Woods of Desolation’s incredible Torn Beyond Reason from 2011 was a definite highlight of that year and its cold, harsh soundscapes made for a record which evoked a journey into the depths of winter – quite the feat considering they’re an Australian band but one that was deftly handled and sorrow-laden in all the right places. The Woods of Desolation of 2014 is an altogether different animal, with sole member D. eschewing Tim Yatras’ (Germ, Autumn’s Dawn, ex-Austere) recognisable shriek for another voice and thus creating an atmosphere that feels considerably warmer in tone, but no less harrowing for the change.
As The Stars feels markedly different to previous Woods of Desolation albums and with the inclusion of Old from Drohtnung on vocals the record gains a new sense of identity and sets it quite apart from the band’s back catalogue. The record also features Vlad of Drudkh on drums and Luke Mills of Nazxul and Pestilential Shadows on bass and these other musicians serve to create a more complete atmosphere to the Woods of Desolation palette. Old’s style is deeper than Yatras’ higher pitched screams yet both artists bring a incredible sense of emotion to their work. Here Old injects the music with a steady warmth, something that hasn’t been present on Woods of Desolation’s music in the past and while the music falls within the DSBM realm there’s a distinct brightness held in its complete sadness. It constantly strives for a hopeful outlook rather than looking back on things with regret and works toward lighter passages of post-rock and shimmering guitar moments. These contrast sharply with Old’s more orthodox approach to vocals yet they work for each other rather than against.
There is still an undercurrent of despondency to the record though, it wouldn’t be Woods of Desolation without it, and first track “Like Falling Leaves” punches through the veil of misery with a break so majestic in its anguish that it cuts to the core with a precision that’s devastating. The album follows in a similar vein throughout, imbuing the heartache with moments of uplifting grace while never losing sight of the melancholy that drives it further forward, almost as if the record is trying to outrun an event that has long since been over yet never quite forgotten.
“And If All The Stars Faded Away” is bittersweet and gorgeous and heartbreaking all at once and therein lies the beauty of the band – that they can allow each aspect of their sound to shine through to lift it to new heights and in D.’s sublime command of his guitar in the glistening melodies and echoing sorrow, they achieve an ecstasy that isn’t often felt within even the more summery black metal of Alcest, say.
As The Stars is a emotive, affecting work that travels across the spectrum of human feeling quite succinctly and deliberately. It takes in the moments of pain that we all experience and it turns them into something that can be wonderful. They can be learned from and we can grow and we can turn that pain into beauty. There is always hope and in the shining layers of “This Autumn Light” and the poppier aspects of the instrumental “Anamnesis” and its joyous beat this message is driven forth with abject clarity. “Ad Infinitum” closes As The Stars on glittering guitar sweeps that build and peak before allowing brief passages of serenity to fall into view and play out the song title in waves of pure elation. It feels nothing like finality and instead portrays an awareness of new, fresh beginnings, of starting over and feeling lighter for it. As The Stars is truly wonderful record and needs to be heard.