Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Heart of Gold: A Tribute to Woods of Ypres" CD Review!!

With a quiet news stretch upon us, I thought now would be a great time for this month's CD review at the SMS (our 49th overall), and this month, we're finally looking at "Heart of Gold: A Tribute To Woods of Ypres"! Our first ever review of a multiple-artist compilation on here (and second ever double album review), this set is in honour and memory of both Juno winning local blackened doom metal band Woods of Ypres and their late frontman David Gold, who passed away in December 2011. Featuring 19 covers of Woods of Ypres material, this album was released digitally on May 17th with a physical release (featuring full liner notes) in the pre-order stages. Each song was self-recorded by their individual performers last year, with mastering later done by respected Swedish metal musician Dan Swano (Edge of Sanity, Bloodbath, etc.), though a few previously announced covers and artists from past announcements dropped out before the final deadlines. You can buy "Heart of Gold" for $10 (or higher if you want) at the album's Bandcamp page, and until CD copies are fully funded and available, you can only pre-order a copy by sending $20 as a PayPal gift with mailing & e-mail addresses provided to pkuhr@comcast.net.

Now, as this is a tribute album (and 100% covers), I won't get overly critical or lengthy with my thoughts on each song, as that would contradict the intent and reasoning of "Heart of Gold". This is in tribute to a great musician taken way too soon, these artists took the time to cover David's work, and that's good enough, but I will offer comparisons, personal thoughts, and recommendations. And yes, while no band on here is based out of the Soo, they're all covering and honouring one of the biggest bands to come out of the region, so it definitely fits. That said, let's begin with a look at the first song, and for convenience, each song is linked below to a streaming copy, but buy it to support their work and David's legacy!

"Heart of Gold" opens with a cover of "Thrill of the Struggle" from 2008's "Woods III: The Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues" by Warwick, Quebec "gaul metal" quartet Catuvolcus. A rare English-language recording for them, it takes a more extreme black/death metal spin on the original with some extra melody, but largely follows the original in sound and structure. Pierre-Alexandre Plessix's vocals have nice effortless diversity in switching from black metal shrieking to growling, and the band collectively tackles the original with a lot of fury that suits their style! I'd tone the clean vocals down a bit, but Catuvolcus still prove more than capable of tackling this solid Woods song and making it their own! Second is an instrumental cover of "Adora Vivos" from 2012's Juno winning "Woods V: Grey Skies & Electric Light" by Ottawa cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne, who did session work on both of Woods of Ypres' last two albums, including on the original version of "Adora Vivos"! Generally faithful to the original with some lengthened parts, it's grand & well performed, effectively softening one of the heaviest "W5" tracks, and I like how the vocal melody on the cello is somewhat muted, almost in tribute to David's absence. I wonder how this would sound synched up with the original?

Third is another "W5" cover, this time of "Lightning & Snow" by Chicago folk metal band Earthen, which differs with both increased keyboard input and no harsh vocals whatsoever, though Milosh Gabrilo's singing is up to the task at new creating flowing melodies for the verses! Another well done cover, keeping the heaviness and structure while adding their own style, and Drake Mefestta's keyboard work helps set this cover apart, so fans of both Woods of Ypres and folk metal should appreciate this!  That's followed by a cover of "Falling Apart" from the 2011 vinyl single "Home" (from the "Woods 4.5" sessions), this time by Swedish death metal sextet Canopy. Similar but heavier with much more aggressive growling, there's a wall of brutal guitar work in this cover (the solo comes through really well), and these guys definitely have the original down nicely from top to bottom, while throwing their own edge on it! One could argue that the "Home" single isn't that well known, but hopefully this quality cover helps the cause!

Song #5 is a cover of "A Meeting Place & Time" from 2002's debut EP "Against The Seasons" Cold Winter Heat" (a.k.a. Woods I), this time by Toronto black metal quartet Panzerfaust. The first of 7 bands on the album to cover a song that they played live at last April's Woods of Ypres tribute concerts in Ontario, this rendition is faithful but with a greater use of harsh vocals, with Goliath's brutal growling honestly seeming like it belongs on a faster and more intense song than this. Musically, it's very similar to the original with little deviation, but it's still played excellently, and early Woods fans should enjoy it! I just wish the growling suited the mood more. Then, we have a cover of "Finality" from "Woods V", this time by the one-off acoustic duo Kuhrzarth, featuring November's Doom frontman Paul Kuhr and Goddamn Zombie guitarist Will Bozarth. Arguably the most emotional song on "Heart of Gold" so far, Paul & Will take a much quainter and softer take on this track, which is amplified with Paul and his young daughter Rhiannon sharing vocals during one verse. It's minimalistic, but it's supposed to be, and knowing how friendly the guys were with David, this is a very fitting tribute and atmosphere!

