Forest Swords – Compassion – Ninja Tune

I’ve been a fan of Matthew Barnes’ brain children since 2014’s Engravings, which had me hooked immediately. His latest full-length, Compassion, is accessible yet provocative. Because of the journey-like quality of the sound, there is some crossover from the rock genre, especially those that listen to bands like Tortoise, Bitchin Bajas, and Kikaguku Moyo. Even pop fans could appreciate the more melodic tracks, like Arms Out.

The overall timbre of Compassion is a mix of acoustic instruments and synths, vocal snippets, and classical interludes, almost like a movie soundtrack. Interesting that Barnes chose to make the synths hardly noticeable, less about noise and more transition-focused. It sounds like some of the smokier vocals use a vocoder effect. The flute in Exalter is reminiscent of the Fern Gully movie–practically an embodiment of the eternal struggle between humans and nature. The drum beats sound very serious, like a forest spirit is about to get slaughtered by invading logging companies. Border Margin Barrier evokes the chromatic soundscape of a northwest sunset, somehow pro-dominantly orange.

Synthetic weight

Like the album cover, Compassion is about the weight we carry while being part of society. Life can be light if you think we have infinite time, and heavy if you believe this is the only one chance we get.  Contributing to the safety net inherent to culture is exhausting when there’s no purpose to our struggles. Actually, problems stem from the dichotomies to which we are tied. To find the why, forget about the how.


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