Friday, September 30, 2011

Woods of Ypres - "Pursuit Of The Sun & Allure Of The Earth" Review!!

As promised, we're ending September with our final feature post of the month, and it's our 27th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene! For just the third time, we're reviewing a third album by a local band, and in this case, we're reviewing Woods of Ypres' second CD "Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth"! Often called "Woods II" to go along with the band's later album numbering, this was Woods of Ypres' first full length album and their first CD released after relocating to Toronto. "Pursuit of the Sun" was recorded in 2003 & early 2004 at Spectre Sound Studios in Tecumseh, Ontario (where they also recorded "Against The Seasons"), and it was released on August 14th, 2004 through the now defunct Krankenhaus Records. The credited lineup on "Woods II" includes the late David Gold on vocals, guitar, bass, and drums (he made his studio debut as Woods of Ypres' frontman here) & Jessica Rose on the keyboard. However, the lead guitar & bass tracks were mostly recorded by former members Connor Sharpe & Steve Jones respectively, but they were not credited due to leaving Woods of Ypres before the album's release, so David finished the remaining songs and is given sole credit for all non-keyed instruments in the liner notes. (Updated on September 29th, 2012)

As well, session vocalist Sarah Green is featured on the last two tracks, though she wasn't officially a band member. The CD pressing of "Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth" is currently out of print, but you're bound to find the album here & there at music stores & online websites. Officially, the album is available for download from iTunes for $6.99 or 99¢ for each individual song, so click here to buy it on iTunes! A re-release through Earache Records has been suggested in the past, but nothing official is out yet. And yes, the whole album can easily be found on torrent and download/streaming sites for free, but I highly recommend you support local metal & David's memory and buy it! With 10 songs full of over an hour of music, let's begin our review of "Woods II"! (Each song name below is linked to a YouTube upload of it.)

The opening track on the album is "Intro: The Looming of Dust In the Dark (And The Illumination)", which serves as both the album's introductory song and the first glimpse into a more melodic & introspective direction of Woods of Ypres' sound. After a slow guitar intro, the full instruments kick in with a dark and soft tone, creating the right ambiance for the track. This was the first time we heard David Gold singing on a Woods of Ypres song, and he shows off his deeper clean singing well here with a lot of emotion, though his range and singing abilities did slowly improve on future releases. This song could be considered the first step into the more doom metal-influenced material of recent years, and only minimally uses harsher vocals as a backing effect. The lyrics, which seem to detail the struggle between darkness and light, are well thought out and differentiates itself well from the "Woods I" subject matter. Though not a heavy song, it slowly builds in aggression while maintaining the same feel throughout. It's a very solid intro to the album, but the ending is too abrupt, and I'd honestly like to see Woods of Ypres expand the song beyond 2:49 in length, as it feels like the slow build was stopped prematurely.

Next is "The Will To Give", the album's first full song and the first to fully venture into black metal territory. After a nice intro and building instruments, David offers up some nice clean singing similar to the first track, but then you're hit with some black metal riffing and fast drumming that calls to mind "Woods I" in some respects! David's black metal vocals are different then Brian McManus' were, but I find they're slightly deeper and much clearer to hear and pick up words with. The music alternates between softer sections and heavy black metal sections, and the drumming is great, but I do find that the guitar and bass do sort of get muddled on heavier sections. The riffing and melodies are good, but it's hard to distinguish the instruments when the song is at full blast, except in the second half, which gets much heavier with some good breakdowns! The song's lyrics revolve around the act of giving in different forms, even if one won't get a result or something in return out of it, and the lyrics are very strong here, especially when sung clean, as you can feel the passion in David's singing! This is a standout track on "Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth", and fans of their heavier and softer material will find a great balance, though I'd like to get some more instrument clarity out of this song.

Following that is "The Sun Was In My Eyes (Part 1)", which gets things going with a solo guitar section again before getting straight into black metal territory with some slow heavy riffs and fast drumming to go along with it. Things build faster and heavier from there, helping kick off the song fittingly! Unlike the past tracks, David goes straight into black metal vocals in the verses, while singing the choruses in a low tone. It's probably the most structured of the opening tracks. On a heaviness scale, I definitely prefer it to "The Will To Give", and it doesn't sound as muddled either, though I find the clean vocals aren't as varied here. I love the drumming, and the guitar melodies fit the themes perfectly, and you definitely feel like a pursuit of the sun is ongoing! A guitar solo would have been nice to add though. Great song, and it's definitely one of my favourite black metal Woods of Ypres tracks!

