Review Summary: A paradigm shift
However you see this rising beast that is post-black metal, one can’t deny the fact that black metal has found some new life within its confines. It’s a bastard child of hopefulness and despair, an offspring of a genre that itself was a ghastly aberration of its own stylistic parents. It’s easy to hate, but is nonetheless gaining traction due to the fact that it is also easy to love. It’s a continuation of black metal’s origins, a genre that is alive because it chose to buck the trend, and now that cycle is beginning anew. Post-black metal is a response to what some see as genre stagnation and unwillingness to disassociate itself from certain paradigms; certain traditions of a genre that once prided itself on not being traditional. Few bands, however, straddle that gap, the one between accepted black metal aesthetics and this new departure into more optimistic moods and hopeful soundscapes.
Australia’s Woods of Desolation have shown an evolution from one side of the fence to another, but the band has never fully committed to solely one style. The tremolo-laden leads do often crest in a whirring state of bliss, bringing forth an optimism that counteracts the crushing production and buzzing rhythms in a way that brings the old and the new tightly together. The mix is perfectly awful; a mash of drums, guitars, bass and vocals to form a swirling cacophony of sound so illegible and so imperfect that is produces exactly the opposite. Each riff has an attitude about it that most post-black metal records can’t possibly replicate, but they also create an airy and bright atmosphere that rises above the fuzz lying beneath it. As The Stars
succeeds because it knows that it cannot function without embracing both sides of its personality. Without the production and the mix, the album will be sonically sterile, and yet without the unorthodox mood variances the atmosphere would be lifeless. Smartly, Woods of Desolation are conscious enough to realize this, and instead hold each element tightly together in their songwriting to conjure an extremely unique vibe that makes the record come alive.
The buried vocals feel painful in their anguished cries, while the uplifting riffs in tracks like “Withering Field” or "This Autumn Light" reveal a blissful side to the suffering. It’s all about the clashing of moods, the dual presence of crushing depression and sincere hopefulness that gives As The Stars
a third dimension that most traditional and post-black metal records alike cannot begin to conceive due to their blindness of the other side. Still, the album does seem to concentrate so hard on this melding of the two styles that it forgets to introduce changes in tempo, as the record seems to roll along at the same pace for its entirety save a small break in the final track “Ad Infinitum”. The removal of any sense of movement severely hinders the overall effectiveness of this style, simply because it all sounds so similar. This carries over from Torn Beyond Reason
, though, which was similarly hindered by a soundscape that, while undoubtedly enjoyable, was far too stagnant throughout its run. In the grand scheme of As The Stars
, though, Woods of Desolation have penned a special piece. It is abrasive and raw but also quite delicate – two attributes that seem opposing yet live together in harmony here. As The Stars
is an album for the wide black metal audience, because it shows how bands don’t always have to choose a side and then put up blinders to the world around them. Things can be integrated, but only insofar as the breadth of a band’s musical vision and their talent in transcribing that vision into their songwriting. Woods of Desolation are more than adept at both.