Review Summary: Uniquely catchy and hypnotic Scandinavian and Slavic dark folk
According to the artist behind Lunatic Soul, Mariusz Duda, “Through Shaded Woods” describes the process of overcoming “...our worst traumas and nightmares” through the metaphor of traversing shaded woods. The production is immaculate, the distortion turned low, perhaps representing the clean, fresh beginnings which one hopes will follow trauma. Duda also describes the album as being inspired in part by “...his childhood home, an area of Poland known for its forests and lakes” and connects this natural backdrop to “...ritualistic primal dances, shamanic, Slavic and Viking moods”. Chanted vocals, driving drums, and winding bass riffs regularly combine to create hypnotic soundscapes which certainly bring to mind the “...dark Scandinavian and Slavic folk” the album is inspired by.
“Through Shaded Woods” opens with a folky bass riff which is quickly joined by drum, tambourine, and soft-spoken vocals in “Navvie”; immediately, “dark folk” is an obvious descriptor for the music. Duda’s vocals are mostly wordless singing, though “dying inside” can be indistinctly heard early on in the track, possibly referring to the dead-inside feeling that follows trauma and which precedes rebirth and growth. Upon hearing “Navvie”, the listener will already have a fair understanding of the sound and story of the rest of the album.
The next song in the tracklist, “The Passage”, finds Duda plaintively asking “if I pray, will you help me to get out?” and convinced that he “needs to find the passage to the light, to revive”, continuing the themes of trauma and rebirth. This track is longer than its predecessor and also more musically dynamic - the break in the middle of the song is the loudest, most distorted section of “Through Shaded Woods”. “The Passage” transitions naturally into the title track; wordless vocals float like mist over the simple yet effective riff and sparse yet impactful drumming. Duda’s ability to effectively layer sound evinces itself here; sections begin with a few basic elements which are added to steadily and which keep the listener engaged. The next track, “Oblivion”, is perhaps the catchiest track and is even danceable in its consistent beat. “Summoning Dance” feels like an interesting variation on the sound explored in “The Passage” and then the album closes with the ballad-esque “The Fountain” which fits in the context of the album but does not present enough of a unique sound or message to stand on its own.
“Through Shaded Woods” can feel very stylistically similar in its 40-minute runtime. The aforementioned “chanted vocals, driving drums, and winding bass riffs” present themselves on nearly every song; one shouldn’t expect to be surprised by a sudden sonic shift after hearing the first 10 minutes. In keeping with the folk inspiration, Duda mostly drops the electronic elements utilized in his previous works, thereby removing a possible avenue for variation. The lyrics themselves consistently mention nature, transformation, and rebirth, and sometimes lack subtlety as in the lines “I didn’t like myself/ And what I’d become/ And I was tired”. Whether these facts feel like commitment to a concept or lack of variety may well depend on the listener. The album is also unmistakably a Lunatic Soul album: the bass riffs sound familiar, the songs occasionally seem to be winding down only to be suddenly launched into the next section by a new riff, and Duda’s vocals themselves are quickly recognizable and similar throughout.
A deluxe edition of “Through Shaded Woods” exists and contains 3 additional tracks which are worthy of discussion. “Vyraj” and “Hylophobia” could easily have fit in the album proper though they lean more heavily on distortion than most of the other tracks; anyone who enjoyed the album is likely to enjoy both. However, not including “Vyraj” and “Hylophobia” seems to be a wise choice for making the album enjoyable to listen to in one sitting and to avoid fatigue which could arise from the relative sameness of the sound.
The third bonus track from the deluxe edition, “Transition II”, is a 28-minute, atmospheric love letter to Lunatic Soul fans which varies greatly from “Through Shaded Woods”. Reprised lyrics and melodies drift in and out, electronic elements return to craft atmospheres, and the song ebbs and flows naturally, reminding one of an introspective journey. “Transition II” is solemn and subtle, nearly devoid of lyrics, and wonderfully peace-bringing. This is a track to take a long drive in nature to, to listen to laying down with headphones on and eyes closed, to meditate to, or even to work to. One who takes half an hour to simply exist with “Transition II” may find their mind a little clearer and their anxieties a little less pressing.
The melodies of “Through Shaded Woods” are infectious, the layering entrancing, the concept well-executed, and the overall sound unique, though the album does suffer some from sonic and lyrical similarity. In total, “Through Shaded Woods” is a welcome addition to the Lunatic Soul discography and a worthy listen for anyone to whom dark folk is an appealing genre tag.