Fourth on "Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth" is "The Sun Was In My Eyes (Part Doom)", the successor to the previous track. After starting similarly to the past few songs, the music starts very slow and heavy, and it could be considered a precursor to their future doom-inspired sound. The lyrical content doesn't stray far from it's predecessor, though not really as impactful or dark as their newer doom songs. Very well played though, and you feel the emotion and themes through the music! At about 2:50 in, the song transitions into a solo guitar and vocal section that flows well with the song, but then things get extremely heavy at about 4:00 when Woods of Ypres returns to full black metal mode with some crushing riffing and David's harsh singing as prominent as ever. I really like the use of his backing vocals here, they just soar and feel very natural! The bass is great here too, no complaints on this song! Another quality song, though if you prefer the heavier stuff, you'll probably only take to the second half, but both of "The Sun Was In My Eyes" tracks are well worth checking out!

Next is "Allure of the Earth", which is essentially the first Woods of Ypres ballad. The lyrics seem to tell of a hatred for life (using the sun as the enemy force) and a wish to be dead & buried instead, hence an "allure" for the earth". It's a very well written song and full of passion, which David shows in spades with his singing and the slow and soft guitar playing. It's a very minimalistic song for it's first half too, which is slightly a curse, as it feels empty and could probably stand for some more bass and filled out guitar, but Jessica Rose' keyboard work stands out! The latter half is heavier with much more prominent electric guitar riffs & drumming, but the soft and dark theme persists in the vocals. I'm sure black metal purists won't like this song as much as some of the earlier tracks, but for a powerful doom metal ballad, it does it's job very well! I just wish it was filled out more. That's followed by another ballad, "Shedding The Deadwood", which is definitely fuller and more upbeat than "Allure of the Earth", while still maintaining a similar darker feel. Telling of a journey while carrying a bundle of deadwood and the meaning of both, David gives us some wider ranging singing and more instrumentation to create a song that feels finished and substantial more-so than the previous track. The guitar playing is excellent, and it just feels like a solid, epic, softer song. I definitely prefer it to "Allure of the Earth", and it still stands as one of Woods of Ypres' best songs without harsher vocals! If you prefer black metal, this won't be as appealing though.

The seventh song on "Woods II" is "Dragged Across A Forest Floor", which is by far the longest song on the album, lasting 9:19, and it has the heaviest start, hitting you immediately with heavy guitar playing and a black metal assault! By far, the opening section of this song is the heaviest of the album so far, with very brutal singing, very fast drumming, and relentless guitar and bass riffing! Black metal fans, take note! A minute or so of clean vocals make it in at around 2:30, but ti flows with the song's meaning, and it's not a detriment to the brutality. There's even a doomier section about midway through, which is welcome, but it does stall things a tiny bit. Later, things slow down to a very soft acoustic level like on the past two tracks, and the song still works well despite the contrast from the first half, with very nice singing and guitar work, but don't worry, the song ends in a black metal fury! The keyboard work is nice too, especially late, and trust me, the very end is extremely fast and would get a pit going instantly if played live! There's even a breakdown, which you don't hear every day from Woods of Ypres! Excellent song without a wasted moment, and it seems to encapsulate all possible Woods of Ypres sounds into one 9 minute+ epic! I wish they played "Dragged Across A Forest Floor" live more often!

Eighth is "Summer's Envy", which brings the band back to blatant summer dislike in the lyrical content, and at least initally, back to removed black metal singing (aside from minimal backing vocals late.) It's still a heavier song though, with nice higher singing overtop of some aggressive metal music. It meshes well, but Woods of Ypres have better songs from later albums that are heavy with clean vocals. It's very easy to sing along with though, it has that sort of quality! I also like that the keyboards are more prominent here too, especially early in the song! A guitar solo could have helped this track, but Jessica has some good solo parts, and the strength of the song is largely in the melodic vocals. I like "Summer's Envy", but Woods of Ypres would eclipse this on later albums for clean-sung heavier material.

