Album Review: Lunatic Soul – Through Shaded Woods

Lunatic Soul – Through Shaded Woods

Gothic Folk | Progressive Rock


Setting the right tone can make a world of difference. It’s one thing for an artist to pen a good hook, or nail some intricate instrumentation, but being able to build an immersive atmosphere requires a whole other kind of dedication to your craft. It’s a skill that’s far more fluid and abstract, one that is very difficult to master, but get it right and it elevates everything else around it as a result. It gives music a decidedly cinematic feel, and so is perhaps best described using the world of cinema. For instance, you could make a fine action flick with some cool set-pieces and big explosions, but that same film could be made better by imbuing it with a palpable sense of tension. With consequences on the line and some uncertainty as to whether our hero will prevail, you can go from mindless spectacle to genuine edge-of-your-seat thriller. Likewise you could make a perfectly serviceable horror movie by having a hideous monster jump out and spew gallons of gore. But if you get the atmosphere right with an eerie setting, spooky sound design and unnerving cinematography, you can terrify the audience without spilling a single drop of blood. 

Returning now to the world of music, and it has to be said that Through Shaded Woods carries that same level of attention to detail. Riverside’s Mariusz Duda has for the most part forsaken the electronic approach found on his previous solo work, instead immersing himself in gothic folk for this latest Lunatic Soul release. He’s truly gone all out to craft an engrossing atmosphere on this record, and for the entire run time it just whisks you away to a whole other world. It transports you back in time to an age where history and legend are interwoven. Press play, close your eyes, and you can quite easily see yourself skirting the edge of a storm in a viking longship, or witnessing some pagan ritual in a woodland clearing. The traditional approach to many of the arrangements on this record just adds so much wonder and mysticism. It’s rare to find such a rich, full world created simply by music, and rarer still to find one that I wish I could just jump into and explore to its furthest reaches. 

The opening of ‘Navvie’ feels like the kind of foot-stomping jam you’d hear in the corner of an old tavern, while the galloping drums and bewitching acoustic guitar of ‘Oblivion’ have me hooked even before the stunning melodies kick in. The title track mixes a little Eastern flair in with the dark gothic vibes which makes it feel like the soundtrack for some exotic, bustling medieval marketplace, before closing with the ambient sound of howling winds and rustling leaves. Meanwhile the epic ten minute ‘Summoning Dance’ is a tale of two halves; the first the record’s most bright and uplifting folk offering, at times as soft and pure as falling snow, with the second half playing out like a life or death chase through a gnarled and mist-wreathed forest. 

Looking again from a cinematic view: having a great setting, building this intriguing and engaging world, will only get you so far if you don’t also have a great story to go along with it. Ultimately this is where Through Shaded Woods falls short – it feels like the backdrop for a story yet to be told. Once a track has set the scene it often lingers there a bit too long, with the final minutes of ‘The Passage’, ‘Through Shaded Woods’ and ‘Summoning Dance’ all becoming very repetitive and ultimately wearing out their once warm welcome. It so often feels like there’s something missing, some verse or solo or something absent from the final cut which should be the centre of attention, and instead you just have the repeated backing arrangement turned up in order to fill the void.

If anything, Mariusz is a little too good at the atmospheric side of things on this album. A perfectionist when it comes to the minute details and how they all weave together, but losing sight of the bigger picture in the process.  So while I love the stylistic shift Mariusz has taken with this album, and I hope we get to hear him explore it further, there is still work to be done. The stage is set, it just needs a bit more variety and spectacle to take it to the next level.