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I’ve heard some very conflicting opinions regarding Canadian melodic black metal band Woods of Ypres. One the one hand some say they play great music, and others claim they’re watered-down bullshit making black metal a trendy thing. With this conflict of opinions I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got my hands on the Independent Nature 2002-2007 compilation. Curiously enough, in the end both opinions’ validity can be verified in various songs found on this compilation.
Independent Nature 2002-2007 contains four songs from each of the band’s first three albums. This well-balanced selection allows for an objective viewing of the band’s evolution across those three albums, from their much more black metal beginning to the…stuff… they play these days.
First of all comes the music from Woods I: Against the Seasons: Cold Winter Songs from the Dead Summer Heat , actually an EP (most of the EP is here but it’s not complete). This portion fucking kicks ASS! This is North American melodic black metal exactly like I love it: fast, well-produced, epic and having that hard-to-catch authentic, dark feeling to it, very distinct from European black metal. The only bands which I know having similar atmospheres are the excellent Ceremonial Castings, the epic Fanisk and, on a softer and less accurate note, Agalloch in their more black metal moments (which are relatively rare). Still, the overall mix of aggression, primarily based in the loud blasting sound, combined with the tortured rasps, the repetitive yet often very catchy riffs, the subtle keyboards and the rare clean vocals strikes a truly perfect balance here. With this part of the band’s music in mind, the fanboys are absolutely correct: Woods of Ypres rules.
Then we get to the four tracks from Woods II: Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth . These continue in the same general vein as the previous tracks, but add several more elements to the music. First, clean vocals are found more often, and the music’s aggression seems a little bit toned down. Melody seems to want to rival aggression’s place as the primary focus of the music, resulting in something that appears to be less like orthodox melodic black metal and more like the experimental stuff that bands like Agalloch do, although on a still less significant scale when compared to those guys. Either way, this approaches the mellowness of shoegaze-type music in places, especially with soft, ballad-like tracks such as Allure of the Earth, which isn’t really black metal anymore, at all. This portion is essentially distinguished by the coexistence of the two philosophies (aggressive black metal versus soft, clean-sung shoegaze stuff), as the transition between the above-mentioned soft song and the pretty fast-paced and relatively aggressive Dragged Across A Forest Floor demonstrates (cleans exist even here though).
Okay, so the Woods II stuff I can take. However, then comes the stuff from Woods III: The Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues, and this stuff truly is bizarre. First of all, the instrumentals are incredibly promising, as they’re insanely well-done on songs such as Northern Cold. Even the vocals have a good balance between harsh rasps and cleanly sung parts, while the keyboards are very melodic, having some hauntingly beautiful near-classical sections, which are reminiscent of bands like Ceremonial Castings (although CC does it a lot more subtly). Everything’s going well, even if one can start detecting a greater emphasis on making the music catchy instead of truly aggressive. After that great song, however, the towel is thrown down, and the hammer falls. Your Ontario Town is a Burial Ground. Just the song title is enough to make people run the other way in its sheer lameness, even homosexuality. But the actual song is worse: after some good introductory instrumentals and a cool rasp, it goes all pop-black metal on the listener with the excessive clean chanting which only wants to be catchy. It is, and it could be tolerable if it wasn’t for that horrid chorus and the awful lyrics that go with it. This is to black metal what Twilight is to vampires: a cheapened, commercialized version which only appeals to teenage girls. It tries to be menacing and evil, and fails horribly at it. This is the definitive proof that Woods of Ypres have lost the qualities they once possessed as musicians and songwriters with actual integrity.
Independent Nature 2002-2007 does a great job as a compilation by highlighting both the band’s glory days with the glorious first EP and good follow-up album, and the days of Woods of Ypres’ fall from grace with the much weaker stuff from Woods III: The Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues. I heartily suggest this compilation as a way to be introduced to the band’s work, as it’s surprisingly effective in that role.