Our Verdict: 4/5
Release date: 20th of October
Find it at: Gandalf’s Fist’s official website
Review by: Graeme Blackwell
“Guard yourself from the lands outside, for the world we create is not cruel, nor kind. Welcome one and all to the other side…”
And so the superbly named Gandalf’s Fist return with their new full length album, A Forest of Fey. And much like Tolkien’s titular wizard, the music comes with an unassuming outward disposition, concealing an awesome power unleashed only when necessary, and to devastating effect.
Gandalf’s Fist mainstays Dean Marsh and Luke Severn are officially joined this time around by the able talents of Chris Ewen and Stefan Hepe. The expansion to a four-piece, combined with an astonishing array of guest musicians, delivers mesmeric and immersive results. Rather than dilute, the additional input seems only to have enhanced Marsh and Severn’s vision.
And what a vision.
In the album’s evocative opening, we are led into the woods through the character of a young girl wandering too far from her mother, the latter’s cry ringing out in fear. From there, A Forest Of Fey proves to be a mysterious and magical realm populated by a myriad of arcane characters, at turns exotic, fantastic and grotesque.
The menacing sound of a crow squawking, the squeal of a gate and the crunch of footsteps on gravel segue into the neo-folk setting of “Garden’s of the Lost”, an apt title for the plight of this unwitting traveler gone astray. Troy Donockley (The Bad Shepherds, Nightwish) provides hugely expressive flourishes of low whistle, and Melissa Hollick’s strong, crisp and clear vocal delivery complements the piece perfectly. Beyond its gentle but unsettling beginning, the song shifts thrillingly in to a rock setting, weaving around off-kilter minor progressions, and playing out beautifully to the end of its “…neverending fantasty.”
The title track, perhaps the most epic of the set, introduces a lyric about seasons that “…never change.” Being stuck and stagnation are themes that appear time and again throughout the remainder of the album, and help to build a sense of a place somehow locked in time and space, along with the notion that if she’s not careful, our protagonist will also find herself lost here forever. The music is spellbinding in itself, with spectacular passages of lead guitar and several stunning dynamic shifts.
Elsewhere in the forest, our lead stumbles upon “The Circus in the Clearing”, a sagacious saga with a galloping central passage that could be plucked from a classic ‘Maiden album. And as well as Marsh, Severn, Ewen and Hepe’s peerless skills, Donockley makes another appearance, this time on Bouzouki as well as whistles.
“The Figure Speaks” is essentially a poem; an interlude featuring dialogue from the mysterious ‘figure’ himself, delivering both a welcome and a warning to people passing through the lands beyond. The message seems to be that all is not necessarily as it seems.
Here again, in the “The World We Created”, are lyrics pointing to the shadows that seethe just beneath the surface of this fantastic place. This is a “…world without limits, a world without guilt… a world in pain, a world without conscience, a world of the vain.” The song is a spacious, psychedelic affair, with layers of keys and Marsh’s phased vocal suggestive of someone drifting through a surreal dream.
Something of a wise and benevolent wizard himself, guitar conjurer Matt Stevens (solo, The Fierce And The Dead) lends his not inconsiderable talents to the towering “Drifter on the Edge of Time” and the penultimate and triumphant sounding “Stories Old and Stories Told (Of Children Brave and Children Bold).” “Forest Rose (Coming Home)” is reminiscent of a time when Jethro Tull were making their mark on the mainstream, and “Return from the Tournament” seeks to get you off your arse and on your feet with it’s thundering, bounding Bodhrán courtesy of Dave Oberlé (Gryphon).
Progressive rock in the best possible sense, if A Forest Of Fey was a film, it would likely be Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Its meticulous and carefully crafted production allows each and every detail room to breathe and offers something new with every listen. Ultimately, whether you love this album or not may well hinge on your predisposition towards fantasy and the fantastic herein. If you’re the sort of person who needs their art grounded in gritty realism, don’t venture here. For everyone else, a visit to this particular forest will prove to be richly rewarding.
“A Forest Of Fey” is released on the 20th of October. You can listen to track “Gardens Of The Lost” below.
Find out more by visiting Gandalf’s Fist’s official website.