If you’re reading this then there’s a good chance that you’re already aware of the tragic circumstances surrounding Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light. It’s been almost three months since Woods of Ypres‘ singer, guitarist and sole core member, David Gold, was sadly killed in a car accident, yet that time hasn’t served to diminish the album’s shattering impact one bit. It would be easy to heap undeserved praise on an album and its creators in such circumstances, which makes objectively reviewing this collection of songs such an arduous task. Making it immeasurably easier is the fact that it truly is a very fine collection; one that’s heavy with emotion, dense with poetry and shrouded in musical intelligence. And these qualities stand completely apart from the album’s difficult birth.
Whether you’re listening to the promo version of the album or the final version with its re-ordered track listing, the surprises come fast. Woods of Ypres are notorious for their bleak lyrics and melancholy symphonies and so the comparatively upbeat opening tracks (‘Career Suicide (Is Not Real Suicide)’ on the promo and ‘Lightning & Snow’ on the final cut) are an unexpectedly energetic greeting to an album that many would be forgiven for approaching with reservations.
The former is effortlessly the most immediately catchy song the band have ever written, complete with a radio-friendly chorus; quite something for an outfit that started life playing black metal. This record sees the band showing a real talent for penning a decent vocal hook, with doomy, down-tempo sing-along bits woven throughout – see also ‘Death is not an Exit’ and ‘Silver’. The next thing fans will notice is David’s vocals. Whilst they have always been very distinct in their low, bass register, here they plummet so far down the vocal scale that they sound, frankly, inhuman. It lends an even darker, more ominous tone to the music and the album is worth listening to for this novelty alone.
The sentiments expressed in ‘Career Suicide…’ are oddly optimistic and whilst the lyrical content throughout is often morbid when taken at surface value, it exudes (for the most part) a real sense of contentedness. Woods of Ypres have always shown a fascination with death, but in their final opus it is expressed as acceptance – a chilling thought considering the context of the album.
Woods 5… is a much more melodic beast than its predecessors, but traces of their black metal roots can be found throughout the album, most prominently in ‘Keeper of the Ledger’ (omitted from the promo version) but usually as an underlying atmosphere which broods and seethes beneath a catchy riff or a delicious vocal harmony. The vocals are layered like those of a choir, with harmonies that span several octaves and clean and aggressive vocals twinned so that they play with shades of light and dark. In terms of instrumentation it’s a very experimental affair with prominent use of pianos and strings, which weigh heavily on the sombre elements of the album.
“A moment of silence but not one moment more, The dead are to be forgotten,” David sings rather eerily on ‘Adora Vivos’. Somehow a moment of silence doesn’t seem like quite a fitting tribute, yet this collection of songs fits almost perfectly. We hope you won’t be offended if we don’t forget, David.