Slovenian post-metal trio Anemic provides the next cover, of "The Sun Was In My Eyes (Part Doom)" from 2004's "Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth" (a.k.a. "Woods II"). This version follows the original structure but has an experimental distortion going on (especially with Rok Kodba's vocals) that gives it a unique essence, though I'll note that the clean singing is the most similar to the original track that I've heard so far. The effects and programming helps make this song feel like an Anemic original at points, but the original song comes through well enough, and if the experimental nature of it isn't off putting to you, then you should enjoy it! Another foreign trio, Italian neofolk band Albireon, provides the next cover of "Retrosleep In The Morning Calm" from 2009's "Woods IV: The Green Album", which is by far the most different cover on the album so far. Acoustic and slower than the original, yes, but it also makes use of their existing folk base along with interesting programming effects (like a beeping heart effect), less reliance on singing, and piano-heavy instrumentation (especially at the start and end.) I like where they went to deviate from the original, and it has a European flavour, but don't go in expecting a close match with the original.

Second last on the first CD is the set's only live cover, a rendition of "Suicide Cargoload (Drag That Weight)" from "Woods IV", this time by Windsor sludge metal band Gypsy Chief Goliath, though I'm not sure on a definitive location for this performance. Good quality for the recording though, and Alex Petrovich (a former bandmate of David's in Mister Bones) has very intense vocals for this cover, which fit the song well! The music itself is faithful, if played faster than the original, with solid riffing and good pacing on the drums, though the song fades out too soon (possibly to mask the crowd?) Solid and heavy cover though, and fans should like it! The first disc closes with a cover of "Career Suicide (Is Not Real Suicide)" from "Woods V" by Reliquus, a Montreal solo project led by Fearsome & Sacrifycia frontman Nicholas "Leather King" Plourde. The production is lesser on this recording, but I honestly like Nicholas' vocals better than the original song, as they're done harsh throughout and don't sound too commercial like the original song did at times. The music's good and close to the original (vocals aside), and the only concern is the production quality, but if he does take Reliquus further than just this tribute song, I'd say they can find success!

Disc 2 opens with a cover of "Wet Leather" from "Woods IV" by Chicago doom metal notables Novembers Doom, and it's a very faithful cover that retains both the heavy and melancholy vibe of the original! I will say that frontman Paul Kuhr (who appeared with Kuhrzarth on the first disc) doesn't sing with the same strength that David did on the original song, but his dark tone fits it well in it's own right, and Mike Feldman's bass work also works nicely on this cover! It doesn't deviate too far from the original, but you can tell it's a Novembers Doom song, and the guys nail it as you'd expect! It's followed by a cover of "Crossing The 45th Parallel" from "Against The Seasons" by Toronto black metal quintet Eclipse Eternal (though I must ask why it's not after the cover of "The Shams of Optimism on this disc? They're companion songs, after all.) Longer than the original, the production strikes me as a bit tinny, with Voldamares' vocals low in the mix, but it retains the black metal vibe and essence of the original song, and after a while, it does share a lot of similarities with the original! Very strong instrumental work with a bit of extra melody at times, and the guys keep things heavy and epic throughout!

A cover of "Allure of the Earth" from "Woods II" follows, this time by Sudbury folk/melodic metal trio Amaranth, and it reminds me in ways of Kuhrzarth's "Finality" cover, albeit with more of an orchestral vibe. Singer Mark Howitt (who local fans may remember from Wolven Ancestry) handles the mood of this doom ballad well, though his voice is stronger on the first half. The music is solid and slightly fuller than the original, partly thanks to Darren Favot's cello work and a more atmospheric take on the original song, and it works in it's own way! Oshawa black metal quartet Pagan Ritual provides the next cover, of the aforementioned "The Shams of Optimism" from "Woods I", and I actually like this version more than the original, probably thanks to the stronger harsh vocals from Jaron Broome and the better production that really helps the heaviness and instrumental talents shine through, especially solid drumming from Andrew Chalmers. I'd be very curious to hear them tackle a longer Woods song, but they do a fine job here, improving on the original and staying faithful to it all at once!

