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Woe Unto Me : Among The Lightened Skies The Voidness Flashed

A huge and intriguing sophomore double album from Woe Unto Me, half-electric and half-'unplugged'.

Damn. Twelve tracks spread over two discs. Just shy of two hours of music. Massive song and album titles. Anyone would think that bands don't consider being kind to us critics and reviewers as a priority when they start working on an album...! Wait, what - they don't? Fair enough, I suppose, better get on with dealing with it "as it is" then...

The first thing you'd have to say is that our Belarusian friends Woe Unto Me have clearly been busy in the three years since launching their debut, 'A Step Into The Waters Of Forgetfulness'. This is a pretty substantial release by anyone's standards, perhaps more than you could reasonably expect from a mere three-year intervening period. It's again been released through Solitude Productions, with their usual quality of presentation. Interestingly, the upside-down and back-to-front halves of the booklet draw an immediate distinction between the two CDs, anticipating some kind of difference between the double-digit-plus compositions of 'The Voidness Flashed' and the sub-ten-minute pieces of 'Among The Lightened Skies'. No clues as to what it might be, though - to all intents and purposes both rely on the same technical resources - with the same band members (whose individual photos and credits are split across both halves) and guest musicians, same recording studio, dates, engineers...

Most of the heavy lifting takes place on 'The Voidness Flashed', accounting for just shy of 70 minutes of the total music as it builds on the strengths of their first album. It's still anchored in that typically Scandinavian Shape Of Despair/Saturnus vein - mixing lush picturesque soundscapes with acoustic sections, clean with extreme vocals, hard-edged and slow-paced passages with more fatalistic and funereal ones - but with an added something of its own. The use of keyboards and samples once again add something of a movie score feel to proceedings, the twin guitars and well-featured bass carry most of the main melodies, while the drums occupy a more distant, but busy and interesting, place behind them. Credit has to go the vocal arrangements, dipping in and out of growls, cleans and choral or harmonic sections: they pack a lot of emotional punch into their varied deliveries - never more so than the standout soaring cleans of Hamferđ's Jón Aldará in 'Triptych'. There are touches of both Jazz and Prog-rock to be found in the tempo changes and thematic shifts of the compositions; these peak in 'I Come To Naught', with its album-highlight Subterranean Disposition-like sax, but feature throughout. None of it will come as too much of a surprise to existing fans of either band or genre, but it's a very accomplished and well-engineered take on the style.

What might well challenge expectation is the way the album then heads unapologetically in a completely radical direction, as the separate identity of 'Among The Lightened Skies' reveals itself. This shorter collection, of shorter pieces, is essentially an 'acoustic unplugged' Death/Doom, mixing up almost the same elements (growls excluded) to create a more intimate singer-songwriter atmosphere. The clearly-intoned lyrics, one or two odd phrasings and constructions aside, have a personal and heartfelt melancholy, sadness and bitterness about them; together with the semi-acoustic tunes that accompany them, the stage has more of a later Anathema, and sometimes Pink Floyd, feel. Gothic elements shine through in places, also invoking thoughts of Chamber, L'Orchestre De Chambre Noir. Nonetheless, although there's very little musical overlap, the way Woe Unto Me have structured this as a complete and separate mirror-image that still works as a combined whole is most reminiscent of Neil Young's exemplary 1979 album 'Rust Never Sleeps' (and the follow-up 'Live Rust' double). Though Young's was a more countercultural statement - both pushing back against, and subversively embracing, the 'Punk revolution' of the time - it set the foundations of echoing themes and moods across an album of entirely different-styled electric and acoustic halves which Among The Lightened Skies The Voidness Flashed' represents rather beautifully.

The bottom line: if you want something that'll brutalise you with an extreme Doom aural kicking - this isn't it. Even when it's tackling harder-edged sonic territories, they're mostly within the Clouds/Saturnus model of accessibility (it's no coincidence that both Daniel N. and Thomas A.G. Jensen are featured guests). 'The Voidness Flashed' is undoubtedly a step forward in the more mainstream Death/Doom genre, both in terms of individuality and proficiency, but it's still coming from a quite familiar place - and I dare say you already know whether you're going to like it. The 'unplugged' idea, though, is particularly fascinating, showing what an ostensibly Doom band can do if they decide to unshackle themselves from most of the genre standards and restrictions. Much like Kimi Kärki's similar and recent 'Eye For An Eye' venture, or Zatokrev main man Fredy Rotter's The Leaving side-project, it steps out into rarer areas of musical exploration, and does so both solidly and well. So, if you're after something that has a more subtly classic and intelligent vibe to it, something that'll grow on you the more you explore it, and something which is brave enough to venture into unusual territories, then Woe Unto Me's sophomore sits more-or-less exactly on that sweet and highly recommended spot.

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
CD 1: The Voidness Flashed
1. Triptych: Shiver, Shelter, Shatter
2. Of Life That Never Showed Its Face
3. I Come To Naught
4. Breath Of A Grief
5. Drawn By Mourning
CD 2: Among The Lightened Skies
6. In A Stranglehold
7. Leave Me To My Sorrows
8. Along Came The Imminence
9. Fall-Dyed Lament
10. A Year-Long Waiting
11. My Joy Lies Behind
12. The Snide Sun

Duration : Approx. 115 minutes

Visit the Woe Unto Me bandpage.

Reviewed on 2017-10-05 by Mike Liassides
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