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Silver to Gold - 98%

Whackooyzero, October 23rd, 2014
Written based on this version: 2012, CD, Earache Records

I don't think anybody, even big fans of Woods of Ypres, saw this album coming. I recall when I first became aware of David Gold's death I only had a cursory familiarity with the band, and it wasn't until a handful of months ago from writing this review that I truly realized what a loss that was.

Now when I say this album was unexpected it isn't because of it's posthumous nature. It's also not because Woods of Ypres hadn't made great albums before, in fact I'm a staunch defender of Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth as an incredibly high quality release. No, the reason why this album was so unexpected is because it has a sense of musical urgency and scale that leaves it's predecessors in the dust. Everything has received a massive upgrade since Woods 4 alone, but the depth of the songwriting and arrangements is beyond anything the band had done before. For 62 minutes, David Gold and Joel Violette take you through an unforgettable ride through the world of WoY, with doom, gloom, aggression, and a strong penchant for hooky melodies.

The most obvious distinguishing factors to Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light are fairly surface level. Right from the stellar opening track "Lightning & Snow" you're already hearing a much more polished production, more confident harsh vocals, and more rhythmically varied guitar riffs than anyone would've imagined was possible for this band. Perhaps even more obviously, Gold's previously strong bass-baritone clean voice is mixed in a very prominent fashion and he sounds even more foreboding than ever. His layers of vocal octaves come in and out throughout the album creating this illusion of a massive voice booming out from the mountains. In this way, the "color" of this album is almost the greatest change, but beyond that it really feels like Gold made this album to be the be all end all of the band. He's writing his strongest lyrics (always a point of contention for some), his most passionate vocal melodies, and arranging it all with more power and precision than ever before. Now onto the rest of the album.

Structurally this album is quite brilliant at measuring it's melodrama. "Lightning & Snow" and "Death is Not an Exit" are sort of fun songs for the album as they combine catchy choruses with great vocal performances and heavy riffs, whereas by "Traveling Alone" the use of keyboards and slight orchestration begin to creep in creating the signature depressing atmosphere of this release. Quickly after that though the band hits you with the brutal "Adora Vivos" which alternates between full on aggression and mournful release in the mid tempo parts. Gold's not trying to drain the listener, so despite the attention the closing tracks of Woods 5 have received he still delivers it in a metal fashion. So really, despite Gold's lovelorn and confessional lyrics the album is actually quite fun to listen through. He keeps popping surprises at you like the hellishly low vocal verses of "Career Suicide", the killer guitar solo in the epic "Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)", and the hooky and chill groove of "Silver" so as to keep the album varied and interesting throughout. It's not like Woods 4 where you would sometimes have a handful of interchangeable songs both stylistically and structurally followed one after the other, here each song is it's own character and the farthest thing from a filler track.

But as I mentioned, this album is definitely known for being a depressing experience. The speculation found in the some of the responses to David Gold's death has only been enhanced by his music and lyrics, which likely makes many listeners have a hard time listening to some of these songs in the same distanced way one might approach most music. While tracks like "Modern Life Architecture" and "Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)" are doomy, crushing monoliths with a rainy atmosphere, gothic vocals, and melodramatic lyrics, it's definitely the final one-two punch of "Finality" and "Alternate Ending" that ultimately creates this impression on people. For me they are two of the most emotionally powerful songs by a metal band I have heard. I wouldn't even say they're the best songs on the album necessarily (that is far too hard a task), but they just seem so honest. Gold has been criticized and rightfully so for whining in his lyrics, and especially on Woods 4 he at times came across like a stereotypical self pitying "nice guy", so far away from what the music itself communicated. These songs are nothing like that. They truly embody the sort of heartbreak, despair, and angst they set out to achieve to the point where you can no longer sit back and laugh it off. "Alternate Ending" in particular feels like a sort of mourning for the first half, but through some of the most effective sustained power chord hits I've heard in metal, it creates the sound of someone's life fading away. This is really the ultimate conclusion to the album and ultimate conclusion to what was Woods of Ypres. I can't even imagine how they would've followed just this song let alone the entire album.

So I have to be honest. At the time of writing this review I would call this one of the quickest albums to be in my top 10 of all time. While I don't personally relate to a lot of the lyrical themes present, I fail to think of an album that more successfully puts the listener in the shoes of the songwriter in addition to delivering in spades in regards to the songwriting, arrangement, and pacing. With the bonuses of Joel Violette's magnificent piano work and guitar solos, and a surprisingly cool cover, it's just a very complete experience. It works as well on an emotional level as it does on a strictly musical and entertainment level, so I highly recommend everyone check it out.