Life (and death) can certainly be strange. How else do you explain one of 2011’s most unfortunate events giving rise to 2012’s most unusual listening experience. As you may know, Woods of Ypres singer/guitarist David Gold was killed in a car accident late last year, shortly after completing work on this album, Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light. Those familiar with the group’s material and Gold’s songwriting, know there was always a lyrical preoccupation with loss and death and Gold frequently wrote about his own demise. These morbid reflections continue here, and with his passing, many of the songs take on an eerie, prophetic quality that’s tough to overlook. In essence, this feels like an album written in full awareness the end was near and intended as a posthumous goodbye. Trying to look beyond the dark cloud hanging over this release is ultimately impossible due to the subject matter, lyrics and overall mood of the thing itself.
Though once a black metal unit, Woods has slowly moved into a more doom-centric space and Woods 5 is morose doom rock with only faint black metal inflections remaining. The sound is much closer to that of Sentenced, Cemetary, Charon and Type O Negative and seems like a logical progression from 2009’s Woods 4. The songs are mostly downcast, depressing examinations of emotional isolation, personal loss and coming to terms with death. Many of them are painstakingly poignant and raw, even heartbreaking. The realization that this is the last we’ll hear from Woods of Ypres as we know them, and that the fate of the band is in limbo without Gold, is unpleasant to be sure. Thankfully, this is an outstanding release and a fitting close to a chapter, come what may.
Woods of Ypres opts to get the only “light” song over with immediately and “Career Suicide (is Not Real Suicide)” is a fast paced, goth-doom rocker much like what Sentenced was penning during their Cold White Light period. It’s catchy and amusing in a wry, sardonic way and gives a false impression of good times ahead. Once that ends, the remainder of Woods 5 is an exceedingly dark journey to unhappy places, with Gold acting as glum tour guide. “Traveling Alone” sets the tone with one of Woods of Ypres finest moments of songcraft. Gold delivers a vocal and lyrical performance more grim, cold and depressive than anything the most obscure, basement dwelling black metal band could ever create, yet it remains memorable and catchy. Likewise, “Alternate Ending” and “Finality” are gut-wrenching odes to despondency and misery with lyrics that make you shake your head at how insightful they came to be (the closing of “Alternate Ending” is particularly emotional). Even the songs that are “pro-life” like “Death is Not an Exit” and “Adora Vivos” are still bleak in their own way (not to mention, darkly ironic).
The album closes with the two-part opus “Kiss My Ashes Goodbye” (no, I’m not making this up). While Woods explored this territory before on such uplifting classics as “I Was Buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetary” and “By The Time You Read This (I Will Already Be Dead),” it’s much more difficult now (for me at least) to listen to Gold’s “when I’m gone” lyrics. Not feel good material by any stretch, but its powerful and intriguing in a way few other songs will ever be.
As a doom album, this works so well due to Gold’s emotional delivery and his deep, baritone vocals, reminiscent of the late, great Peter Steele. He rarely employs harsh vocals since the bulk of Woods 5 is somber, introspective music, ill-suited to scalding black rasps. The guitar-work by Joel Violette and Gold is appropriately doomy and mournful, only occasionally ramping up to aggressive tempos. The inclusion of violins on “Finality” and the slight orchestration on “Kiss My Ashes” really ups the ante on gloom and despair and will likely kill whatever hope the listener has left. Likewise, the subtle piano segments are effectively glum. Despite these frills, Woods 5 still feels like a very minimalist, stripped-down record. It’s simple, uncomplicated and direct in its approach and benefits greatly from it.
There’s no denying Woods 5 gained significant emotional weight due to events preceding its release. Though its destined to be Gold’s “ghost” album from here on, it would have been a very impressive release anyway and arguably their best to date. There won’t be many other albums this emotionally crippling, that’s for sure. At the end of things, this stands as a most fitting headstone for the man, and possibly the band. R.I.P. David Gold.