Saturday, March 31, 2012

Woods Of Ypres - "Woods V: Grey Skies & Electric Light" Review!!

It's time for what's probably a well anticipated CD review here at The Sault Metal Scene, as we're at last reviewing Woods of Ypres' last recorded studio album "Woods V: Grey Skies & Electric Light" today! I apologize for this being delayed, but I thought it'd be more fitting to review it closer to the David Gold memorial concerts. This is the local blackened doom metal band's only album to receive it's initial release through Earache Records, and second put out by Earache overall. Released overseas on February 13th with the North American physical release occurring in April, this album was recorded at Beach Road Studios in Goderich, Ontario with producer Siegfried Meier last August, and was later mixed at Bordello Recording Rooms in Norway by John Fryer. Woods of Ypres were represented on "Woods V" by the late David Gold on vocals, guitar, and drums (returning to the studio drum position for the first time since "Woods III"), and Joel Violette on lead guitar, bass, and piano in his only appearance on a Woods of Ypres LP (though he was on their "Home" vinyl single from last spring too.) Guest performances by cellist Raphael Weinroth-Brown & oboist Angela Scheilhauf are also featured on this album, as they were on 2009's "Woods IV: The Green Album".

This album can currently be purchased online via Earache Records' online store for $12 or more on CD and/or vinyl packages, and (mostly) on iTunes in mp3 format for $9.99 or 99¢ for individual tracks, and it's worth looking for at physical stores locally and elsewhere! Click the above links to pick "W5" up online if you want, and even if you choose to stream the album for free online or download a torrent, support this album and purchase it in some form! Featuring 11 tracks at 62 minutes in length in most formats, this is slightly shorter than Woods of Ypres' more recent studio albums, but does it live up to the posthumous hype? Let's start this review, and each song title below is linked to a YouTube upload of it! (Updated on November 6th, 2012)

"Woods V" begins with "Lightning & Snow", which starts with heavy and sort of ominous riffing and nicely paced drumming, building into a hard charging verse that is unquestionably Woods of Ypres! The guitar work is great here, and it's nice to see a Woods of Ypres album launch with a heavier track and David Gold's more aggressive metal singing! The song seems to signal change in a flash leading to personal misfortune, with lightning as a metaphor, and they're solid lyrics that are well sung, though the doomier chorus kills some momentum. Joel Violette lives up to Bryan Belleau's standards on lead guitar, and his solo here is well played, though a bit too short. This track reminds me of "The Northern Cold" in ways, though more aggressive and advanced, and it's a great way to launch this album, though it's not a perfect track. The solo's too short, the choruses lose momentum, and the ending's abrupt, but the verses and instrumental sections make this an awesome doom metal track, and already a definite highlight of "Woods V"! However, I'll note that the mood of this album will get slowly bleaker.

Second is "Death Is Not An Exit", which is one of two tracks to supply the subtitle of this album in it's lyrics. The song has a lighter and more scattered opening with higher pitched clean singing referring to what death means, and be warned, there's much eerier lyrics than this on this album. Eschewing harsh vocals completely, this song has a dreamier feel while still being heavy and dark in the verses and choruses, and the instruments take a back seat to the vocals until Joel's guitar solo, which is slower but longer and no less well played. I like the orchestral elements on this track too, which add to the latter half of the song and give it a more epic feel. This isn't a criticism, but "Death Is Not An Exit" has a more commercial feel than "Lighning & Snow", while still retaining a darker feel with nice passionate singing, and it's a solid track, but I'd like to see more pronounced instrumentation in the first half. The end of the song sounds almost like a trigger click, and unintentional or not, it adds to the feel and environment, for better or worse. This isn't as heavy of a song as "Lightning & Snow", but it has a good feel and interesting lyrics, and "Woods V" is definitely off to a solid start!

Following that is "Keeper of the Ledger", a song referring to the "agreement" made with the title character to return one's body to the earth after death to "pay the price for your existence". It launches with a slower doom metal intro and harsh black metal-esque singing, with good guitar and bass playing and nice well written, though dark lyrics. The chorus doesn't do much for me though, I'd prefer David had sang it in a darker tone, as it doesn't line up as well. It's not as fast and heavy as some Woods of Ypres tracks, but the heavy lyrical topic meshes with the song well, and the guitar solo is really nice on this track as well, and is the piano interlude! The song itself doesn't have much of a bite though, but it's a nice song with interesting meanings and some solid instrumentation, and it'd have been cool to hear live! Then comes "Travelling Alone", a song about world travel, different cultures, and discussions about God & existence. It's a slower metal track, though more upbeat in it's tone initially, and with a nice orchestral tinge as well. The lyrics are great, and David's singing flows well with the guitar melodies, but if you're hoping for a blistering metal track, this isn't it. That said, this is one of my favourite early tracks on "W5" for it's melody, instrumentation, and lyrical content, and it makes you think in a lot of ways. I just wish the ending wasn't so abrupt, it felt like it was building to a heavy last act. Very good song though, and definitely one of my top tracks!

