Sunday, September 30, 2012

Woods Of Ypres - "Woods III: The Deepest Roots & Darkest Blues" Review!!

It's now time for our 39th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and this month, we're looking at defunct local blackened doom metal standouts Woods of Ypres' third album "Woods III: The Deepest Roots & Darkest Blues"! Released on January 3rd, 2008, this album was recorded at Obsidian Sound Studios & Chemical Sound Studios in Toronto in 2006 & 2007, and it was their last black metal-centric studio album, their last studio album released through Krankenhaus Records, & their last album before relocating to Sault Ste. Marie. On this CD, Woods of Ypres were represented by the late David Gold on vocals, guitar, and drums, alongside producer Dan Hulse on bass & backing vocals, and "Woods II" returnee Jessica Rose on the keyboard. Though currently not in print, "W3" can be purchased officially through iTunes at this location, and CD copies of the album are fairly easy to track down online! There might be some local copies floating around too, and while it can be found online in various free forms (each song title below is linked to a YouTube upload of it), I'd still pick the CD up to support David's memory & the band's work!

Note as well that this will be our last review of a Woods of Ypres studio album (as we've already reviewed the other 4), but we should begin reviewing their singles & compilations next year. With 15 songs clocking in at over 72 minutes of music, this could be a long one, so let's begin with the opening track!

"Woods III" opens with the album's single "The Northern Cold", which opens with sounds of nature and the forest before launching into a guitar and keyboard intro which leads into harsh black metal vocals and a quickening pace and solidly fast drumming. Oddly starting with the chorus first before any verses, we get a nice mix of David's clean vocals and Dan's backing death growls conveying well the love of the northern cold and why exactly David feels at home there. The balance of singing styles is really well done, and the backing music is catchy and mixes melodic styling and heavy riffs & drumming really well! That said, the keyboards aren't too clear on heavier stretches, and the lack of a guitar solo is disappointing (as it will be on the rest of the CD), but "The Northern Cold" is a great & catchy black metal song that feels like a natural extension of Woods of Ypres' early roots in the genre, while also hinting at their doom metal future in many ways, so this is a solid start to their third album!

Second on the CD is "Iron Grudge", which starts off in very heavy fashion with very fast and brutal black metal riffing and drumming, and it shows Woods of Ypres in very brutal fashion with some welcome orchestral elements thrown in! Lyrically referring to holding an "iron grudge" against an unnamed opposer, this song feels like something that might have been on "Against the Seasons" had David been the band's frontman at the time, judging by it's extra melody and shorter length, and as it's a straightforward black metal song, there's no clean vocals to be found. That said, "Iron Grudge" does feel repetitive after a while, and a guitar solo or a softer section would have helped to break it up. As well, the vocals are a bit too quiet, but this is an effectively brutal black metal song that fans of Woods of Ypres' early output should eat up!

Song #3 is "Your Ontario Town Is A Burial Ground", which is arguably the most popular song locally from "W3", despite it's lyrical content alluding to Sault Ste. Marie as one of many northern "burial grounds" that some dislike or aspire to leave. The truth and real feelings behind the song can be debated, but the song's entertainment value can't be, in my opinion! Aside from a late harshly-sung verse & some backing growls, this song is largely done cleanly & resembles a sped up version of Woods of Ypres' later releases, with a slower intro, melodic guitar & keyboard melodies, and deep clean vocals that show David's improving range nicely! "Your Ontario Town..." is helped by being very catchy and easy to get into & sing along with, and while it's not overly heavy, the feelings & themes ring a bell and do keep my attention! Dan's bass work stands out as well, and while it's not a terribly risky song, it's easy to see why "Your Ontario Town..." was the only "W3" song to survive in the band's 2010-2011 setlists, given it's catchy heaviness & interesting messages!

Fourth on "The Deepest Roots..." is "Through Chaos & Solitude I Came...", another heavy black metal number that does hint in atmosphere and clean vocals to their later doom material! Lyrically alluding to life on the road and David's connection to black metal & the north, this feels more like what "Iron Grudge" should have with a more broken up and melodic take on black metal, and the band are firing on most cylinders here! David's singing & drumming are as good as you'd expect at this point, and Dan's bass work is heavy and low to go with everything, and my only real musical quibble (guitar solos aside) is that Jessica should have been a bit louder here. Still, this is one of the early highlights on "Woods III", and it blends Woods of Ypres' old & new styles really well!

