I’m silently drowning
Among your tears
Silently falling into your grief
I’m silently drowning
Among your waves
Silently falling into your breath
Let me pretend I am born again
There is nothing else quite like the thrill of entering into the world of Lunatic Soul. Well, it’s less of a thrill, and more of a sacred joy, or at least that is how it feels sometimes. Lunatic Soul is back with a new album, called “Through Shaded Woods”, and I imagine that it will be remembered as one of the best. The album releases on November 13th through Kscope.
Lunatic Soul is the original solo output for Mariusz Duda of Riverside. I still remember first hearing the LS debut and falling instantly in love with this very different side of his musical expression. Over the years, the project has explored folk, post-prog, electronic, and Gothic ideas, gathering all of these concepts into one mysterious and hazy experience. Indeed, there is a romance and a hidden sentiment in every single album that rouses my love for enigma, spirituality, and gravity. In fact, the lyrics and storyline for this project are so complex and yet so powerfully emotive that I still haven’t attempted to write a spotlight for any of them. This project is both painstakingly human as well as blissfully otherworldly, and I cherish that.
With “Through Shaded Woods”, Mariusz has returned somewhat to the sound of the first two records. Now, I say “somewhat” because this record doesn’t just explore vague folkish ideas, aka Dead Can Dance, but employs that darkness to explore Slavic and Scandinavian folk music very specifically with all the evocation and wonder that it deserves. Mariusz is a big fan of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and so you will hear that mountainous sound throughout the album, but also the green of hushed forests and fantastical creatures. I especially love the moments where Mariusz pays tribute to the Dragon Shouts from Skyrim with utter class and melody.
As usual, no electric guitars are present on this album, though Mariusz does manipulate his trusty bass to sound like distorted electric guitar at a few points. This album is heavy in that regard, though still retaining the spacious, murky whiteness of Lunatic Soul II. Indeed, this album is most at home with itself with tumultuous percussion, raging bass, and unnervingly peaceful atmospheres creating layers of beauty and light, darkness and sadness, faith and courage.
There are two things I need to mention about the music here. First, this might be the best vocal performance of Mariusz’s career thus far. He certainly has one of my favorite voices ever, but I just feel something more colorful, more melodic, and more harmonious in his vocals on this album. His voice is truly a beacon of light here, and I have to admit that I’ve been deeply impressed by his diction and articulation. Most people wouldn’t notice that, I know, but there are moments when Mariusz pronounces each and every sound in a word with such effortless precision and clarity that my love for language grows just a little.
Secondly, while this album may rely on thundering percussion, voluptuous bass, and serene keys at times, the real star of the show is Mariusz’s acoustic guitar. He weaves folk melodies with such care and fleeting exactitude on almost every song, playing with illustrious skill and festive feeling. Honestly, it makes me want to dance sometimes, which isn’t like me. Not since witnessing Steve Hackett’s 12-string guitar skills live have I been so mesmerized by acoustic playing.
Lyrically, “Through Shaded Woods” is absolutely wonderful. I honestly haven’t figured out Mariusz’s map of where each album fits in his timeline, but I can still make out the general feelings here. This album seems to mention the afterlife ferryman’s warning in “The Final Truth” from the debut. This warning was that the protagonist had to make a choice: to keep or lose his memories of life. If he chose to keep them, his loved ones would forget him. If he chose to lose his memories, he would be remembered forever. This album seems to take place directly after Lunatic Soul II, then, as that album was the protagonist’s entrance into the afterlife. “Through Shaded Woods” sees our friend learning to cope with the things he has seen and felt. He is living his afterlife, more or less, and he seems to be reaching out to his lover in his past life. The lyrics are therefore quite sorrowful and introspective, yet I find them to be confident and daring, too. Our friend is beginning to have faith, something that has eluded him in life. He especially seems to have faith that he will see his love again one day, if only he can let go of her for the moment.
The full version of “Through Shaded Woods” has two discs. The first disc is the main part of the album, coming to six tracks. The second disc has three bonus tracks, which I believe is a necessary part of the album, especially if you are already a fan. We’ve all heard the two singles, “Navvie” and “The Passage”, both of which are excellent. I love the winding mystery of the former, especially Mariusz’s smooth vocals. The latter is like a progressive epic in some ways, despite only be 9 minutes long. I love the various transitions and the heavy portion, but I think the acoustic guitar steals the spotlight.
The rest of the album is just as good. The title track is dark and mysterious for the first half before transitioning into some truly phenomenal vocal lines. I love how his voice interweaves with the keys at the end. “Oblivion” (maybe another ode to Elder Scrolls?) was my favorite after first listen. This track has the Dragon Shouts and a very folkish atmosphere and rhythm. I love how that rhythm remains, unrelenting, for the entire track, and everything else happens along that touchstone. “Summoning Dance” is a ten-minute track that is delicate and truly lovely, not to mention having some of the best lyrics. It has an iron ton of bass in its blood, and the rising acoustic rhythm peaks near the end with some atmospheric keys that remind me of “Walking on a Flashlight Beam”.
The final track is called “The Fountain”, and it is certainly one of my favorite songs of the year. For one thing, it makes me cry every time I hear it. The song is so full of heartbreak and loss, longing and passion, that I cannot help but empathize. Yet, it is full of confidence and patience, too. This song is mostly just an acoustic ballad, but Mariusz sings magnificently, and the lyrics are so potent. In the second half, a sweeping tide of feelings, keyboards, and piano takes us away to another place, and everything sounds simply perfect.
The second disc does not lack in quality. The first couple songs, “Vyraj” and “Hylophobia” (fear of forests), are pounding, boisterous affairs. You will rollick right along with the folk rhythms; they are definitely fun tracks. Then comes “Transition2”, a twenty-seven minute experience. This song feels like a tribute to the entire discography, to the places we’ve been and the visions we’ve seen. You will hear familiar snippets of past LS songs, only re-recorded and played and sung differently. The song is mostly new, however, with those snippets just providing structure. Overall, it does indeed remind me of “Transition”, which happens to be my favorite LS track for various reasons. This sequel passes through many moods and places, some riveting and tumultuous, and some peaceful and quieting. It is a beautiful song, one that I need to explore even more.
“Through Shaded Woods” feels like the grand culmination of everything Lunatic Soul has worked to create. While it focuses on folk sounds, I feel like each and every LS album is important to how this one was created. Mariusz has definitely been busy this year, and he has outdone himself with this moving masterpiece.
We part our ways
It’s the point of no return, my love
I’ve crossed this bridge
Oh maybe seven times
But only now I feel calm
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