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Fern Knight - Castings CD (album) cover

CASTINGS

Fern Knight

 

Prog Folk

4.00 | 4 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Described by the band themselves as the soundtrack for a gothic fairy tale, Fern Knight's `Castings' is an album that has taken me months to review. Although full of beautiful arrangements, it's also an impossibly dense and conflicting work, with an extraordinarily heavy and oppressive sound present in both the music, vocals and words. Classically trained cellist/guitarist and vocalist Margaret Ayre's sorrowful vocals float around a mix of classical drama, gothic, raga rock, progressive and medieval folk with not a trace of whimsy. There's a hypnotic, sighing, almost droning quality to much of Ayre's vocals, she displays endless humanity and fragility. Weeping violin and a storm of electric feedback and distortion makes it the perfect background for gloomy rainy days, and it's an album that takes endless listens to gain even the slightest proper sense of.

Beginning with the striking lyric `Where the road drops to a cliff, I stand at the beginning and the end...', `From Zero To Infinity' swirls with sprawling feedback, delicate harp from Jesse Sparhawk, cello and violin, with Margaret's hypnotic, almost chanted vocals. They take on a dreamy stream-of-consciousness quality, while the music drifts through middle-eastern tones in the second half with bubbling guitar distortion and urgent drumming.

I can't express the effect `The Poisoner' has had on me since I acquired this album. Possibly one of the best pieces of music I've heard in years, it brings me to tears with the combination of sad lyrics and troubled vocals. Beginning with a ghostly wall of gentle feedback before sumptuous harp and Margaret's haunting voice enter, this is an incredibly somber medieval dark folk ballad.

`Little did I know then, what I know now to be the truth, that inside these stone walls, lay my past and my future. That's when the poison is discovered, while your tracks they lay uncovered, then they will know that my poisoner was you...my past and future.'

The violin, cello, and Jim Ayre's grinding electric guitar noise creates a grey and maddening tension. The track is the absolute highlight of the album, and I encourage listeners to go online and watch the exquisite music video for it as well. One listen to it should guarantee you'll want to snap up the album straight away.

`Pentacle' has stunning violin and moody acoustic guitar alongside Margaret's sighing vocals. There's some richly detailed lyrics, and the electric guitar is not unlike some parts of King Crimson's `Islands'. That band will play an influence on this album later on too.

`Long Dark Century' is another gloomy highlight. A doomy folk ballad with very strong bleak lyrics that demand to be carefully listened to. There's a very oppressive repeated line `All is silence' that really weighs down on the listener too. Swamped in long sections of grand accordion, cello and harp orchestration that enhances the subject of the dark lyrics, this track reminds how even the unhappiest music can be the most beautiful. By the end, it somehow even manages to be oddly uplifting.

`Cave of Swords' is a maddening instrumental that switches back and forth between a sinister medieval violin, dirty cello and a droning funeral trumpet. Very jarring, but also highly fascinating. Along with some harsh electronic effects and rumbling bass, the pace quickens in the final minute as the music turns even more unnerving.

`It's suffocating!' cries Margaret over and over throughout the frantic cello dirge `Cups and Wands'. Words like that really sum up the sound and mood of much of this album. A grand and grim violin solo by James Wolf sounding like gloom-masters My Dying Bride weaves through a thunderstorm of heavy feedback and aggressive drumming that stomps down on the listener. A short but very effective and emotional track.

The majestic and grand violin and distortion epic `The Eye of the Queen' has that ever- present doomy and gritty tone, with the repeated lyric `You're cast in stone' continuing the mood that pervades so much of this album. Lovely gentle feedback guitar solo in the outro too.

The cover of King Crimson's `Epitaph' is going to be of great interest to progressive fans. Violin effectively replaces the Mellotron, delicate harp, drawn out cello, low-key bass playing and of course those wonderful female vocals. Although this interpretation fits in perfectly alongside the other pieces, it's also somewhat unnecessary perhaps because the album is full of incredible original material as it is. It certainly doesn't lessen the album, though!

There's something very grim and uneasy about the stunning finale `Crumbling Stairs' - even that title is very evocative and troubling. A refined acoustic guitar and cello intro soon turns impossibly dark. Margaret's wilting vocals and the lyrics have a resigned and hopeless feel to them, while her multi-tracked arrangements in the second half are gripping and heartbreaking. The track ends the album in a very devastating and morbid fashion, and the final few seconds of guitar feedback is supremely upsetting. Pay very close attention to the lyrics and try not to break.

While I still have so much love for Fern Knight's earlier album `Music For Witches and Alchemists', `Castings' is much more complex, mature and multi-layered. Immersing yourself in this album can be a very emotional and harrowing experience, with the music full of frequently depressing and somber subject matter. There's not a wasted or throwaway second on it, with at least two absolute classics in `The Poisoner' and `Crumbling Stairs'. Just don't expect to fall under it's spell straight away, and it needs to take the time to crawl under your skin and take hold of you, to consume you totally.

Dark, beautiful and mournful folk music for pitch black nights.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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