Thursday, March 06, 2008

Woods of Ypres—Woods III: Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues (Krankenhaus)
Inspiring, uplifting and positive aren’t the usual adjectives you’d associate with a ragingly superb black metal album. So let’s say the third Woods of Ypres release is also dark, fierce, and uncompromising. The Toronto trio have reworked black metal conventions—especially in terms of lyrical subject matter—to create a style that’s very individual and not a little brave given its plain-spoken openness and shunning of anti-Christian, pro-pagan themes. Musically, despite guitarist/vocalist/drummer David Gold’s self-declared status as a “black metal being,” I wouldn’t even say this is pure BM. WoY instead offer a hybrid of black and doom and the dark melodic Scandinavian sound of Amorphis and Katatonia, over which Gold alternates clear/harsh vocals as the music shifts pace and mood. It’s a bruising combination—don’t expect watered-down ear candy for goth kids—that allows for healthy variety in songwriting approaches and a satisfying flow of material across this lengthy album. Gold’s view of the world is a mite vengeful and intrinsically Canadian (more on that later), yet he exists in a moral universe where hard work and self-belief are rewarded, and the weak-willed are cast aside. He’s got a lot get off his chest—the four years since their last album, the similarly lengthy Pursuit of the Sun and Allure of the Earth, must have seen some mighty struggles—and delivers years worth of spite in his copious lyrics. When he roars “Suffer!” on the crushing “Iron Grudge” it’s not directed at the Lord or his followers; he’s castigating some weak soul who obviously screwed the band over—perhaps an ex-bandmate who showed up late for practice one day. I personally find that the most affecting tracks are the mid-paced ones. “December in Windsor,” for example, has a memorable tune and acoustic guitars that ring out in stirring fashion. Looming majestically over everything, however, is “Your Ontario Town is a Burial Ground,” a melodically infectious yet vicious potshot at small-town apathy that I’d like to declare our metal National Anthem for 2008. As for my “intrinsically Canadian” claim, the penultimate track “To Lock Eyes With a Wild Beast” explores our uneasy relationship with nature—as Canadians, we’re surrounded by it, celebrate it, brag about it, but we ultimately fear it. We build suburbs ever higher up the mountains, then shoot the bears who wander down to sniff the household garbage. Gold’s Beast isn’t the one from the Revelations; it’s the one lurking just beyond the trees. As the song’s pathetic protagonist is chased down and eaten alive, Gold scolds, “You wanted nature? Nature wanted you as well.” I know I’ll have some pepper spray at the ready next time I go for a hike. Woods of Ypres continue to provide a powerfully original and articulate voice in a genre where so much clamour and misdirected menace often amounts to nothing. Woods III is a triumphant conclusion to their first trilogy of releases.