I actually told myself the last review I wrote for the site was going to be the last new album I would review this year. Not for any grim or tragic reason, it’s just list season, I told myself I was going to start early and focus on that instead of scrambling to get them in like I always do. But then, of course, there is a new Woods of Desolation album mucking up my well-thought-out plans. I couldn’t pass up this chance though, and I’m relieved that I didn’t. I knew my year end list wouldn’t be safe from The Falling Tide, and I was right and then some.
It’s been an excruciatingly long eight years since the last Woods of Desolation release, 2014’s stunning and rightfully critically hailed As the Stars. As the Stars is one of those rare, truly special albums that found me at exactly the right point in my life, through sheer serendipity, and it has been a close, dear companion to me through quite a lot of ups and downs (which is to say nothing of Torn Beyond Reason and Toward the Depths). Needless to say, when I found out the Australian project had not only moved homes to the venerable Season of Mist, but that they’d be releasing a new album this year, I was more than excited. This looks to be a big step towards wider recognition for a band that I have always felt did not get the respect they deserved, even though they are far from maligned. On The Falling Tide, bandleader/multi-instrumentalist/mastermind D. returns seemingly right where As the Stars left off, blending raw black metal aggression with shoegaze, post-rock and some of the most gorgeous melodies you’ve ever heard in your life. Ever known for shifting lineups, The Falling Tide features two things that have not happened often (if at all) in the band’s lineage: the return of drummer/keyboardist Vlad, who provided drums on As the Stars, and D. handling vocal duties in addition to every other instrument. While D.’s raspy howls are quite rough around the edges, they mesh fairly well with the other vocalists come and gone over the years. The vocals are not really what matters here: despite forming two other bands in the intervening years since As the Stars, D. has clearly saved the best of his ideas for The Falling Tide, because these are some of the most profoundly emotional black metal pieces I have heard in a long time. Well, not since As the Stars.
Woods of Desolation have always had a knack for melodrama, and I mean this in the best way possible. What makes them stand out from the rest of the crowd has always been their penchant for gorgeous, ethereal, romantic melodies and smothering washes of lush chords that sweep over you like waves on a beach. There is an atmosphere that simultaneously drowns you and cuts right to your heart, and on The Falling Tide, D. and Vlad show that the last eight years haven’t been wasted time. Opener “Far From Here” into “Beneath a Sea of Stars” is a veritable one-two punch of soaring, striking motifs carried on a wave of blast beats, tremolo-strummed chords and howled, plaintive vocals. D.’s vocals might not be to everyone’s taste, that is for certain, but for me they work in the context of the song. They are in service to a mood, a feeling of longing and sorrow, and to that end they accomplish this. Plus, one of the things I love the most about Woods of Desolation is their honesty, and these vocals are honest and sincere. The whole of The Falling Tide is. It’s an honest expression of genuine feelings, ranging from melancholy and mournful to awestruck and transcendent, and that deep sense of emotion and catharsis is the bridge that connects the six tracks together into something that is greater than the sum of their parts.
I have waited so long for The Falling Tide, and I am still somehow blown away by what this band can do to me. It feels like D. hasn’t missed a beat, and I can’t think of a better album to close out the year with than The Falling Tide. There’s always one that manages to squeak in there, just as I’m thinking I’ve finished up micromanaging and nitpicking orders and placement. I’m glad it was this one. This is a truly special album, and I feel like it’s going to stick with me just as long as their other ones have. Now hopefully it won’t be eight more years before I can write about them again.