Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Woods of Ypres — Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth
We Canadians are obsessed by the weather and the transition of seasons. This is what makes Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth a very Canadian album, with its themes of seasonal change and contrast of light and shade (both lyrically and musically). Woods of Ypres (AKA Toronto’s David Gold, who handles all lead vocals and instruments, save some keyboards) play an ornate style of black metal—here dubbed "Summer Black Metal"—bending the genre to his own design with well-blended folk and melodic metal styles. The overall approach reminds me of personal favourites such as Primordial, Green Carnation and Agalloch. Opeth are definitely an influence too.

While black metal bands in the past have depicted imagery of the majesty of the night sky or frostbitten realms of winterdemons, WoY have taken a different tack, focusing not on winter (that most Canadian of seasons) but on its direct counterpart, summer. Winter's darkness is scary, to be sure, but it can also be a secure environment—a safe, secret cocoon to nurture one's regret and other negative musings. This album posits that it’s more terrifying to exhume all that ugliness and examine it out in the open. That’s what summer represents: unforgiving light, quickening heat, bravery in confronting unfrozen truths.

“Going after the pleasures of summer
Betray the comforts of our dark little space
Believe their healing will cure all your trauma
Becoming the person you’ve claim to hate
True colors are shining through
Trading the black for the yellow, green and blue.”

On the subject of lyrics, I was taken aback when I saw the reams of text in the CD booklet. This is a very wordy album, but fortunately the words are thoughtful and well integrated into the often-lengthy songs. Gold is a talented wordsmith, best seen on the album’s opening track, “The Looming of the Dust in the Dark (and the illumination)” which works with the image of sunlight piercing a room’s stagnant air, illuminating both the narrator’s surroundings and his inner turmoil. There’s even room for some humorous wordplay on the album, with lines like “I despise the rising of the upsetting sun,” on the alternately balladic and doomy “Allure of the Earth.”

It’s impressive that Gold basically wrote and performed this album by himself. He’s executed these lengthy, multipart songs with great precision, and the light/heavy, acoustic/electric dynamics must have taken painstaking forethought. The production is clear and hefty, with lots of detail, like the handclaps (love ’em!) and tasteful female vocals on “The Gost of Summers Past.” The album suffers nothing from being a one-man undertaking, though in the future I’d like to hear what results Woods of Ypres could get with the kind of instrumental interplay and distinctive individual performances that additional members could offer.

Aside from the novel concept behind Pursuit of the Sun..., the ultimate strength of this album is its songs, which themselves are bolstered by Gold’s singing and sense of melody. He has a plain but appealing singing voice, and a spot-on death/black rasp, as can be heard on the devastatingly heavy “Dragged Across a Forest Floor.” Following this track is the highlight of the album for me—“Summer’s Envy,” which channels the latter-day Amorphis sound, and is so confident of its catchiness that it starts with the chorus, Beatles style. Superb. I can’t get this song out of my head.

With the glut of nondescript underground metal releases these days, this ambitious, intelligent album is a rare pleasure. That it comes from a fellow Canadian who clearly has many more years of producing excellent music ahead of him is a bonus. I’m looking forward to listening to Pursuit of the Sun… into the dark days of winter and for many more seasons to come.

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