Fifth on "Woods V" is "Adora Vivos", which is Spanish for "love the living." After a techno-ish opening, the song launches into a very heavy assault with great drumming, before more reserved singing kicks in, where David talks about not worshipping the dead and giving your love and attention to living people rather than the deceased who won't know or acknowledge the praise. That almost sounds like a posthumous message to fans and friends, but that's a speculative idea I had when listening to this song. "Adora Vivos" takes on a very harsh attack aside from a couple of verses, with an aggressive melody and a very determined lyrical message, and it nicely blends a heavy and faster paced metal song with softer dark singing. This is probably my favourite song on "Woods V" since "Lightning & Snow", and easily one of this album's heaviest tracks, though I'd like to have seen a guitar solo and some louder clean singing in with the aggression and David's great drumming!

The middle of "W5" is marked with "Silver", which seems to be written as a message & to a loved one following their break-up, with the song's title referring to finishing in second place. The beat of this song is really catchy, partly thanks to the drumming, but the singing is very reserved and low, and you can feel sorrow in David's singing. This song isn't one of my favourites, probably because it doesn't commit to being a doom ballad like the lyrical content would suggest, and it's too up-tempo for the material. It doesn't mesh as well as it could in my opinion, and it could be longer, but it's very well written and has nice backing guitar work, and it's certainly not a bad song! It's followed by track 7, "Career Suicide (Is Not Real Suicide)", which strikes me as this album's equivalent of "Wet Leather" from "Woods IV". It has that same vibe, just with higher tempo and faster choruses, and honestly, those really bring this song down. The repetitive higher pitched singing is a bit off-putting, and it seems too commercial in tone, especially with it's short length. This was the first song leaked online from "W5" last year, and it didn't leave a great first impression, though Joel's guitar solo is excellent, and the verses are alright. It just struck me as "Wet Leather (Part 2)", and it didn't take as many risks or dark turns as I was hoping or expecting. Is it a bad song? Not at all, but it pales compared to the earlier tracks on "W5".

Eighth is "Modern Life Architecture", a song which seems to be about building your ideal life, only to see it crumble despite attempts to rebuild it. It starts in epic doom nature with some piano playing in the background, and it maintains this grand sort of feel when the verses kick in, with very low singing and solid continued piano accompaniment. Though this isn't a blistering metal track, it perfectly matches the right singing with the right music, and it's more what I hoped "Career Suicide" should sound like. It's also long compared to the earlier tracks on "W5", but no minutes are wasted here, and there's some very nice guitar riffs underneath everything on here. The song's very methodical in pacing, but it has an ominous feel and improves on the preceding track a lot, so it's well worth giving a listen to!

Following that is the first of three very depressing songs that close "Woods V", that being "Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)", an 11 minute long doom ballad that was notably broken into two halves in it's original form. Both halves of the song are about seemingly letting go of someone after they die and kissing their ashes goodbye, continuing themes heard in "Adora Vivos". The first half of this song is of a noticeably heavier and more energetic tone than the second half, feeling similar to "Career Suicide" in it's verses while having a much slower and doomier chorus. It's a weird contrast at times, going from a fast paced doom metal track to an epic and orchestral-influenced funeral ballad in the choruses. The big flaw with the first half is that David's singing is sometimes too low to be heard casually, but aside from that, the opening half of this song does what it accomplishes well, and has some nice heavy stretches. The second half of the song (and first chunk we heard from it) is very different in tone though, going into full doom ballad mode, with David singing perhaps his lowest registered vocals ever on a Woods of Ypres song, and the band employing a much slower, doomier, and more intricate sound, with a nice guitar solo as well. It's definitely a depressing end, especially knowing that David really did pass on, but it's almost a fitting way to cap the song, which has a lot of contrasting sounds, but makes it's point and is very well written in the process. Just don't go into the second half unprepared, or you won't appreciate it the same.

