Woods of Ypres
Woods 4: The Green Album
posted on 5/2011 By:
Woods of Ypres has come a long way; in fact, their current incarnation will sound completely alien to those that have failed to keep up with David Gold's exploits since Against the Seasons. The band has been toiling in relative obscurity ever since they made waves with that initial offering, crafting purely independent full-lengths amidst near-comical lineup changes.
Their fourth effort, the aptly-titled Woods IV: The Green Album, was originally released in 2009. But Digby Pearson--apparently in the midst of a lucid interval from his trend-pimping hematoma---was savvy enough to reissue this massive (and I do mean massive) Canadian metal classic under the Earache banner.
Yeah, it's a classic. A bloated, often-awkward, and undeniably flawed classic, but a classic nonetheless. Getting to this stage was quite laborous. DG and company made the transition from black metal into their current territories with Woods III: Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues. (For brevity's sake, it sounded like Ville Laihala slipped a roofie into IX Equilbrium-era Ihsahn's glass of Seagram's & Robitussin.) The growning pains were sharp. Woods III, to be blunt, is lacking in both focus and fortitude. But tracks like "Your Ontario Town is a Burial Ground" and "The Distractions of Living Alone" hinted at something greater on the horizon. The Green Album is that greater something.
Again, it's not without faults. As is problematic amongst independent artists with unbridled creative control (Shamaatae, I'm looking at you), Gold has a serious self-editing problem. None of these songs overstay their welcome--the engaging ones, anyway--but with sixteen of 'em clocking in at seventy-eight minutes, Woods IV is a marathon.
Thusly, this review is about to trot its own personal twenty-six-point-two. After eighteen months of analysis (a feat testament to the album's sporadic brilliance), Woods IV has revealed itself to be a work constructed of three independently functioning acts. Three blocks of songs, three blocks of text. Begin:
Act I: Canada Coming Down ("Shards of Love" through "I Was Buried...")
The gentle strains of an oboe pull the curtain back slowly, and when the The Green Album reveals itself, it's...pretty damn naked. Gold's lilting baritone tells a stark, matter-of-fact breakup tale from dual perspectves--a subtle, yet extremely effective lyrical trick--and the doom n' gloom begins.
This opening stanza is remarkable for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the prominent, genuine Type O Negative influence that runs through this thing. That's not an easy element to incorporate; just ask the legions of lesser bands that have since been composted into a landfill of leather pants and eyeliner. The roots run deep, and not only in terms of vocal delivery, crushing guitar tone, or cynical lyricisms. There's a complexity and depth to The Green Album's songwriting not seen since the heyday of their dichromatic forebears.
Such flourishes are found in the climactic lead work within "By The Time You Read This...I Will Already Be Dead," and the piano thread that provides the spinal fluid for the eight-minute "I Was Buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetary." These uplifting twists salvage The Green Album from being an overly oppressive affair, providing an excellent counterpoint to Gold's matter-of-fact vocal delivery. Previously, Gold's subject matter has been erroneously decried as depressing (most likely by folks alien to Watching From A Distance), but this misses the mark. The Green Album isn't depressing. It's just honest.
Act II: Tumult and Turbulence ("Dirty Window of Opportunity: Can You Get Here in 10 Days?" through "Halves and Quarters")
That honesty bleeds into the next phase of the record, where Gold ups both the storytelling quotient and the tempos. However, the current incarnation of Woods of Ypres doesn't fare well at medium speed. "Dirty Window of Opportunity" and "Suicide Cargoload (Drag That Weight)" are as clunky as they are genreless, occupying a murky middle-ground between abrasive banality and brickwalled aggression. Gold ditches his croon for a midrangy growl, and the whole affair becomes rather grating.
At this stage, The Green Album finds itself at a dangerous impasse. In fact, this block of songs threatens to grind the entire album to a halt; conventional wisdom states that a work of this length would be crippled by such a boulderstorm of plodding tempos. Thankfully, "Wet Leather" stands as an oasis in this mid-album mush, brightening the proceedings with a wry grin and a jackal's smile. The absurd refain--"Life is just pain and piss / it's nothing that I will miss"--is perfectly coupled with a raucous backbeat, proving that Gold keeps a knowing wink in his pocket for when things begin to teeter on the melodramatic.
Act III: Amorphous Denouement ("You Are Here With Me..." through "Move On!")
Shift gears. Take a breath. Relax. The worst is over, and the brilliance is about to begin.
While the opening block of pseudo-doom anthems were quite stellar in their own right, the final six tracks are where the true gems lie. This is where Woods of Ypres, after years of struggling in the shadows, finally carve a solitary identity with their most varied material to date.
The pacing herein is quite brilliant, belying the struggles of the midsection. The lilting / crushing dynamic of "Retrosleep in the Morning Calm" is a touch of subtle brilliance, and when Gold returns to blackish speeds on "Natural Technologies" and the latter portion of "Don't Open The Wounds / Skywide Armspread," they smack like chainwhips of adrenaline.
The most boisterious of these amalgamous compositions is "Mirror Reflection & The Hammer Reinvention." This is the tour-de-force that sucks the various facets of the album into a whirlwind of metallic reinvention; it's the microcosm for Woods of Ypres anno 2011 (or 2009, depending on your perspective). Circular introspection and deliberate riffing culminates in a furious, cathartic climax that brings the entire thing to an exhausting head. Sure, the album still has two closers to lull you back to Earth--"To Long Life in the Limbo Union" and "Move On! (The Woman Will Always Leave the Man)"--which take great strides to bring heartbreak back into the underrepresented and underestimated realm of the more brutish sex. But "Mirror Refflection..." is Woods of Ypres' statement, and the real capstone of this previously-heralded minature classic.
And, again, it is deeply flawed, but we all are. The Green Album is honest, human, and--in spite of its self-centered nature--oddly humble. In a climate where posturing and preening are becoming strangely commonplace, a grass-rooted act like Woods of Ypres is desperately needed. Now that they've found their voice, they can begin the arduous task of filling the void and pacing the trail. It'll be a hell of a journey. Something tells me they're up to the task.
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