If Unto Ashes decided they wanted to make a prog-rock album.
‘Castings’ is an album dedicated to the world of tarot. It channels various archetypes past and present both lyrically and musically. This is because Fern Knight is a quartet that mix very traditional folk music with highly psychedelic rock. It really feels like gothic folk troupe Unto Ashes made a prog-rock album. I recently discovered this 2010 album during Bandcamp Friday and felt compelled, 11 years after its release, to write about it to find a new audience.
Song has wild transitions between them but they largely fall into two categories. The first is the quieter witchy gothic harp melodies. Here, vocalist Margaret lets her fragility shine with her delicate and wispy voice. On the track ‘The Poisoner’, the verses are beautifully performed like a ballroom waltz. Then the chorus slams in full-bodied guitars that have a wild throaty whammy tone to them. Fern Knight are also unafraid of throwing in a guitar solo over a harp either. Indeed, the opening track ‘From Zero to Infinity’ feels like something you’d here on a T-Rex record… if they collaborated with Trees.
Elsewhere, the cello and bardlike qualities of the album shine through on the beautiful ‘Pentacles’. The 1970’s loud high eq production plays to the strengths of the piece, leaving the acoustic guitar acting as the bass as the rest of the band rock out. I’m reminded of the great band Espers. Elsewhere, the slightly odd ‘in room’ production holds back the impact of giant tonal shifts. ‘Long Dark Century’ is an almighty beast of a track but the giant cello and guitar arrangement is shifted to the background. This is because there are tiny melodic folk instruments being pushed to the front of the mix. I’m not saying that it is mixed incorrectly, it is different. Your ears expect all the brash instruments to create a wall of angsty drama but the angelic plucked bells are what take centre stage. It takes a bit of getting used to!
The scope of the album has to be admired too. From the brass band arrangement of ‘Cave Of Swords’ that rumbles into a demonic firepit rock rumble to the eight-minute haunted inside out rock of ‘Epitaph’ – the breadth of sound is huge. The way the harp is integrated into everything also gives Joanna Newsom a run for her money. The closing track ‘Crumbling Stairs’ is one of the few harpless tracks and it rounds out the album ominously. Running a drone-like electric mouth harp, whining guitars and cellos squeal and moan over percussive chants. It is a real crossover event of dark and pagan styled folk and holds a dense atmosphere I couldn’t get enough of. All this whilst playing tarot lyrically too – the esoteric lovers will be having a field day with this album.
Whilst its production tricks do take a while to train the ears, ‘Castings’ is a fascinating album. Wildly shifting from ye olde folk to dramatic rock solos and then gothic chants often in the space of a few minutes, you’ll never be bored. Their rough around the edges take on dark foreboding folk has stuck with me since I discovered the album on Friday and it’s been on repeat since. I am definitely a new fan and I hope you give them a shot too.
Recommended track: The Poisoner
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