Archive for the ‘Woods of Desolation’ Category

Review: Woods of Desolation

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Woods of Desolation, the project formed by the musician from New South Wales who goes by the sobriquet of ‘D’, has already produced a fine catalogue of solo and split releases over the course of the last seven years. Whilst earning plenty of praise from those who pay close attention to the waves of blackgaze and other black metal deviations that swept through metal scenes in the last decade, WoD has never really obtained the breakthrough level of recognition achieved that has been hinted at in their work. But with the increasing and consistent praise that their forthcoming release As the Stars has been receiving since a full length preview was made available for streaming via Stereogum in mid-January (with the consequence that an inferior bootleg has already made its way on to iTunes and Spotify), one can feel that there could well be the potential for this being about to change. Given what has made acts like Alcest and Deafheaven so relatively successful, the whole package of “As the Stars” poses the question, ‘And why not?’

D has consistently thrown a changeup when it comes to the other musicians that he chooses to work with on each full length album progressively released. For As the Stars, Vlad from the Ukrainian group Drudkh was asked to contribute the drum work, whilst Old (from Perth act Drohtnung) has lent his considerable vocal talents. D has stated that Vlad and Old were given significant creative freedom in contributing their parts to the album, with the results clearly being the most captivating progression in WoD’s work to date. The raw and organic production of Vlad’s work is a welcome difference from the common sterility of triggered drums or drum machines that are so pervasive in metal recordings of both big and smaller budgets. His seamless transitions belie any sense that Vlad made his contribution from the other side of the world, displaying a flair for tension and climactic intensity that must have thrilled D to no end, given the risks of such an undertaking. Old’s subtle command of emotion and personal connection to the music in his delivery accomplishes such a difficult achievement, that of expressing distinction and character within this particular vocal style, and is a standout feature of the record. The details of both collaborators’ efforts become more evident and impressive with each listen.

But whilst D’s enlisted partners help plenty to scale such emotive summits, it is ultimately his craftiness with the riff that sends the songs to cosmic heights. The tag of “depressive black metal”, so often slapped on WoD, highlights the increasing inadequacy of trying to define these artists who stand out today amongst the fringes of metal in traditional, and ultimately facile, generic terms. Certainly, there is grim frostiness aplenty evident in the album’s production all the way across the desk, yet without the obscuring and destructive muddiness of more ‘cvltish’ mixing sensibilities. D’s melodies are so clear, powerfully resonant, and sincere in their uplifting emotion so as to infuse his work with those enigmatic and seemingly contradictory elements of hope, warmth, and elation amidst the withering gloom. Indeed, one should standby for many precious proclamations of “this is not black metal, or even metal at all!” Perhaps this is the badge any musician with roots in that genre should be striving for if the ideology behind it is genuinely meant to be devoid of the self-defeating Ouroboros of cognitive dissonance. It most certainly is metal, but that refreshing kind that casually transgresses the territorial pissings of those determined to fend off outside influences and interest.

“Like Falling Leaves” starts the record off at its closest point to black metal roots. By its halfway point, the song is heading steadfastly away from the rigidity of the blackprint into more melodic and thoughtful expression. “Unfold” follows by exemplifying the epic beauty which the style is capable of when the shackles of self-consciousness are unlocked. Amidst the deluge of distortion-driven melodic emotion and blazing metallic storms, momentary glistening clean guitar passages vaguely evoke memories of the early ‘90s shoegaze influences employed by bands like Katatonia at their initial best. “Ad Infinitum” brings the record to a near joyous post-rock major scale denouement. At elevated volumes, the desperate and bittersweet final two minutes of “And If All the Stars Faded Away” are a moving and overwhelming high point.

It’s only early days; but, As the Stars has many reviewers citing it as the best release so far of this young year. For those gatekeepers deflated by Alcest’s calculated and seemingly exasperated departure from their metallic distinctions into the realm of pure shoegaze, this might even step into the ‘breach’ quite nicely. To answer the question posed earlier, there is no reason the bubble cannot continue expanding to consume a much wider audience. The CD digipak release is due on Feb 14, with digital media already (and only) available through the band’s Bandcamp website. A vinyl release is scheduled to follow in March.