Review Summary: Woods of Ypres' finest effort and one of the best albums of 2012.
For many of those in the metal community, David Gold’s (guitarist, drummer, singer and songwriter) sudden death in a car crash was a tragic, sobering event. His band Woods of Ypres was prepping for a tour in support of what he evidently thought of as his best album yet, and the music that he poured his heart and soul into was only just beginning to see a larger audience under Earache records after nearly a decade of obscurity. Despite the tragedy of losing a truly unique heavy metal songwriter on the top of his game, with Woods 5 - Grey Skies and Electric Light, Gold managed to go out with a bang, releasing what many (including this listener) consider to be his swan song.
Woods of Ypres’ 5th effort continues down a similar stylistic path to Woods 4: The Green Album, replacing almost all black metal elements with melodic doom metal in the vein of Katatonia and Warning. The clean vocals that largely dominate the album are mournful, expressive and largely pushed to the forefront of the mix. Gold bolsters a rich, commanding baritone that’s often double-tracked with a higher octave – it’s bold, booming and forceful, and an incredible improvement from previous albums. The vocals largely carry the central melodies of the songs, a departure from the riff-oriented songwriting approach of many other metal bands.
Opening track and album highlight Lightning and Snow marries melodic sensibility with startling amounts of muscle and energy; Gold sounds absolutely rejuvenated and inspired right from the start, and continues for an incredible 5-song winning streak right up until Adora Vivos. The latter is perhaps one of the band’s best songs; the verses blast away with purpose and vitality, and Gold’s vocals soar and shimmer over the life-affirming (and infectiously catchy) chorus. Despite the stellar songwriting, the production largely strips the guitars and drums of much heft – they sound thin and airy when they should be robust and muscular, especially given the vitality and energy of the aforementioned songs. Fortunately, this is only a miniscule gripe.
The album ends with two tender piano-driven ballads that swell with solemn grandiosity, and for 8 minutes you forget that you’ve been listening to a metal album this whole time. It’s a rare treat when a metal band can pull of a traditional ballad-like song with such heart, soul and sincerity as Finality and Alternate Ending, rather than simply being ham-fisted filler to break up the monotony. Both songs are heartbreaking perseverations on a lost love, and they’re exhausting to listen to – even if you’ve never really had your heart broken, you’re left feeling like you did.
A common criticism of Woods of Ypres singles out Gold’s nakedly blunt lyrics. Never one to muddle his message with complex metaphors, vague symbolisms and the like, Gold prefers to state the nature of his emotions with simple declarative statements. On paper, his blunt and unorthodox approach seems silly and simplistic, but when married to the memorable vocal melodies and Gold’s passionate delivery they become endearing very quickly, taking on a kind of awkward, yet achingly honest charm. By the end of the album it becomes hard to imagine it any other way.
Another thing to notice is the eerily prophetic nature of the lyrics when paired with Gold’s death right upon the album’s release. Gold’s choice of lyrical themes have always been dismal (check out Suicide Cargoload and Wet Leather off previous album Woods 4), but some lyrics seem oddly synchronistic considering his death in a car accident – on album closer Alternate Ending, Gold sings “back on the highway, under the moon, my final moments, still wondering about you…” I’m certain it’s just a simple coincidence, but it does add another dimension of poignancy and poetry to the song, and the album as a whole. It’s a tearjerking reminder of the tragedy of losing such a unique, inspired musician. Both Finality and Alternate Ending paint a picture of a man spending his last moments thinking of the woman who broke his heart. One can only hope Gold was in a better state of mind in his final moments, and given the career-best piece of work and bona-fide doom metal classic that Woods 5 – Grey Skies and Electric Light came to be, I’d like to imagine he was.
“A moment of silence for the dead, but not one moment more. The dead are to be forgotten; we are here to be adored.”
Not on my watch, Mr. Gold. You may be gone, but your legacy remains. An artist like David Gold deserves to be remembered, and with Woods 5, may there never be silence when we think of him.