A stark, disturbing and beautiful album

My first introduction to the music of this band was via the sweeping “I Was Buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery” from 2009’s The Green Album and I was instantly enamoured of David Gold’s amazing ear for melody and knack for a catchy hook.

Any appraisal of Grey Skies & Electric Light is now going to be overshadowed by the death of Gold, who was struck down and killed by a car two days before Christmas last year. That he died before his final masterpiece was released casts a darker pall over it than even the despondency embodied in the songs themselves.

On their fifth and final album, Woods of Ypres explore themes of loss, despair, loneliness and sorrow in the bleakest manner possible through a combination of solemn, minor key gloom that Katatonia would envy and Gold’s rich, evocative vocals and disturbing, emotional and deeply thoughtful lyrics. The band’s black metal leanings have been mainly relegated to the past, although there are occasional snatches of it, and amongst the atmospheric melancholia and doom-ridden despair there are several glimpses of hope. The mood wavers from the achingly depressing opening track to the more uplifting “Adora Vivos” and the uncharacteristic “Career Suicide”, a strangely upbeat Gothic rock song similar to The Sisters of Mercy that almost approaches something of a pop sensibility. Had Gold lived, he may well have headed in that direction with later work, which may not have been ideal as this is the weakest track on the album – although this point is moot now as we’ll never know.

The music is dark and haunting, but the album’s real treasure is its lyrics, deeply philosophical outpourings and ruminations on the fragility of human mortality and the nature of eternity and death. Towards the end, from the epic two-part “Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)”, Woods 5 takes a truly bleak turn as Gold’s obsession with loss and death spirals toward an abyss of desolation. The final twenty minutes or so are not an easy listen. The lyrics of the crushingly sad “Alternate Ending” so closely mirror the circumstances of David Gold’s demise that it’s easy to understand why some believe it was a suicide note, and with constant references to forgetting the dead and scattering ashes throughout it could well be that he was foretelling his end once and for all.

The sheer weight of emotion that resonates throughout might make it difficult for some people to listen to often, but Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light is a stark, disturbing and beautiful album, the crowning glory of a life cut short.

1. Lightning & Snow
2. Death is Not an Exit
3. Keeper of the Ledger
4. Travelling Alone
5. Adora Vivos
6. Silver
7. Career Suicide (is Not Real Suicide)
8. Modern Life Architecture
9. Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)
10. Finality
11. Alternate Ending