Woods of Desolation
As The Stars
(Northern Silence Productions)
It’s easy to say that Deafheaven changed the game when it came to black metal, but in reality, they were only a continuation of the ever constant micro evolution of the genre. The process has been slow, as the rules of black metal are more traditionalist than just about any other style of extreme music out there. Its heart lies in both a rigid sense of anti-consumerism that would make even the most die hard of crust punks blush, as well as in near cult like reverence for the greats who have come before. Even subtle shifts in mood and atmosphere are met by fans with the same reaction of betrayal and indignation that befell Bob Dylan when he first took the stage with an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. This has made it a lengthy and laborious process for influences beyond just the grimmest and most forlorn of sounds to sneak their way into the creative lexicon, but starting in the 2000s this transformation went full steam. You can hear it in the meandering passages of “Cascadian” heroes Wolves in the Throne Room, who so effortlessly opened the genre to post-rock song structures, in the warmth of Alcest, who replaced the one dimensional sound of tape hiss with the multi-layered haze of shoegaze, and even in Darkthrone, who took their love of both black metal and classic punk to new extremes.
Australia’s Woods of Desolation have also done their fare share to reshape how many black metal fans approach the atmospheric side of the genre. Their first record, Towards the Depths, was the perfection of low fidelity melancholy. Its slow and repetitive chords brought out the emotional weight of depressive bands like Lunar Aurora and Coldworld but with a new found sense of melody peaking through the cold distance. On their subsequent record, Torn Beyond Reason, they cast free their oppressive aura, and let their past melodic flourishes shine though to the forefront. Now with their third release, As The Stars, Woods of Desolation have put to tape their most uplifting and affecting record yet. Yes, it still brims with the aching wails and cold tremolo picking that have always defined black metal as a whole, but now a hopeful freedom surfaces from that darkness. As The Stars is awash in glorious post-rock style crescendos, major key octaves, and a warm production that opens it up to a whole new set of emotional pulls. It’s an astounding work for a band who have only continued to push how we as fans think of black metal as a whole. Yet, where many detractors of this type of change are quick to point out that the similarly styled Deafheaven shifted too far away from the nihilistic core of black metal on last year’s Sunbather, Woods of Desolation walk a delicate balancing act, weighing out their new found positivity with just enough long-established aesthetic to still sound true to their past. It’s a credit to both their song writing skills and appreciation of those who laid the groundwork that they now have the opportunity to expand upon. As The Stars is a stunning example of how even the smallest change in perspective can spur growth in ways once never though imaginable, but even at their most inventive they never forget who they are. (Adam Thomas)
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