Search The Line of Best Fit
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Forest Swords’ Bolted worships at the altar of industry with invigorating impact


Release date: 20 October 2023
Forest Swords Bolted cover
20 October 2023, 09:00 Written by Jack Bray
Forest Swords embraces contrast like no other.

Since the release of 2010’s Dagger Paths EP, the producer and composer – real name Matthew Barnes – has consistently defied a fixed point within the pantheon of modern experimental musicians. At once uncanny and ordinary, fleeting and endless, sharp and soft – his music exists in a kind of liminal space, one in which antithesis is everything.

This was certainly true of 2017’s Compassion – the last full-length album from Barnes – which saw digital and analogue sounds uneasily but artfully align to blur the lines between the real and fake in tangible, resounding fashion.

Bolted – Barnes’ latest release – follows in this bilateral tradition and once again, it’s to timely and essential effect. Recorded in a warehouse near his home city of Liverpool, the ominous presence of industry – and the progressive escape from it – serves as the backdrop to the album.

To listen to Bolted is to hear the factories of the far-flung future, with their assembly lines pumping out taut and viciously manufactured merchandise. Equally though, the aching screeches and howling presence of humanity consistently rise up to face the jagged, uncompromising efforts of the machine.

In short, Bolted often sounds like the decisive apocalyptic clash between the artificial and the anthropic.

This can be felt immediately with album opener “Munitions”, a crunching metal symphony of scattershot skeletal snares, serrated synthesisers and phantasmic vocal shrieks. This leads into the aptly named “Butterfly Effect” which presents a caustic cause and effect of undulating percussion, a dazzling dub-infused bassline and evocative vocals from Neneh Cherry - slowly swallowed by the machinery around her.

This theme continues into “Rubble” as heavily manipulated vocal samples twist and unwind across a cavernous and all-consuming cathedral of sound. In direct contrast, “Caged” symbolises something of a turning point for the album. Here, ghostly voices are given licence to break through and breathe unchallenged, at least until the ringing industrial sounds of the warehouse and “Tar” submerge them once more.

However, this compassionate quality returns in force for “The Low”. Almost religious in its intent, the track exhorts the listener from mechanised minarets and hallways of haunting horns. It’s one of the best examples of Forest Swords’ distinct sound to date - euphoric and euthanising in equal measure.

Album closers “End” and “Line Gone Cold” serve in stark contrast to the earlier efforts on the album. Here, Barnes’ dials back much of the noise, as well as his unique production stylings to let the victory of the vocals sink in and ring out. “Line Gone Cold” in particular, delivers a devastating final blow for humanity as the late Lee Scratch Perry signs off the album with a defiant and final “love ya”.

Bolted sounds like a pilgrimage away from the production line towards purity. It’s also an album which feels pointedly designed for our moment. In an age in which Artificial Intelligence slowly assimilates all that it interacts with, Bolted feels like a staunch reminder to hold on to what makes us human. It’s a scintillating sliver of glass to the senses – a defiant, desolate, and darkly beautiful album that commands multiple listens and highlights once more that Forest Swords is and always has been at the top of his game.

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