Like most of us, Matthew Barnes aka Forest Swords is unsettled by these fractured times. And while ‘Compassion’ isn’t an ode to the fissures and fallout of Brexit, Trump and the chaos in the Middle East, it captures the uncertainty and insecurity perfectly, manifesting itself as an incongruent collection of tracks that seep deep.
From the long electronic exhale of ‘War It’ to the more pointed ‘Panic’ and its simple refrain of “I fear something’s wrong / The panic is on,” the doubt creeps in from the outset, permeating the field recordings, indistinguishable vocals and clattering beats.
You hear it on the Nostradamus drama of ‘Exalter’ with clanging percussion and twisted monastic blasts; sense it on the mournful ‘Sjurvival’; feel it on the layered menace of ‘Vandalism’ as eerie harmonies, heavy-handed drums and sad brass solos bleed together to create something arresting in its austerity.
The soft static and rolling melody of ‘Border Margin Barrier’ briefly hints at a brighter day, its sweeter vulnerability temporarily carving through the gloom, but as the rumble of battle drums and plaintive piano of album closer ‘Knife Edge’ sets you up for a breakdown that never comes, and ends heavy with anticipation, it’s the perfect conclusion to Forest Swords’ complex slow-show that owes as much to hope as it does to just hanging in there.