Fifth on the second CD is a cover of "Silver" from "Woods V", this time by two surviving members of Woods of Ypres' final lineup, including guitarist/co-writer Joel Violette and drummer Rae Amitay (who joined after the "W5" recording sessions, but never played with the band before David's death.) Featuring Rae on lead vocals with Joel on the piano, this version's much softer and more minimal than the original, but even more powerful and dark, and the emotions of their lost bandmate are clear as day. Rae really has a strong clean singing voice that she should use more in her music, and Joel's piano work serves as a very fitting backing track to suit the mood. Their current work in Thrawsunblat is much heavier, but as we saw at the local David Gold tribute, Joel & Rae have great chemistry in this style of music, and hopefully we'll hear more of this sort of material down the road!

Pickering black metal quartet Begotten provides the next cover, of "The Sea of Immesaurable Loss" from "Woods I", and it flows with the original fairly well, with the biggest difference being Thomas Learner's higher pitched harsh vocals, which remind me a bit of Chuck Schuldiner or Devon Lucier in tone. They'd almost fit a faster song better, but it gives this cover a spark, and the clean vocals fit well also! Talented band, even if this cover generally takes no risks from the original, though the added acoustic guitar outro adds some poignance to this solid rendition!  Seventh on the disc is a cover of "Shedding The Deadwood" from "Pursuit of the Sun..." by North Bay blackened death metal quartet Empyrean Plague, and I will say, this cover sounds better than it did live at the Ypres Metal Fest, as they're playing it more to their musical strengths, including playing it at a higher pitch that better matches Mike Burge's clean singing voice. The structure of the song also had some tweaking to mixed results (parts sound muddled), and the backing death growls seem out of place on this ballad, but it feels more like an Empyrean Plague song rather than a direct cover, and that works!

The second last cover on "Heart of Gold" is of Woods of Ypres' only instrumental "Trillium: The Third Of Three Winters, 2004-2007" from "Woods III", this time in a solo performance by Justin Bender, guitarist in the Regina progressive metal band Into Eternity. Close to the original structurally, Justin's background in a more melodic and fast paced band helps differentiate this cover with a somewhat more upbeat and melodic sound while retaining it's heavier qualities, especially late, and this cover is a fitting and respectful rendition that I have no qualms with! The album oddly closes with a cover of the intro of "Woods II" ("The Looming of Dust In The Dark") by popular Toronto metal podcast host The Governor (of The Governor's Ball) and Eclipse Eternal keyboardist Carver (who was on their cover of "Crossing The 45th Parallel" on this disc.) If you like Rae & Joel's cover of "Silver", then you should like this, as it's another soft keys & vocals cover, though this one contrasts grand keyboard work with The Gov's soft and reserved clean vocals, giving a nice emotional feel to this adaptation of the "Woods II" opening track!

So, what are my final thoughts on "Heart of Gold: A Tribute To Woods of Ypres"? Well, I have to commend every performer on the disc, plus Steph LeDrew, Paul Kuhr, Dan Swano, the late Rob Cranny, and everyone else for all of their work in making this project a reality! These covers are all very good in their own ways at both honouring David Gold's memory and the legacy that Woods of Ypres left in their 9 year run, with the production quality and mixing tending to be very good! It's not right to compare and critique favourite songs on a tribute album of this nature, but I'll say that if you like your covers to be faithful to the original versions, unique to reflect the new band's style, or downbeat and reserved to match the mood, then you'll find something you'll like, and this is a must buy for die-hard Woods of Ypres fans! Aside from the lack of the album booklet in the digital release, my only complaints would lie in the song order (especially on the second disc) and exclusions from the final product, mainly due to band dropouts and a lack of covers from my favourite Woods of Ypres album ("Woods III"), but that's just a personal note.

I was very curious to hear Kittie & The Bear Hunters' studio covers especially, but maybe we'll get more in some form in the future, either from online postings or a sequel album. Also, the low amount of Woods of Ypres alumni & other former bandmates of David's on the album was surprising (by my count, only Joel Violette, Rae Amitay, and Alex Petrovich were in one of his bands), but all of the featured performers were affected by David's music and passing in some way, and they took the time to be a part of this album and deserve plenty of kudos for their work! Whether they were friends, bandmates, or just enjoyed his music, this album is proof of David's successes in Canadian metal, and the impact he left in life and death, and Woods of Ypres fans would serve themselves well to buy "Heart of Gold" to remember David, Woods of Ypres, and the music left behind. Pick up this album at the above links or pre-order a physical copy A.S.A.P.! Our next (and 50th) CD review at the SMS will be of local death metal quartet Crimson Crusade's debut EP "Upon The Eve Of War", likely early next month, so stay tuned for that in August!

That's all for today, but stay tuned for previews of a huge concert weekend coming up in the Twin Saults, plus more news, last month's poll results, and this month's poll! Thanks everyone!

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