Release DetailsLABEL Earache
RELEASED ON 2/21/2012
Woods of Ypres
Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light
posted on 3/2012 By:
To be perfectly honest, taking on Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light was a bit of a daunting task. Not only were there the (record label raised) questions over Woods of Ypres founder David Gold’s passing, but there was also the matter of trying to listen to the album independently of those tragic events. Some who had extensive emotional attachment to Woods of Ypres were understandably reticent to approach the album critically, and so it fell to someone who had limited experience with the band but the utmost respect. Having spent only minimal time with the early works and enough with IV: The Green Album to know that I quite enjoyed it despite its bloated nature, I mostly used Woods 5 as a way to give the band one last real shot. What happened instead was much more. I became entranced with a set of songs that dug deep under my skin both musically and lyrically, which is a very rare occurrence. I also discovered the true talents of a man who left us long before his time; a man who undoubtedly saved his best for last while delivering an album that is sprawling, meticulously produced, and both incredibly vulnerable yet strangely empowering.
The first few songs on Woods 5 show exactly how far Gold had removed his songwriting from the band’s black metal roots. While the cold still occasionally shows up in a guitar tone or riff, the prevailing tone is that of the melancholy rock/metal that Katatonia, mid-period Paradise Lost, and even Sentenced perfected, with hefty doses of both doom and dark metal at just the right times. But several characteristics help to turn this final version of Woods of Ypres into really the next evolution of these influences. First, the lyrical content is nothing short of masterful, and poetic enough to be free of any and all pretension despite taking on the depressive subject matter common for the style. Second, these words are aided greatly by Gold’s understated vocal delivery, and also through the high-low layering heard on the chorus of “Death Is Not An Exit” and throughout the album. This treatment not only provides a unique vibe, but also gives the cleans a sort of shimmering effect that can be quite intoxicating. Extra flourishes like strings and well-employed piano also help, but in the end it is Gold’s songwriting deftness that elevates these tracks. The build from piano break into a softer chorus and then subdued metal intensity in “Keeper of the Ledger” is one such example, but Woods 5 is chock full of these small details, and listeners are continually rewarded long after it has become familiar.
Had Woods 5 continued in this vein it would already be a must-hear, but one track in the middle of the order changes everything: “Adora Vivos” is the very definition of an album linchpin. A heavy intro gives way to pulsating rock machinations before the exceptional chorus cashes in. The song’s intensity and lyrical majesty – “Adora Vivos - Our people are civilized... Love the living while they're still alive, Adora Vivos - Our people are civilized... we shouldn't worship the dead” – tie everything that comes before and after, and permanently shifts ones perception of the entire album. The song’s placement also explains why some were pissed when they spent so much time with the early promo only to find out that the order was wrong—this album demands this exact alignment for the lyrics, melodies, and holistic dynamics to become far more than the sum of their glorious parts.
After “Adora Vivos,” there is quite simply no going back. “Silver” is in the same general doom rock tone of earlier tracks, but it seems more barren, as if it is struggling for air after the exhaustion that preceded it. The would-be-Sentenced rocker “Career Suicide (Is Not Real Suicide)” is immediately taken in a much more serious tone than it would if it were independent of its surroundings (but no less catchy). The low-tempo “Modern Life Architecture” and “Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)” increase the extra doom factor while also indulging in the band’s oft-emphasized-but-exaggerated Type O Negative sound. However, it is the gorgeous piano- and string-driven balladry of “Finality” and closer “Alternate Ending” that really feel as if they are still reflecting the album’s one big surge, while further cementing the essential nature of the track order. More importantly, the closer ends things on a surprisingly uplifting note.
Uplifting is the key. In spite of lyrics that view death in a positive or at least inevitable light, this album somehow seems to be more of a celebration of life than a damning of it -- an exquisite and deeply personal reminder that even in the darkest of times there is hope. Woods 5 is a near masterpiece on both the musical and lyrical levels, and possibly the best album of this (very general) ilk since Last Fair Deal Gone Down. Most importantly, Woods 5 is, without a doubt, the full realization of David Gold's and Woods of Ypres’s true potential, and instead of mourning what could have been, we should feel privileged that he was able to deliver this superlative masterstroke before his untimely passing.
In Gold’s own words, we shouldn’t worship the dead, but he never said anything about not honoring the art that has been left behind. And this is quite, quite the piece of art.
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