Dark Forests of the Gothic Mind

by Kayla Meyers

The Cure, an English rock band that formed in 1978, were well-known throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s for their distinctive and original music style consisting of a combination of punk, pop, and gothic rock components. The Cure presented dark tales in several of their songs that were unlike anything else people were likely to hear at the time. One of their most well-known tracks, “A Forest,” is a staple of the gothic rock subgenre. In 1980, The Cure released the single, which was eventually featured on their album Seventeen Seconds. “A Forest,” which had a minimalistic arrangement and a haunting atmosphere, represented a change from the band’s previous, more punk-influenced sound. Despite having an unusual sound, “A Forest” was a financial success that peaked at number 40 in the UK charts and helped The Cure become one of the most forward-thinking and significant bands of the post-punk era. The song has become a fan favorite and a mainstay of The Cure’s live performances due to its eerie feeling and mysterious lyrics.

“A Forest” has a strong gothic atmosphere because of the instruments and production. Gothic rock music is characterized by a distinctive bassline, delay, and reverb effects that give the guitar a spacious, ethereal feel. The bassline is the song’s motivating factor and lends urgency and energy to it by creating an effective unsettling ambiance. The guitarwork in “A Forest” offers a haunting quality and creates a sense of tension and intensity with each strum. As the song progresses, it remains dark and somber which contributes to its gothic aesthetic and offers a feeling of mystery.

Lyrically, “A Forest” portrays the tale of a person who is lost and alone as they journey through a forest. The lyrics describe a narrator wandering through a dark forest, searching for something that he cannot name. The lyrics incorporate a depressing and lonely feeling by centering around a character who is lost and alone meandering aimlessly in a foreboding, dark forest. The protagonist’s journey is shown as a metaphor for their inner difficulties throughout the song. They are looking for something but are unsure of what. The lyrics engender a feeling of tension and discomfort. The poetic and introspective lyrics portray a sense of helplessness and solitude that many members of the gothic subculture identify with. The song’s overall tone is heightened by the haunting aura that the forest’s imagery creates. Darker, contemplative themes in music have long appealed to the gothic subculture, and “A Forest” is the ideal illustration of this.

Despite their different mediums and contexts, The Cure’s “A Forest” and Harriet Prescott Spofford’s “Circumstance,” both contain elements of darkness, mystery, and the supernatural. The scenery of “Circumstance” and the lyrics of “A Forest” both convey the discomfort and tension of typical gothic art with hints of seclusion and reflection. The lyrics of the well-known song depict a lonely individual traveling through a gloomy forest and convey a sense of anxiety that is comparable to the protagonist in “Circumstance.”

Spofford’s short story illustrates a woman who finds herself traveling through a haunting forest to return home after tending to a sick neighbor. While on her journey, she is caught by a panther, or an Indian Devil, and lifted into a tree. Spofford illustrates the peril and danger of uninhibited land with the legend of the Indian Devil. The woman must sing to the beast and pacify it with songs of civilization and the Church in order to survive the onslaught. The only aspect of civilization the woman encompasses to protect herself is music. She is capable of “taming” the Indian Devil and take away its wild, deadly character by singing.

Both works convey a sense of restlessness and mystery by highlighting a forest and the mysteries that take place inside of them. A forest is a place where the unknown lurks and where danger may be hiding around every tree or bush. In gothic literature and art, forests are frequently employed as a metaphor for the human psyche, signifying the intricacy and darkness of the human mind. The human mind may be a complicated and gloomy place, in comparison to a forest that is a place of unknown mysteries and hidden dangers. In both the song and the short story, the forest is viewed as a metaphor for the characters’ inner selves, with the perils and mysteries they experience there serving as a mirror to the intricacies and darkness of their own thoughts. Although being distinct works, both make use of the woodland environment to suggest unease and mystery.

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One Response to Dark Forests of the Gothic Mind

  1. Ashley Cox says:

    Hey Kayla, great post! Your writing was structured really well and led seamlessly from point to point. I have admittedly never really listened to The Cure and am unfamiliar with your subject, but you described it well to account for a reader who may not be intimate with the material. I think it was crucial how you described the sound of the song and not just the lyrics. A large aspect of the gothic is a feeling. The way The Cure is able to provoke that feeling not necessarily through the lyrics but simply through the sound is a large factor in what makes it so successful as a work of gothic music. I never really thought about how that feeling is achieved instrumentally so I was fascinated by the specifics of how that was achieved with reverb and guitar skills. I find it very interesting that the song was released in 1980. When I think of gothic music I think more about either earlier folk music or later 90s punk-pop/rock. In the era of hairbands and excessive consumption it is unique to have a song like “The Forest”. Your connection of “The Forest” to “Circumstance” is very appropriate. Although I can also see some connection to “Young Goodman Brown”, and that might have been the first connection, I think that “Circumstance” fits much better based on what you described. I enjoyed the way you described forests as an almost conscious organism that possesses mysterious agency over what happens inside it making it an extremely vulnerable and liminal space. Overall this was a very interesting post that I enjoyed reading. You outline what makes it gothic and connect it to the class very well. Although I have never listened to the song I feel like I have a good understanding of what makes it gothic and a great introduction to The Cure!

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