My Top 20 Albums of 2012: #5 Woods of Ypres’ “Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Lights”
Why It’s Good: Of all the albums on this list, this is the one I’ve been least looking forward to talking about. I did once at the beginning of the year and I’m about to do it again: this first paragraph is going to be a vulgar display of feelings, so be careful. I don’t have any way of being objective about this album, as it is the final release of one of my all-time favorite bands following the death of their main man David Gold. David was a very inspiring figure to me, not only making music that really tapped all sides of the extreme metal world and gave me interest in them, but also for his uncompromising dedication to his art. On at lest one occasion, Gold was forced into debt in order to sustain his record label and band, a band with a near constantly rotating line-up except for Gold himself. It was a very rocky road, so it was nice to see Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Lights was actually going to get a release on Earache Records and perhaps give the band some needed relief from the weight of the world. And then it happened, David Gold died in a car accident shortly before this record was to be released. I’m a broken record on this, but it was devastating and has completely colored my listening of this record. There may be demos or live recording floating around, but this is my last chance to see Woods of Ypres at their finest, shining through with all their creative glory. I really just have to soak it in.
Now, while I can’t say my objectivity is doing great for this record, I’m a little relieved by the fact that Woods 5 is actually very good. After all, that’s one of the hallmarks of the band that got me into them to begin with, as well as their potent genre swirling from album to album. Woods 5 seems to have landed the band in an interesting territory. Perhaps closest in sound to Deepest Roots & Darkest Blues, I think it may have been apt by my buddy Dave to describe it as “heavy metal Queen,” as the top notch production and use of overdubs gives the album a certain grandiose immensity. This is especially true on the vocal level, as nearly every song is filled to the brim with immense harmonies, building up the tension is a fevered echo. “Keeper of the Ledger" is especially deft at using this, matching the oscillating vocal patterns to a piano bridge which adds to the mournfulness of the song and going so far as to overdub that death growls so that they fall into an almost kind of white noise. This itself creates an odd dichotomy as most of the time when we hear overlaid harmonies, the result is a degree of brightness added to the mix and indeed, this is often the case here, but Gold takes it a step further by using this more treble based harmonies to deliver some of the most depressing lyrics of his career, using the bombast to up the ante of a life in collapse and just how such feelings seem to grow bigger than the person actually experiencing them. Woods 5 manages to be insular without ever growing comfortable with its own skin, resulting in that confrontation that only heavy metal can present done in a musical way we don’t often see in the genre.
Perhaps even more than my beloved Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth, Grey Skies & Electric Lights works on the album level, always managing to feel like a continuing effort within the song progression. the largest part of this seems to come from David Gold’s guitar work, which seems to be underplayed on this album, instead giving way to the prominence of the previously discussed vocals. I’m sure each of you can imagine the typical heavy metal riff in your head, but Gold just so rarely plays this type of guitar, seeming to favor a more effects laden post-rock style riff. While there are exceptions, such as “Adora Vivos" it is rare for them to fall into the black metal style of old, seeming to favor a more lush sound that provides texturing to the melody rather than presenting it with blunt force trauma. At times this is as simple as interlocking scale patterns in a manner similar to classical guitar, resulting in two notes that don’t immediately sound natural together when first played. At others it comes from a stark minimalism, building into little flares of notes phased enough to sound like bells that come up in volume and fade out just as easily. As the guitar tone being presented gives us a more eclectic focus, Gold can instead use his space to create more progressive sounds, such as the use of cello on "Travelling Alone,” but more importantly, making the vocals the most prominent aspect of the mix, as they deliver an almost narrative that we are meant to be part of.
Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Lights may be the last time I ever get to hear a band that inspired me do exactly what made me love them to begin with, but it shows why they were so great. David Gold and Woods of Ypres were a band that was always evolving in style, able to create stark portraits of verdant nature, heavily produced nightmares of the city, discordant portraits of the end of love and massively saturated songs about the continued disconnection of the self from the world around you. Each song on Woods 5 screams of finality, yet has just enough life behind it to affirm the feelings we all share in this regard.
Is It Guitar Pornography?: It actually hits close at times to the Agalloch school of guitar work, but doesn’t seem quite ready to extend itself into more rambling sections outside of perhaps “Kiss my Ashes (Goodbye).” Still, it is not what one would expect from heavy metal guitar.
Favorite Track: Career Suicide (Is Not Real Suicide)