The penultimate song on "Woods V" is "Finality", which sounds like a letter to a loved one who David vowed to still love even if they "left the world apart". With a slow piano intro, this track definitely starts sadly, with short though affecting singing from David that definitely brings the mood to a low point with it's sad messages about finality and love. Draw your own conclusions about how this connected to real events, but there's no doubt in my mind that this song had real personal connections. It's definitely touching with nice orchestral sounds and very good low singing from David that definitely sounds authentic to how he felt, and for what this song is, it's very well done. The album ends with "Alternate Ending", which is again about longing for a lost love and "changing the ending" to get the ideal result, while alluding to driving on the highway, which you could probably connect to real events as well if you're in that mindset. This is honestly probably the most depressing of the final three songs on "W5" with it's eerie & almost real images, and it definitely strikes a low note while attaining a epic funeral doom feel throughout. I sometimes complain about local bands not ending and starting their albums the right way, but for the tone and imagery of this album, it was organized perfectly, and this song ending things just seems fitting, for better or worse. It's my favourite of this low trilogy at the end of the album, but be warned, these last two and a half songs require the right mindset to enjoy and take in.

Limited edition vinyl pressings of "Woods V" also feature an exclusive bonus track, that being a special producer's mix of "Finality" by Siegfried Meier. Though very similar on a comparative listen, Siegfried's mix is more reserved and 17 seconds shorter than the normal version, giving it a softer, less guitar driven sound that would lend itself to an acoustic cover better. It's an interesting take on this very morose song, and if you have "W5" on vinyl, don't let this track slip you by! If you don't have the vinyl copy of it, this version is available on download sites.

So, how do I grade "Woods V: Grey Skies & Electric Light" Well, I have to say, this may be the toughest album I've ever had to review for the SMS. It's one thing to do it when there's so much low and downbeat lyrical content, but with David's passing just three months ago and the connections of many of these songs to mortality, it's hard to look at in an objective sense, but I'll try my best. Musically, David Gold and Joel Violette crafted a great record here with lots of creative, affecting, dark, and proficiently written material. David's singing is probably at the best we'll ever hear on a Woods of Ypres album, though the move away from harsher black metal singing continued here, and his guitar work and drumming were about as good as expected, while Joel's lead guitar & bass work was awesome, and his piano contributions added a lot to many tracks. The cello & oboe additions gave some songs a grand epic ambiance, which I'm always in favour of! I really enjoyed songs like "Lightning & Snow" and "Adora Vivos" for their doom metal onslaughts, while (if you're in the right frame of mind) slower ballads like "Travelling Alone" and "Alternate Ending" strike the right chord for their messages and styles, and there's not one bad song on this album, which is good to know!

Posthumously, this album has gotten a lot higher praise than Woods of Ypres' first four albums, but is it perfect? No, but no album is. There wasn't as many guitar solos or harsh vocals as I'd like, songs like "Career Suicide" and "Silver" didn't live up to other songs on this album, a couple of tracks seem to be missing a heavier stretch, and if you don't like depressing music, then you won't appreciate much of "W5". I really enjoyed this album and the messages it gives, but is it Woods of Ypres' best album? I don't think I can accurately say whether it is or isn't. It's a great last testament, so to speak, and I can definitively say it's better than "Against The Seasons", but I'd need to hear the last 4 albums in close proximity to really judge. I think the real legacy of "Woods V" will largely lie in the themes, lyrics, and messages it presented, and how they affected the listener beyond as just the spoken word in the song. It's a great album for doom metal fans who can take their metal dark and downbeat, and in a sense, the lyrics' connection (intentional or not) with David's real death in December 2011 will always linger and hover over this music. The songs, especially the last 3, have an eerie quality that suggests that David sang about his own finality. Whether this is accurate or not, I may never know, but it's open for discussion.

David sung on "Woods V" about not worshipping the dead and just letting them go, and yet posthumously, he's gotten some of the biggest & most positive press of his career for it, which does contradict his own messages to the listener on this album. Whether Woods of Ypres' praise is amplified due to his passing or not is up for debate, but for an artist as talented as he was, I'd say that he's more than deserving of posthumous accolades & attention. Some reviewers may not have given this album such a high grade if David was still alive, but this is still an important and excellent album that fittingly caps the Woods of Ypres discography. David's not physically with us anymore, but with his music, he always will be, and if "W5" is his legacy, then he left quite the album to go out on. I highly recommend buying it and going to the David Gold memorial concerts in Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto next weekend, because even if he didn't want us to memorialize him in death, he deserves the attention without any doubt. R.I.P. David!

I hope you guys liked this month's CD review! For next month at the SMS, we WILL be reviewing Sault Michigan/Grand Rapids epic metal band End of Existence's self titled debut album! There's no chance it won't be that, because I have it and it's already been a month since it came out, so it's due for a look! I hope to get it in within the next week, so keep an eye out for it, along with our next feature post (our April 2012 "Where Are The New Albums?" post) on Monday, and more news to come! Thanks everyone!

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