Finality: A Tribute to Woods of Ypres
Midway upon the journey of my life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward path had been lost. As a frosty fog emanated from my nostrils, I looked down at my iPod to see what band was playing next. It was a band I had yet to hear as I had just bought the album. Woods 4: The Green Album began to play and my life changed. That band was Wood of Ypres. From the second I heard the incredibly heartfelt vocals, philosophical lyrics, and chilling atmosphere, I knew that I had happened upon a band that was truly special.
How do you begin an examination of one of your favorite bands? To start, I figured I’d let the music speak for itself. Here is a playlist I compiled of what I consider to be Woods of Ypres greatest hits in order of their release:
Before we head into the depths of a frosty Canadian forest, I think it is important for you to know how to pronounce the word “Ypres” as I had been pronouncing it “Yee-press” for a while. It’s actually pronounced “ee-pray” and is rooted in French.
Woods of Ypres started out as a fairly run-of-the-mill black metal band. Their EP and first album didn’t do much to differentiate them from other good black metal bands but they did hint at some of the key elements that would help them achieve legendary status in the coming years. Planted as a mere seedling in the first full-length Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth was the promise of something great. By the second album Woods III: The Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues, WoY established a sound that combined the sub-genres of black, doom, gothic, and dark metal to create a sound that has yet to be replicated. Many black metal purists (i.e. the people who I shove in lockers) dislike the sound of the later albums – at least that’s been my experience – because they sound noticeably less black metal and lean more to a smoother doom-type sound. For me, WoY’s sound ages like a fine wine. The later albums, though less raw and blast beat laden than the first few, are incredible pieces of music that I would call fine art. The true heart and soul of WoY is David Gold. He has been the only member to have appeared on all the albums and, according to the liner credits, he wrote all the lyrics and almost all of the music.
Woods of Ypres created albums with overarching themes that repeat themselves throughout the albums while dealing with smaller subjects that bleed into the primary vein. If you pay attention, there are overarching themes in all of the albums. I’m very hard to please, lyrically speaking. I tend to end up ignoring most lyrics because they’re total rubbish; this is not the case with Woods of Ypres. Gold’s lyrics explore realms that the average peasant brain can’t meaningfully understand: depression, love, nature, daily struggles, the passage of time, the destruction of the world due to man’s negligence, the question of whether or not a god really exists, the end of life, and the emptiness of modern life. Some of my favorite sets of lyrics:
(From “Modern Life Architecture”)
“When we’re young, we design a plan,
We work, we build, we make it real
And in the moment it becomes complete,
The first cracks start to appear
A weak foundation, finally revealed
in the desperation, when the walls came tumbling down.”
“When we have all gone, to the silence of eternity…
To first be forgotten, and lost in the records of the earth
Could I still miss you, then, in the time and space after life.
When no one is searching anymore,
And where we are nowhere to be found.”
(From “Wet Leather”)
“Life is your hopes and dreams, your expectations
When your health is a full-time job, and there’s no vacation.
Life is the comfort of a good friend’s advice
Who says it’s all your fault and your standards are too high.”
Woods of Ypres’ discography consists of four full-lengths, one EP, and a single. The general sound of the music falls into pretty much two categories: black metal and albums that don’t fit into any genre. The EP and first full-length definitely fall into the black metal category. The second full-length is a transition between the two eras and contains a fairly even split of both black metal screams and clean vocals. The final two full-lengths fall under the latter category mentioned above. Gold’s harsh vocals range from the high black metal scream to a low growl. His clean vocals are sung in a lower register and are quite distinct. I’ve not yet heard a band with the vocal range and depth that Gold exhibits throughout his career.
Against the Seasons: Cold Winter Songs from the Dead Summer Heat:
Against the Seasons: Cold Winter Songs from the Dead Summer Heat is WoY’s first EP. That title really rolls off the tongue. It spans over thirty minutes with just five songs. This is the only Woods of Ypres release that didn’t feature Gold on vocals. Brian McManus handled harsh vocals and guitar and Aaron Palmer (who also was in Gold’s excellent side project The Northern Ontario Black Metal Preservation Society) handled the clean vocals and bass. Gold played drums. The overall sound on this album is melodic black metal. Clean vocals are here but in a much more sparse quantity than later albums. For those who love the wintery chill of black metal, there is enough here for even the most staunch of Norwegian black metal enthusiasts. “A Meeting Place and Time” is a great sample of the clean vocal style present in the first two albums. Palmer sounds very similar to Gold; I thought Gold sang on this EP until I finally read the booklet. The vocals here remind me of the cleans that can be found in some of the newer doom metal bands such as Pallbearer and Pilgrim. Tremolo and blast beats propound themselves endlessly here. Lyrical themes include loss, death, and passage of time which are conveyed through similes and metaphors involving nature. A trademark of WoY emerges here: catchy lyrical patterns. Many of the choruses and verses will get stuck in your head. This comes from Gold’s ability to actually write music with memorable song-structure – a skill that many of his peers lack. Gold would begin to show his true potential on the next release when his songwriting takes a leap forward.
Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth:
Let’s emerge from the wonderful wintry cold for just a moment to enter the next piece of music. Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth is their first full-length and features the arrival of Gold on vocals. A few interesting facts about this record: the album booklet refers to this album as being titled Against the Seasons II: Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth. It wouldn’t be till the next album that the records would be referred to as Woods. Technically, this album could be titled Woods II: Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth and the EP as Woods I: Against the Seasons. Another thing to note is that Connor Sharpe played bass and Steve Jones played guitars for most of the recording but quit before finishing. Gold finished the guitar and bass and then recorded vocals and drums. Sharpe and Jones are not credited in the album booklet for their contribution. In addition, Jessica Rose performed on keyboard. Gold’s vocals are golden (*wink*). More clean vocals are used in this album though the harsh vocals are still abundant.
As the album’s title suggests, the overarching theme of this album is the earth’s allure and sun. Six out of the ten track titles have something to do with heat or the sun and three of them have something to do with forests. The lyrics on this album are interesting whether you interpret them literally or metaphorically. At face value, you get an album about nature. Metaphorically, they mean many different thing based upon your worldview. For me, it seems as if the album tackles inner turmoil a great deal. The progression from the EP is quite apparent in this album. Significantly better production, better lyrics, and better song composition make it a stark improvement from the previous effort. There isn’t a throwaway song on this album. Some of the highlights include “The Sun Was in My Eyes: Part One”, “Allure of the Earth”, and “The Ghost of Summer’s Past”. The vocals improved greatly on this album. With Gold at the helm, a mainstay in the vocal style was born. One technique utilized in all their music from here on out is the layering of vocals. Gold will record portions of songs while singing in a low register and then record the vocals again while singing in a higher register. The resulting combination yields a pleasant amalgamation of highs and lows to keep the ‘ole ears dancing.
Musically, this album presents more melodic black metal. There is a bit more acoustic guitar this time around. Elements of doom and gothic metal are mixed in for a slightly more emotional tinge. I really find the artwork for this album to be stunning. Though it doesn’t depict anything in particular, it manages to capture the feeling of the album with just a splotch of green and gold paint. The physical CD is even cooler. Shiny golden paint spells the album’s and band’s name. The album booklet contains several pictures of nature lavished in gold. The next album is where Woods of Ypres began to fully realize their trademark sound.
Woods III: The Deepest Roots and the Darkest Blues:
Woods III: The Deepest Roots and the Darkest Blues is a defining album. This album is where Gold begins to craft truly beautiful and emotion driven songs that caress the soul. The album title alone conjures up images of the origins of nature, the traditions and values that define us, and depression. The great title is complemented by equally great cover art. It manages to encapsulate the feeling of the album perfectly by giving images depicting the death of things, the cold of winter, forests, blizzards, the wild, depression, and even a small glimmer of hope in the form of a plant growing at the base of the tombstone. This album is the transition from frosty black metal to a warming soul-seeking journey to the deepest fathoms of the inner heart. More elements of doom, dark, and Gothic metal perforate the existence. Jessica Rose returns on keyboard. Gold performs the vocals, guitars, and drums. Dan Hulse joined and recorded bass and has credits for vocals, though I couldn’t tell you where they appeared on the album.
“Your Ontario Town Is Just a Burial Ground” is one of the standout tracks on this album. It exemplifies the Woods of Ypres sound. Catchy riffs, expertly delivered clean and harsh vocals that chill the bone, and a production that makes it possible to hear all the instruments equally (well, the bass could be a bit louder). This album is packed with music – 15 tracks that run over an hour. One of my favorite songs on this album is “Through Chaos and Solitude I Came…”. It contains of my favorite lyrics from this album:
“Modern life can drive us to scream for the trees…(in harmony)
For those of us who can’t find peace, at least we can have a release.”
I would think these words would resonate with many metalheads. We listen to this wild crazy noise that some people wouldn’t even call music because it satisfies a place in us that nothing else can sate. “Years of Silence” is a great example of a song filled with passion and emotion and is also very depressing. “Deepest Roots: Belief That All Is Lost” and it’s companion “Darkest Blues: Relief That Nothing Can Be Done” are phenomenal and do an excellent job at contrasting tempos. This album is a gem. It is the transition from pure black metal to the sound which dominates Woods 4 and Woods 5. It has the catchy nature of pop but doesn’t lose all depth and meaning, rather, adding to depth and meaning. The next release would display a new sound that would cement Woods of Ypres status as legends.
