a physical presence as well as an auditorial presence.

Heavytothebone2: So with your live show, the music itself is more important than the individuals on the stage?

Absolutely. It’s always 100% about the music. The fact that we initially, we feel it’s important to be I guess you would call it “appropriately dressed” being Victorian gentlemen. We try not to show off that as a gimmick because I wouldn’t feel its right to do it. Hopefully, if people don’t like the visual side of things, they would be able to listen past it.

Heavytothebone2: The band is very select about their live dates. Is there any reason behind this?

It’s down to where we are as people really. I think we haven’t done massive amounts of touring, but there will definitely be more in the future; very possibly stuff abroad in Europe and U.S, if we get invited. We’ll see what happens there.

Heavytothebone2: How do you feel the reaction has been to your music not only in Europe, but over here in the states?

It has been overwhelmingly positive. We have people contacting us regularly just to thank us, which is always a lovely thing to read from people. It’s quite an incredible experience; it’s very heartening, that’s for sure.

Heavytothebone2: How do you feel about the current state of black metal?

I would say there is some absolutely brilliant stuff coming out. A lot of stuff that influenced us from a black metal point of view is either from the 90’s or it’s been from the last five years. There’s been some absolutely incredible stuff coming out, especially around where we are, there are some bands who really excite us…Internationally, there’s lots of great stuff happening on almost any part of the world.

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