A qualified teacher with three university degrees, Woods Of Ypres mastermind David Gold was an intelligent man struggling to find his niche, as he testified on his song Travelling Alone: ‘I have searched and I have tried / To find a place where I can be / I love my homeland dearly, but never carved a place in society.’
An accomplished multi-instrumentalist with a fervour for black metal, David found solace in music. His music was as much raw worship of the majestic Canadian wilderness as it was a vent for his bleakly rational observations of humanity. Woods albums II-IV articulated an evolution from raw black metal to the doom-laden gothic majesty of his magnum opus, Woods 5: Grey Skies And Electric Light.
It was a record that marked another fresh start, after years of a constantly changing line-up of supporting musicians. David was the sole creative mastermind behind Woods’ music – until the day he recruited Joel Violette. Joel, a huge fan, couldn’t believe what was happening. “I went from fan to lead guitarist in a day!” he laughs. “It was mind-boggling. I was very inspired by what David was doing for Canada’s metal scene. Woods II is still one of my favourite albums, though it’s now difficult to listen to.”
Joel got to know David in 2005 when he ordered a copy of Woods II from him. Over the next few years they traded emails, Joel posting David demos for what would become Canada 2010, the first album in his still- active solo folk/black metal project, Thrawsunblat. “Then in 2009 David was like, ‘Want me to drum on the record for you?’ I was blown away. ‘Yes, of course!’” he enthuses. “One of David’s immense qualities was his ability to get stuff done.”
David found a fertile partnership with Joel. For the first time, he didn’t have to concentrate on writing everything himself, he and Joel writing half of the music each for Woods 5, giving him more time to focus on the record’s finer details. “He used to joke that we were the Lennon and McCartney of Canadian black metal!” says Joel.
Written and recorded in just six weeks of July-August 2011 at Beach Road studios, Ontario, with producer Siegfried Meier, the results were stunning. The pealing solo and punchy gang shouts of Career Suicide (Is Not Real Suicide) offered hope, juxtaposed with the frustrated lamentation of Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye), which, as Joel recalls, was inspired by the death of Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele. “Type O were a huge influence on David,” he remembers. “That they became so popular after Peter died drove him bonkers.”
His frustration is clear in the starkly delivered lyrics: ‘We miss them so much / Now that they are gone / Took them for granted / For living, so long.’
Tragically, David himself was killed in a car accident in December 2011. He was just 31 years old. Two months later, Woods 5 was released, the reception and interpretation of its lyrics irrevocably altered. Upon first listen, it is alarmingly foreshadowing – a captivating journey through mournful melody and exhilarating extremity. The more you listen, the more David’s dour, prophetic objectivity impresses.
Joel, having only heard the instrumentals, remembers being startled hearing David’s vocals on the tracks for the first time – existential anguish in that funereal baritone; his scathing roar. “David was a powerful lyricist. He had a cool perspective – ‘Yes, modern life can be grey and cold, but there’s more to it.’ He would often in songs discuss a problem and then present the solution – there was a messianic feel to it… when David passed it gave a very different feel to the lyrics.”
Now David’s gone, Joel is often the man looked to for insight – a task he’s struggled with. “A week after David passed, I was asked [by a journalist] ‘What’s the future of the band?’ I forget exactly what I said, ‘We don’t know what the future for Woods is’, or something. I took a bunch of flak for saying that – clearly you can’t make a Woods Of Ypres album without David Gold. I guess I was trying to find hope”, he says. “It stings, but there’s nothing that can be done about it.”
Woods 5 deservedly won the 2013 Juno (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys) for Metal/Hard Music Album Of The Year. That it isn’t spoken of in the same breath as the likes of October Rust, David’s heroes Type O Negative’s crowning achievement, is a shame, and something that will hopefully be rectified with time.
“I feel very fortunate to have contributed to a slice of it,” concludes Joel. “This fantastic Canadian legacy that David built with his vision and work ethic. Over the years, a whole cast of characters were involved in realising that vision. There’s a lot of people now making music who otherwise wouldn’t be.”
Testimony to this lies with Heart Of Gold – a tribute album released in 2013, featuring 19 bands made up of his peers covering their favourite Woods songs. That David inspired so many to create is a fitting legacy and reaffirms the message at the core of his masterwork. Woods 5 reminds us all to make the most our lives, and those we share them with.