Woods of Ypres 4: The Green Album
The black metal purists have annihilated this albums rating on Encyclopaedia Metallum. On Woods 4: The Green Album, the black metal screams are all but gone at this point and replaced by a low growl. More drastically, much of the vocals on this album are clean. The album cover depicts a square of green of different hues with a single dot of faded red which dribbled down the front (blood, perhaps?). The lineup changes yet again with Bryan Belleau on lead guitar, Evan Madden on drums, and Shane Madden on drums. Gold takes command of vocals as well as guitars and piano. To avoid this article being novel-length, I’ll cover only the most standout tracks leave the others for you to discover on your own.
In a morbid twist of fate, the first song I ever heard by Woods of Ypres was “By the Time You Read This (I Will Already Be Dead)”. David Gold died in a car crash on his way to his mother’s home for Christmas; it’s pretty damn eerie to hear a prediction come true. This album seems to be much more somber than any of the other releases up to this point. Doom metal is much more of an influence in this album (and not the Sabbath-esque variety that is still absurdly prominent in metal). “I Was Buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery” is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s perfect. An optimum mix of slowness, speed, emotion, vocals, and instrumental make this piece a wonderful experience. Gold references a few people in this song including Glenn Gould (a pianist), Joseph Mulgrew (a punk vocalist), Alexander Muir (Wrote “The Maple Leaf Forever”, an unofficial Canadian national anthem), and Timothy Eaton (a department store magnate). “Dirty Window of Opportunity: Can You Get Here in 10 Days?” contains a particularly nice solo and spoken word section. The classic “Wet Leather” is a song that has been stuck on repeat in my head for three years now. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t sing, “Life is just pain and piss, it’s nothing that I will miss.”
“Suicide Cargoload (Drag That Weight!)” brings the heavy quotient to the album with a gnarly sludge riff. “You Are Here with Me (In This Sequence of Dreams)” makes a perfect, and foreboding intro to “Retro Sleep in the Morning Calm”. Retro Sleep’s lyrics confuse me. Taken at face value, it appears that the narrator sleeps frequently because he is alone but at the same time he sleeps alone because he tosses and turns during his sleep. If there is a metaphor here, it is lost on me. The instrumentation is fantastic, nonetheless. “Mirror Reflection & the Hammer Reinvention” has lyrics that really resonate with me. I take it to mean that you shouldn’t conform to a particular mindset and never change yourself because someone wants you to. It also touches on a subject which I have written several papers on: solitude. Solitude is a crucial element in being creative. Other people’s work can inspire you but, only when the mind is left alone does it come up with something that is really outstanding. Solitude is the way you can take your experiences and quantify it into something manageable. “Move On! (The Woman Will Always Leave the Man)” closes the album in a perfect way. It has that dark and depressed feeling that emanates throughout the entire album. The album is an exceptional piece of art. For me, this is a good album to listen to when you want to ponder the nature of life. This is my go to for mountain wanderings.
Home is a single which frequently gets overlooked in discussions of the band’s discography. The single itself contains two songs: “Falling Apart” and “You Were the Light”. There were five tracks that were not included on Woods 5. Home contains two of them; the other three are still unreleased though there is a video on the band’s YouTube channel that features snippets of them. Here’s that video. “Falling Apart” is a heavy song featuring mostly screamed vocals. The single itself was only released as a digital download and on vinyl. Shane Madden and Evan Madden reprise their roles on their respective instruments and Joel Violette joins on lead guitars. Gold continues to do guitars and vocals. “You Were the Light” is decent. Frankly, there is a reason these songs were left off the album. They’re good but don’t seem to have the quality of the material on Woods 5.
Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Lights:
This album was released a month after David Gold’s death. As we now reach climax, we come to Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light. Woods of Ypres was honored with a Juno award (the Canadian version of a Grammy) for the best Metal/Hard Music album of the year ang it was much deserved. This album has been life-changing for me. Gold’s incredible lyrics explore intense subjects whose mere mention spark internet wars. David Gold takes command of vocals, rhythm guitars, and drums while Joel Violette returns for lead guitars, piano, and bass. “Lightning & Snow” kicks off the album with a bang. I haven’t quite come to understand the lyrics yet. The best I think of is dying, bad luck, or being alone. “Death Is Not an Exit” ponders death. It conjectures that there is no afterlife and death is the end of everything that you are.
“We were nothing…for a billion years before our time,
And we will be…nothing more again, for an eternity to come.”
The song even sounds final and it ends perfectly (you’ll know what I mean when you listen to it). “Keeper of the Ledger” has an incredibly interesting concept. “The Keeper” represents God. The Keeper’s only goal is to take your life to be repaid for the time that you were given to live. He cares about the quantity of time more than the quality. “Traveling Alone” is a story about a man who knows that God does not exist. He contemplates on whether or not he should tell anyone the truth and remove all hope in their life. He chooses not to, so, he travels alone. “Adora Vivos” is one of my favorite songs on the album. The concept of this song is something that I believe should be taken to heart. Gold suggests that we need to stop worshiping the dead (guess I failed that part) and love the people who are alive and well. These lyrics encapsulate the song:
“A moment of silence, (for the dead) but not one moment more.
They’ve all gone to be forgotten, we’re still here, to be adored.”
As I mentioned earlier, concepts for the album are repeated throughout the whole album in this song it used the the following lyrics:
“In the bleak life and modern times.
Under grey skies and electric light.”
It mentions almost the same two lines in “Death Is Not an Exit” This song is definitely not one to miss if you’re only interested in scanning through the highlights. “Career Suicide (Is Not Real Suicide)” competes heavily for my favorite WoY song. It is simply explained by the title: Career suicide isn’t the same as suicide. You can rebound from committing career suicide so, don’t fret. The solo on this song sends shivers down my back. The riff is supremely catchy and I hum it constantly. Next comes “Modern Life Architecture“. Continuing with the theme of the bleakness of modern life, Gold sings about how we plan our lives around things and concepts. When one of these crumble, we fall hard. We try desperately to enact our dream and continue to fail until we give up or die. “Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)” signifies the ever nearing end of this masterpiece. This mighty ten-minute piece tells the listener to not cry and mourn his death while their own life wastes away. Gold sings:
“We’ve cried enough in our lives, at the end of our time,
just kiss my ashes goodbye.”
This is one of the more doom-y songs on the album and the chorus is undeniably mournful. Gold excels at putting emotion into his singing. At any given point, as long you aren’t completely dense, it is easy to feel the emotion he is attempting to convey. This album is a perfect example of how track placement can affect the listener.
The CD version of the album plays the song “Finality” and then ends with “Alternative Ending”. The LP version just ends with “Finality”. It came with a bonus 7” with “Alternate Ending” and a different mix of “Finality” on it. “Finality” may be the best ending to an album I have ever heard. It is a very slow song that is purely meant to punch you right in the feelers. “Alternative Ending” isn’t a bad song by any stretch of the imagination – it’s one of the best on the album – but I feel that “Finality” has both the perfect name and feeling for the final song ever released by Wood of Ypres.
“Finality” is a song about dying and longing for the one you love to be with you in the afterlife. This has been the only song in existence that has ever made me cry. It is a song that definitely seems to resonate with people. A YouTube video of this song has nearly 62,000 views and only one thumbs down. That speaks volumes of the quality of music if it can appease the toxic community on YouTube. The song ends with the line:
“I will wait forever. I wait…”
This album ends there. It leaves the narrator continuing to wait in the silence of eternity.
“Alternative Ending” is creepily predictive lyrically.
“Back on the highway, under the moon, my final moments.”
The chorus in this song is beautiful. Both the “Finality” and “Alternative Ending” endings have their own merits and it is ultimately up to you as to which is the superior ending.
Where to Begin:
When diving into a band’s discography it is essential that you pick the correct albums to get the correct impression of their sound. The first Slayer album I listened to was Diabolus in Musica. This was a terrible album to show to someone who was interested in hearing thrash metal. Where Woods of Ypres is concerned, I think it is important that I give my recommendation for the order in which you should listen to the albums. If you’re interested in hearing a large sampling of songs from across their discography, my “greatest hits” playlist above will serve you well. I’ve included every song that I think it would be a greatest hit (though they don’t have any songs that aren’t at least good).
As far as albums go, Woods III is a good place to start. Enough black metal is retained so that the previous two releases don’t sound alien and it contains enough of the newer sound so that it doesn’t sound like a new band. In addition, this album has some of the best songs in the discography. “Your Ontario Town Is Just a Burial Ground”, “Through Chaos and Solitude I Came…”, and “Years of Silence (And the Private Joke)” are three back-to-back hits. From there, I would recommend listened to Against the Season and Pursuit of Sun & Allure of the Earth next so you can save two of the best for last. Woods 5 is my favorite of their albums so I’d listen to it last.
Into the Vaults of Eternity:
Woods of Ypres was an incredible band that has created some of my favorite music of all time. From their humble beginnings as a fairly average black metal band to a truly unique sounding amalgamation of different genres to create music that appeals to a larger market while still being distinctly metal, David Gold and the rotating cast of musicians have crafted one of the most solid discographies to ever be released by a band.
In memory of David Gold, 1980-2011. To the music he played, the music he wrote, and the music he would have.