In December’s Black Market, I mentioned As The Stars — the remarkable forthcoming LP from Australian band Woods Of Desolation — as being one of the most exciting releases of early 2014, as well as my favorite album of the very young year. It’s only been two weeks, but as of today, it’s the one to beat. That’s no small praise — As The Stars is already up against some stiff competition, yet the more time I spend with it, the more impressive it grows in my estimation. Nominally “depressive black metal,” Woods Of Desolation’s music is really more in line with some of the bands I discussed in our recent Deconstructing: Alcest’s Shelter And Metal In A Post-Deafheaven World: It’s surging, soaring, anthemic, melodic black metal greatly influenced by high-contrast post-rock bands like Explosions In The Sky and Mogwai.
Woods Of Desolation is masterminded by guitarist D (just D), who employs a small stable of scene luminaries to fill out his band — past WOD lineups have included Mitchell “Desolate” Keepin and Tim “Sorrow” Yatras, who previously played together in the pioneering Australian depressive black metal band Austere, perhaps WOD’s primary reference point. But As The Stars features D alongside a whole new cast, including Vlad from Drudkh on drums, Luke Mills from Nazxul and Pestilential Shadows on bass, and Old from Drohtnung on vocals. All the players involved deliver key performances, especially Old, whose tortured, shapeless roar is pushed to the back of the mix but achieves perhaps increased potency for so fully occupying the space between, above, and around the crisp instrumental interplay. The star here, though, is plainly D, from his obscenely catchy, dramatic riffs to his squealing leads; D’s guitars both give the songs structure and momentum and push them to tenser, higher extremes. (The best example of this dynamic is probably the album’s first single, “This Autumn Light.”)
As The Stars is Woods Of Desolation’s third album, following 2008 debut Toward The Depths and 2011’s Torn Beyond Reason. Unlike many other post-rock-influenced black metal albums, As The Stars feels ragged and lo-fi, somewhat belying — or at least attempting to obscure — the songs’ breathtaking magnitude. But these melodies would be instantly audible and ear-catching under a hiss-fog much denser than this; these peaks are simply higher than any clouds that might surround them. At seven songs over 34 minutes, As The Stars may appear to be a brief album, but those songs are filled with highlights, and in those minutes time appears to stop, or fast-forward, or rush outward in every direction, demanding rewinds and replays and slack-jawed awe; in fact, it is nothing short of massive.
As The Stars is out next month via the great German label Northern Silence Productions, but we’re streaming it in full for you to listen to right now. I wholly encourage you to do just that.
As The Stars is out 2/14 via Northern Silence.