Forest Swords, the project of English electronic producer Matthew Barnes, suggests a series of answers to a riddle that may have never been posed but proves worth pondering nonetheless: What would reggae sound like if, in terms of overall vibe and tone, it sounded nothing like reggae at all? Forest Swords is aligned with dub, in all its ethereal, abstracted, echo-effected glory, but on Engravings, the first Forest Swords album after an auspicious EP in 2010, the genre’s tenets are treated with a different ear and a different sort of hand on the controls.
“Ljoss” opens with a mix of grainy, ambient electronic textures smeared over eerie electric guitar and drums that crack and ricochet, with a sense of mystery moving in from a distance. “Thor’s Stone” bristles with suggestions of spectral slide whistles and samples of choral vocals made to sound inhuman. All of it sounds like a contemporary reimagining of Goblin’s storied score for the classic 1970s horror movie Suspiria, or else — especially on highlights like “Onward,” “Anneka’s Battle” and “The Plumes” — a uniquely inspired variation on the ghostly, desiccated style of Holy Other, Haxan Cloak and many more.