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18 Feb 2011

Review: Possessed by the Forest Queen (Lasher Keen)

Possessed by the Forest Queen
Lasher Keen
Peasanta UR-Folk Records, 2011

Presented as a limited edition vinyl release, Possessed by the Forest Queen is a splendorous invocation of the divinity of nature.  With it US outfit Lasher Keen have well and truly proved themselves a dark and rising star in the world of folk music.

Lasher Keen have always evoked their own unique mythological atmosphere, and with this LP they’ve raised that talent to new heights. Weaving allusions to historical myth in fresh ways (the shapechanging adventures of Taliesin especially come to mind), Lasher Keen create their own sonic microcosmos.

Raucous beasts, sullen spirits, all-knowing earth; wrathful huntresses and impassioned seekers – all of these and more populate the wild and luminous tales that run through this album. Lasher Keen tell stories in a fashion at once elliptical and immediate. Their sound-paintings puncture the conscious mind and dredge up all kinds of deeper images and meanings; this is music written for the Deep Mind in its many forms.

Possessed features a refined musical attack from the three-piece-plus-guests ensemble (and I have to acknowledge a minor Hex conflict of interest as a reviewer, since our own Markus Wolff sings on the last song). Acoustic guitar drives the songs in a more pronounced fashion than previous outings, and its protean lyricism, woven through with percussion, cello, bass, mouth harp, accordion, and other instruments, flows like laughing water.

As before the vocals are shared among the band, though frontman Dylan Sheets takes the centre stage. Sheets touches on some fresh territory in some of these songs, exploring his upper register with a thrilling sensitivity and beauty. At times he sets aside his characteristic and unusual vibrato to reveal a voice resonant with magic – not that I have any complaints about said vibrato, either!

As wonderful as the vocals on this album are, there are also some truly brilliant instrumental passages. The reeling jig that sweeps us away in the second half of “Ocean’s Darkness” stands out in particular; as does the almost heavy metal turn that marks final track “Forest Queen” (though vocals do join into the latter’s oeuvre).

Graced in turn by sensitivity and irrepressible passion (ecstatic fury, even), Possessed by the Forest Queen is a potent and profound celebration of the natural world in all its darkness, beneficence, and savage perfection. Lasher Keen have proved themselves more than worthy disciples of the Queen of the Forest.

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