That's followed by "Years of Silence (and the Private Joke)", a song which seems to allude to the breakdown of a relationship & how only they knew that they'd become the joke in question. Building gradually into a very melodic (but up-tempo) metal song, with David singing at different tempos and emotional levels, only minimally using black metal influences. While different from it's surrounding tracks, the members are playing at a high level with nice melodies and solid keyboard work, and it has an oddly happy mood at points, so it works on that basis! That said, if you're looking for a heavier and more brutal song, this isn't it. Sixth is "Distractions of Living Alone", a 6 minute+ black metal number about the somewhat grim thought processes and feelings developed from living alone. A very slowly paced first half alludes to future output musically, before increasing in heaviness and black metal intensity midway through, before changing back to a slower (if more epic) closing stretch, which helps this song not drag despite it's length. This is a very well done and thought out song by all members, and it does have a lonely vibe to it, with a sound that should appeal to all eras of Woods of Ypres fans, even if it's not the most positive song!

The seventh & eighth songs are "Deepest Roots: The Belief That All Is Lost" & "Darkest Blues: The Relief That Nothing Can Be Done", which are essentially one long 7 minute track about mortality & how life would exist without you, with other intriguing northern elements. Despite being broken in two parts, like the opening songs on "Against the Seasons", I think it'd be best to review them as one complete song. Abruptly beginning with black metal vocals and a slow swinging melody, the pace slowly builds to a soft clean section that seems too timid for the genre, before reverting to the earlier feel. The "Deepest Roots" section, barely 2:12 in length, doesn't stand on it's own well as more than an intro, but things pick up greatly in the "Darkest Blues" portion, unleashing into a black metal fury with plenty of aggression and great bass work and blasting drums! The choruses are really catchy, and Jessica's keyboard parts really add to the atmosphere of "Darkest Blues", including a solo-ish section late, which I welcome! The last 40 seconds or so take on a dirge-like doomy quality, which add a nice ending to this 7 minute epic, which covered a lot of ground! You guys are best served to listen to these tracks together, but split up, "Deepest Roots" doesn't stand on it's own compared to "Darkest Blues" and it's brutal intensity.

Next on "Woods III" is "The Thrill of the Struggle", which seems to be about striving to live and move on despite a breakup of a relationship, and embracing the related challenges. It leads from a soft guitar intro into a black metal fury with nicely audible keyboard accompaniment and suitably aggressive singing! The choruses are promising and have a nice hook, but the vocals strike me as too layered into the music. The song is great for fans of Woods of Ypres' black metal era, but the vocals are inconsistent late, with too loud backing vocals and way too low clean singing on the first "Brutal North" section, but the music is at a high level throughout, and the drumming and riffs are great as I'd expect! Never boring, "The Thrill of the Struggle" is an well done black metal song with great lyrics, but if only the vocals stayed consistent throughout! Tenth is "December in Windsor", a song that alludes to flashbacks to an event in David's life in Windsor in December 2002, and what it helped lead to years later. A melodic and softer song, it feels almost like a more developed version of  "Shedding the Deadwood" from "Woods II", and it has that folkier feel while integrating some heaviness in the backing music. Short enough to not get repetitive, this song succeeds at it's aims, and it's got a laid back (yet serious) feel that works, but black metal fans may not get it.

The eleventh track is "Trillium: The Third of Three Winters, 2004-2007", which is notable as the only recorded instrumental by Woods of Ypres for one of their album releases! A slower black metal instrumental (until the last minute), it has many swings in mood and heaviness, and it's full of great guitar riffing and soft keyboard backing, along with solid drumming and pounding bass, but it feels like a song that was intended to have vocals at one point before being removed from the final product. Still, "Trillium" is an effective instrumental that Woods of Ypres fans should readily enjoy, especially if you loved their early output! That's followed by "Song of Redemption", another ballad-esque original which is themed around an older man trying to redeem himself for past mistakes by playing a song from his youth. Like "December in Windsor", it has a laid back style without getting depressing, yet it's lyrics have a serious vibe of reflection, but unlike that song, there's more metal influences & piano audibility, with the latter half of the song building more and more while maintaining the soft feel. It's my favourite of the softer songs on "Woods III" for it's diversity and length, but if you crave harsh vocals, the drought for that continues here.