It's followed by the album's penultimate track, "The Ghost Of Summer's Past", which definitely opens the slowest and lightest of any track on "Woods II". David's low singing, the deliberate guitar work, and Jessica's keyboard playing fit really well! Like on "Allure of the Earth", it does feel slightly empty, but here, you can feel how intentional that is. The last two and a half minutes take a completely different feel while still retaining the same emotions, going full electric with a fuller sound and more energy. The trade-off vocals fit well, and the melodic ending almost has an orchestral feel that I really enjoy, along with Sarah Green's backing vocals closing things. I definitely prefer the second half of this song, but this is a powerful ballad that suits Woods of Ypres and this album very well! The album closes with "Outro: The End Of August", which opens with Sarah providing some very ethereal backing singing which continues even when Woods of Ypres launch into some black metal aggression to close the album with! Aside from slight variations of the clean-sung choruses, the verses never change, but it's a nice way to end the album on a black note! Not before some extra backing singing, of course, and after a short pause, we get a slow doom-metal closer with Sarah's best backing singing of the album, fittingly capping "Woods II"! Not the best lyrically, but "The End Of August" is a perfect capper to this album, and offers some of the more affecting parts of the CD!

So how do I grade "Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth"? On a sheer musical scale, I definitely prefer it to "Against The Seasons", but this comes from a metalhead who admittedly prefers more melodic types of metal over some harsher styles. I know there's a debate among fans over whether "Woods I" or "Woods II" is better, but on this album, Woods of Ypres sound fuller, have better production, show more maturity in their lyrics, explore more styles, and have more songs in general, and that all adds up. Compared to Brian McManus & Aaron Palmer's singing on "Woods I", David is more aggressive, clearer, and shows better clean singing, though the "Woods I" vocals were definitely blacker. Though no song is without clean vocals, some fans forget that six of the songs are full of harsh vocals, and on tracks like "Dragged Across The Forest Floor", things get VERY heavy! The softer material, though, is well written and introspective, and it shows the band's growth very well. Connor, Steve, and David all contributed well on guitar and bass, with some equally crushing, melodic, and soft riffs and lines to be found throughout the album! David's drumming is top notch, and Jessica showed some great skill at the keyboard on this album, which she thankfully brought back on "Woods III".

It's not without problems though, as no album is perfect. On some songs, the guitar and bass get very muddled, and the lack of guitar solos is again too noticeable, especially on longer tracks like both parts of "The Sun Was In My Eyes". Sarah Green's backing vocals could have been used on more tracks than we heard her on, Jessica's keyboard work wasn't as prominently heard as much as I expected, and on slower songs like "Allure of the Earth", things could have been filled out more. Overall though, to me, this is much better than "Against The Seasons", and on "Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth", Woods of Ypres showed their growth and maturity as a band without compromising anything in the process. There's plenty of black metal to be had, but their range of styles just expanded, and as long as you don't sell out in the process, there's no harm in that. David pulled off a great album here, and Woods of Ypres fans new and old should definitely give "Woods II" a listen! Buy it or listen to it at the above links!

There, I hope you guys enjoyed this month's CD review! The next time we review a Woods of Ypres album, it will very likely be "Woods V: Grey Skies & Electric Light" early next year, barring a delay. I know it's tentatively scheduled for a January release, but given my rule to not review a band twice in a six month span, I have the "Woods V" review penciled in for early March. Stay tuned for updates on Woods of Ypres' next album as they come in, I can't wait! But what about next month's CD review? All I really know is that it won't be anything from Foothill Road, Sykotyk Rampage, or Woods of Ypres, as it's too soon from my last reviews of their albums. Anything else is up for grabs as long as I have access to it, so similar criteria apply as in previous months. Next month's review will be a new album if one comes out, and watch out for our next "Where Are The New Albums?" post on Sunday for some of the albums that could be out soon! If none come out, it will be an album featuring a band or artist playing locally next month. If none fit that criteria, I'll pick a more prominent general release from the archives, but as of right now, I have no clue what might be next. Stay tuned for updates on that!

That's all for today, but stay tuned for more news tomorrow (tentatively), including our weekly classic video and more, and then we'll find out where the new albums are on Sunday! Thanks everyone!

No comments: