Review: Woods of Desolation – As the Stars


Has it really been two years since I’ve reviewed a new album? The fact came as a bit of surprise, but here it is late October and I’m staring at a massive horde of 2014 releases that I’ve barely cracked. I was a bit more diligent about keeping up with these when I actually took the time to write about them!

I hope to jump back into this business in force, but in case I fail, I’ll not put off the cream of the crop. My album collection is starting to get overrun by “Woods of” X artists; it seems to be the most popular black metal prefix after “Dark” these days. But one among them might be destined to distinguish itself with my #1 album of the year pick.

Woods of Desolation – Unfold, from As the Stars

I spent a great deal of my late teens and early 20s basking in the polarizing glories of post-rock and black metal. The likes of Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Rós, Emperor, and Nokturnal Mortum pumped the residual poison of rock and roll out of my blood and raised me to higher expectations of musical fulfillment. I listened to them not with a care for technical precision or physical skill, but in search of an experience I did not fully understand. Both genres approached this through similar means, but fell short as social stigmata demanded modesty or brutality carry the day. As I grew into an adult, the ice was broken. Neige’s Le Secret whispered its meaning into my ears just as I was old enough to embrace it. He’d broken the Berlin wall of music, and what awaited beyond was strange and beautiful.

Post-black metal, shoegaze metal, “transcendental”, call it what you will. Ten years ago, this album–what the woefully uninformed all-purpose reviewers will write off as a Deafheaven copycat–was not possible. It emerged as many musicians with the same thoughts and greater talent than myself caught glimpse of that beautiful beyond and embraced it. You can name a dozen artists that might have influenced the Australian solo project known as Woods of Desolation, but this brave new genre demands our presence in the here and now. It calls on us to bask in glorious tremolo sweeps triumphant over entwined barricades of light and darkness. “Proud to be living in the echo–the mist of all things combined,” Krallice once wrote, and though they designed to crush it, we retain the luxury to return. When I hear a song this triumphant, that line always comes to me, and the albums that accomplish it are still few and far between. I still love Explosions in the Sky and their ilk, but they offer a different sort of grandeur. Theirs is an experience of climbing to the peak. Songs like “Unfold” allow us to explore the pinnacle at length, from start to finish.

Woods of Desolation – Like Falling Leaves, from As the Stars

To start at the summit and know where you stand. That might be post-black metal in a nutshell. What we can do there… that is still an on-going exploration. Where Liturgy and Primordial roar like lions into the jaws of death, “Like Falling Leaves” is something of the opposite. It accepts the end awaiting it. In this track we don’t hear any of the overarching optimism of “Unfold”. Instead, we’re accepting that something dear is gone forever, and we are held fast in that moment of realizing the fact’s finality. The bulk of the album seems in keeping with these two vibes, sometimes heightened, sometimes subdued, sometimes entwined. “Withering Fields” and “And If All the Stars Faded Away” seem peculiarly triumphant and longing simultaneously, while “Ad Infinitum” is pretty enough for a new Alcest album. Nearly every track bears a sufficiently memorable hook to sound familiar by the second or third play through, and at a mere 35 minutes, it does not waste much time dragging out build-up in between.

I don’t know that As the Stars will retain my #1 spot through the end of the year, especially if I start to pump out album reviews in force again. It is nothing remotely on par with my picks for the last three years, and it suffers from muddy production that can’t always do the song writing justice, but I stand by it as my favorite so far. This is one I’ll keep near and dear to me long after the bulk of my 2014 collection has been forgotten.