By Adam Wills
Change is often a very delicate thing in the universe of heavy metal. Change too much? Shouts of “sell outs” and “I liked their old material better” drown out the discussion on a band’s forward progression. Don’t change enough? Criticism of writing the same old, formulaic music album after album. However, some groups seem to evolve album after album, continually fine tuning, and often radically altering their sound to become not just bands, but in every sense of the term, musical artists.
No strangers to change, the nomadic Woods of Ypres have once again, redefined their sound with their fourth independent release IV – The Green Album. Initially a pure black metal band, mastermind David Gold and company (a variety of different musicians have come and gone through the years) have mixed elements of doom to their blackened sound with their second and third albums, and have continued the trend with their most focused and doom-laden effort to date. Armed with a full lineup for the first time since their debut demo, 2002’s Against the Seasons, Gold, joined by Bryan Belleau (guitar), formerly of Gates of Winter, and brothers Evan (drums) and Shane Madden (bass) from Philadelphia’s The Green Evening Requiem have put together a whopping 80 minute emotional journey of one’s self-reconstruction.
Opener “Shards of Love” sets the tone of the album, both musically and thematically – acoustic guitars with an accompanying oboe quickly give way to Gold’s layered heavy vocals and chugging guitars, beginning the story of a man’s destruction. The new sound of Woods branded doom continues on, taking a quick break with the latter half of “Dirty Window of Opportunity”, which segues into one of the most rocking riffs on the album, underneath one of Belleau’s massive lead solos.
“Wet Leather” is the catchy sing-along song of the set, which is followed by a change of pace in the album. “Suicide Cargo Load” and “Halves & Quarters” – a couple tracks heavily inspired by Crowbar – are somewhat of a departure from the rest of the songs, but still seems to fit, given its place in the story. Contrasting heavily is “You Are Here With Me”, composed of classical guitar by Nathanaël Larochette (Musk Ox) and a haunting vocal performance. “Don’t Open The Wounds” gradually flows from a slow Type O Negative feel up to a fierce metal blast, only to be outdone by “Natural Technologies” with riffs straight out of the early days of death metal. It is by far the fiercest moment on a Woods album to date. “Mirror Reflection” continues the intensity, only to be followed by the calming “The Long Life in the Limbo Union”, and “Move On! (The Woman Will Always Leave the Man)”, the ominous finale.
While there will be many comparisons to the band’s second album, both in style, and album flow (this album needs to be listened to front to back to get the full effect), W4 is a giant leap for the Woods camp. Production is the best we’ve seen so far, song-writing continues to grow and David Gold’s vocal performance is easily his strongest to date. The shifts in mood, and style are constant throughout the album, yet it flows from the opening acoustic notes to the final scream. Gold’s lyrics are unmistakably original (although sometimes playfully awkward) and heavily influenced by his recent journeys, including his time spent in Korea.
Between locations, members, and full on style shifts, Woods of Ypres has never been afraid of change, and in fact, openly embrace it. The continued evolution continues to push their music to uncharted areas, making each album, and each track therein, its own original journey. While I had high expectations for the album, W4 seems to have surpassed them, and is destined to be one of my top albums of 2009.