Thirteenth is "End of Tradition", which opens with Jessica playing a graceful piano opening for about 30 seconds before the full band launches into gear. Lyrically referring to cutting long-standing relationship ties (the tradition in question), the song takes on a slower but heavy vibe early before reintroducing black metal vocals and some welcome aggression and intensity with fast paced drumming, but the clean singing on this track seems tired & unenergetic. The bass work seems to blend with the music early as well, but the second half of the song is much stronger than the first half, with more variance and anger, despite the lacking clean singing. "End of Tradition" is well done, but not consistent, and I'd like to see the energy of the second half applied to the vocals and the first half to make it an album highlight. Second last on "W3" is "To Lock Eyes With A Wild Beast", a strongly worded track calling out those who falsely believe they're who they're not. Aggressive from the start with venomous harsh singing and great pounding riffs and drumming, Taking pages from their future doom sound midway through the track, this song goes through different speeds and moods to convey it's message, including some out of place clean singing & a sudden ending, but it all adds up to a brutal black metal track that should impress and get the blood boiling!

Finally on "Woods III" is "Mistakes Artists Make (The Dream Is Dead)", a seeming indictment on making it in the music industry and the errors and setbacks along the way. Opening very heavily with nice orchestral keyboard work and a black metal fury. The black metal parts are great and fit the moods of earlier songs, but with better keyboard parts (or at least louder ones), but the clean vocals sound somewhat tired again. It's odd that the album ends on such a critical note relating to the music industry, but "Mistakes Artists Make" has the requisite fury and moods to match up with earlier songs, and the soft outro helps end this album on a warm & well performed note!

So, how do I grade Woods of Ypres' third album? Well, let me just say this first: This is my favourite Woods of Ypres studio album. To me, "W3" reaches the best of both worlds, incorporating the best of Woods of Ypres' black metal beginnings and their doom metal final years, striking a generally good balance between harsh northern black metal and more melodic and intricate styles of the genre! I'm not a scholar of black metal compared to some other genres, but Woods of Ypres hit the right note here to correct many issues of their other albums, including lots of melody, few empty stretches, and not many depressing themes. For the performers themselves, David Gold was really starting to come into his own here as a clean vocalist, and his harsh singing was more refined and clear than those of his old bandmates on "Against the Seasons", while his guitar and drum work flowed really well throughout this release! Dan Hulse proved a qualified bassist (and producer) in his only Woods album appearance, with his death metal backing growls usually adding nicely to the songs, while Jessica Rose's keyboard work was very good when clearly audible, and it's a shame she didn't stick around on future releases!

That all said, there are things I'd change despite my enjoyment of "Woods III". The clean singing definitely seemed to wear out and get tired late in the album, while some of the mixes left some instruments buried amongst the other performers (especially the keyboard early on.) Largest of all to me was the lack of guitar solos, which weren't on Woods of Ypres' prior 2 albums either, but they'd have helped to put this album even further up the ladder than it is. Knowing the solos that Bryan Belleau & Joel Violette supplied on their last 2 CDs, it's fun to speculate how they'd have added to or changed the "W3" material had they played guitar solos on them. Still, this is by far my favourite Woods CD, and reflecting back on it now, it does serve as somewhat of a transitional release between the band's Southern Ontario black metal era & their Northern Ontario doom metal era. It's disappointing that this album wasn't well represented at future Woods concerts (I think only 4 songs on the CD were played live), but hopefully it and Woods of Ypres' other studio albums continue to live on in the metal community for a long time to come, and hopefully somewhere, David knows how loved and respected Woods of Ypres remain to this day!

I hope you guys liked this month's CD review at the SMS! So, what's coming up next week? I'm not sure, but of course, a new release will gain precedence. For new albums, "Dragon Joy Ride" by Haggith has been gaining the most buzz in recent weeks in terms of an imminent release, but I've heard talk from acts like The Hubbard-Menard Band across the river too, not to mention the various albums from our monthly "Where Are The New Albums?" series, so who knows what's on the horizon? If nothing new comes out by Halloween, we'll dip into the archives, but for what album? I'm leaning towards "Let The Hammers Fly" (pictured), the initial 2008 demo by defunct local hardcore quartet Detroit, as their drummer is playing in town at the end of the month (more on that in a future news post.) Things would change if something new comes out, so stay tuned to the SMS for any possible updates on our next CD review as they come in, and stay tuned for more news and notes shortly! Thanks everyone!

No comments: