Woods of Ypres
Pursuit of the Sun and Allure of the Earth

Sure to raise some eyebrows with their self-appointed label of “Summer Black Metal”, Woods of Ypres follow -up their promising demo-cd (self-released full-length?), with an emotional work of dark and passionate metallic art. The music is an engaging mix of traditional epic metal, blackened at the edges then tempered with harmonic indulgences and prog-rock excursions. A one-man project (written/performed/produced by David Gold w/help on keys and fem-vox), Woods of Ypres features none of the weak spots that usually accompany this type of usually ego-driven exercise. Mr. Gold is quite proficient on guitar, bass and drums alike, and his song-writing ability is unique in a way that is becoming sadly more and more rare in today’s metal scene.

A crucial aspect of Pursuit of the Sun… is the interplay of almost serenely downbeat strummed/finger-picked acoustic/clean parts with powerfully fierce black metal passages. Gold’s transitions are fluid as he drops voices and instruments in and out of the mix, utilizing texture to enhance the natural dynamics of his music, sneaking the heaviness in behind the veil of his morose melodies and rich vocal laments. The black metal portions are surprisingly no-nonsense, not exactly the troo-est or grim-est you’ll hear this year, but enhanced by the melodramatic pace of the tunes and the constant presence of clean guitar moving from background to foreground, these Immortal-inspired epic thrash-outs more than do the job done in terms of providing the heavy backdrop for the brooding melancholy that defines the mood of this record.

If you are thinking Agalloch at this point you are close, but no cigar. If anything Woods of Ypres bears closer resemblance to an Agalloch-related project, Sculptured, with the exception of “Summers Envy” a song much more in the vein of recent Katatonia and Amorphis, complete with a brain-adhesive melodic hook that will hook you, guaranteed.

Conceptually, Pursuit of the Sun… seems to narrate in the first-person the adventures of a brooding metallic youth making an earnest attempt at being a shiny and happy person, yet in the end, failing utterly and learning a lesson from it (hope I didn’t ruin it). I feel the music accomplishes more in terms of supporting the concept then the lyrics, as through the dark shade of gloom casts its pale over the whole record, it somehow still comes off radiant and energetic due the aforementioned of well-placed dynamics and acoustic textures. While the lyrics are well-written and honestly performed, the repetition of the theme could have used a little more diversity in expression. Constant invoking or the same basic concept in every song does give the album a unified feel, but can also lead to some monotony, leaving me wanting just a little more improvisation on the theme. That said, I can make this criticism here, because unlike 90% of metal bands and albums out there these days, there is a solid effort to make the lyrics interesting and relevant, as opposed to the after-thought cliches that seemed to have infect every genre of metal song-writing.

Being that the above complaint is my only non-major criticism I could muster, I feel confident saying that this band and album is essential for any one who appreciates the more melancholic and brooding side of metal: fans of Agalloch will appreciate the dense textures while Opeth fans will find themselves drawn to the excellent quiet-to-heavy dynamics and vocal diversity Woods of Ypres brings to the table. Despite these influences, Woods of Ypres maintains its own singular identity and despite the album’s length, the songs remain consistently powerful, occasionally throwing in little surprises (find the mosh part!!!). It is also very encouraging and refreshing to find North American folk-influenced metal bands actually drawing from their own side of the world’s rich history instead of appropriating European traditions. All in all, a deeply satisfying piece of dynamic and intriguing dark metal art sure to assist listeners in their own pursuit of the sun during these black winter days. Pick this up.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by John Gnesin
December 13th, 2004

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