Review Summary: It may be repetitive, it may be gimmicky, and it may even be cheesy at points, but Woods of Desolation's latest proves that these oft-maligned traits that are so common to this style of black metal can make for some ridiculously enjoyable music.
If you are a fan of atmospheric black metal, Torn Beyond Reason
will be like manna from heaven to your ears (if you do not, for the most part, enjoy the scene already, nothing here will change your opinions). While this Australian duo are not anywhere near being revolutionary, their success lies in their perfection of formula. They may be similar in many ways to acts such as Fen
, but where they differ from comparatively mediocre bands like the aforementioned Fen
is in their ability to prevent their music from dragging. Torn Beyond Reason
, instead of opting for ridiculously long songs full of pseudo-folksy atmospheric bullcrap, chooses to go the way of creating relatively short songs full of pseudo-folksy atmospheric bullshi
t. The album's six tracks play over a refreshingly short duration of less than 38 minutes (a far cry from the hour-plus runtime that is characteristic of this genre's output), and none of the tracks ever extend over ten minutes in length (the album's longest, The Inevitable End
, is just over nine minutes). The problem with aesthetically similar artists like Fen
lies in their propensity for overstaying their welcome both in song and album duration, and thankfully, Woods of Desolation
never falls into this trap.
The sound displayed on Torn Beyond Reason
is, as stated before, nothing new. But its strength is in how well it is pulled off. There are acoustic passages, there are cleans, and there are buildups, all of which are unavoidably cheesy at points. But just like the album and track durations these much-maligned genre characteristics are made tolerable (and even enjoyable) by the restraint Woods of Desolation
exhibit in their use. The cleans on tracks such as Darker Days
are not useless, painful, and almost laughable like they have a tendency to be on similar records. They are pushed into the back of the mix (depriving them of a potentially dangerous position as the music's focal point) and are used with admirable taste and caution, even becoming catchy (in a good way) in the process, and it is a very similar story for the group's tasteful use of keyboards and ambient backdrops. The band also opts for "epic" major-key passages eerily reminiscent of post-rock acts such as Mono
or Explosions In the Sky
(there is a moment in album closer/highlight Somehow...
that sounds almost exactly like a black metal version of EITS's The Birth and Death of the Day
), and like everything else about the album they resist the temptation to overstay their welcome and become a gimmick in the process. In fact, their use in The Inevitable End
and the aforementioned Somehow...
make for the album's most heartrendingly beautiful moments.
While Woods of Desolation
are neither genre-defying revolutionaries nor are they technical wizards, there is something about the simplicity of Torn Beyond Reason
that makes it 2011's first truly awesome atmospheric black metal record. It could be the strength of the songwriting, it could be the stunningly beautiful tremolo-picked passages, it could be the simultaneous senses of desolation and hope that the band's music conveys, it could be the top-notch shrieks of vocalist Sorrow
... It would be useless to list all of this album's strengths. However, the one overarching theme that makes Torn Beyond Reason
transcend the realms of above average Cascadian-style black metal into the realms of exceptional music is in its acceptance of what is really is. Woods of Desolation
know exactly what they are and hold none of the ill-conceived delusions of grandeur that have inflicted crippling damage in the armor of similar bands, and it is this sense of reality that makes this album such a strong one. The band never tries to be anything that they are not, and it is because of this admirable trait that they have managed to create what is, as of now, 2011's strongest atmospheric black metal effort.
An Unbroken Moment