Lunatic Soul – Through Shaded Woods: Album Review

On album number seven, Lunatic Soul (that’s Mariusz Duda from Riverside) explores the darkness of Slavic and Scandinavian folk. And it’s brilliant!

Release date: 13th November 2020

Label: Kscope

Format: DL / CD / vinyl

These days even Taylor Swift is going all dark and woody. That classic image from Opeth’s Blackwater Park seems to have been inspirational (by its cover at least). It gives us a seamless segue to the most interesting of several side projects releases under the Lunatic Soul guise of Riverside’s Mariusz Duda.

The electronic direction of his more recent LS work gets shunted aside for the Shaded Woods concept, described by Duda as “being our worst traumas and nightmares. It’s a test of courage. Musically, we’re going on a journey inspired by dark Scandinavian and Slavic folk.” Think Wardruna and you’re on the right lines, as Mariusz goes genuinely solo playing everything. It also finds him decked out in a cross between Assassin’s Creed and one of Robin Hood’s merry men. All his own work and not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a brilliantly realised record.

The sublime The Fountain has been released just ahead of the album and we make no excuses for sharing two of the tracks. Showcasing a slightly different side to the overarching musical themes, it’s a belter. The track closes the album with a classy serenity that rivals Riverside’s River Down Below.

You may have already been privvy to the exquisitely folky Navvie that opens the album and sets the scene for an organic musical journey that doesn’t veer too far from the path through the woods. Yes, there’s a high chance that you’ll actually wonder if you’ve got the right album, never mind a Lunatic Soul album, but you’ll be hooked by the pulse, the rhythms and the haunting and slightly indecipherable lyrical incantation. Four minutes down and I could groove all day on this tune.

It’s no flash in the pan either. Hold the thought that Navvie might simply be the promising start to an album that’s not fulfilled on one of those albums that starts with a killer and then goes downhill – you might know one like that. Wrong again.

The Passage works on a hypnotic acoustic groove that shifts into a heavier direction with some thrash folk and tribal grunts. Not satisfied? Hang in for the full nine minutes for a sprightly dance sequence where you can get all frisky and frolicsome in the undergrowth. Mariusz calling up his love of shamanic, ritual trance music from artists like the Swedish band Hedningarna

All comments aside, within a couple of tracks, there’s a real shift in direction that’s starting to emerge which seems to be backing up the claim that Duda has produced “the most danceable album in my career.” One that would have the crowd kicking up a storm on Stage 2 at Cambridge Folk Festival.

The vocal chants and treated vocal effects on the title track and the Pagan dance rhythms in Oblivion lead us to a pastoral mood that comes from the opening gentle cascades of acoustic guitar on Summoning Dance. The sort of thing that you’ll find in the best of Anathema. Over ten minutes we move through self-doubting thoughts of “why do I feel like I’ve already failed. It sounds rather ominous as he muses over personal doubt – talk of three stars on the right side three stars on the left – and the vicious circle of life and death.It moves into a brisker tempo and bouts of brightness; halfway through we’re treated to a bouncing jig that evolves into a trance-like, furious folk dance. Very ethnic and dipping deeply into Eastern European themes.

Through Shaded Woods opens many doors for those of us untutored in the folk traditions beyond our own. Educational and inspirational. Not a wasted second or a wasted note.

There’s no doubt that Mariusz Duda has gone with the flow of the emotional depth and charge of Riverside’s Wasteland album. He appears to have put the personal darkness that inspired his previous albums behind him, as optimism and musical ambition shine through in his new music that offers rewards from looking back.

And as rubber wellied Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket used to say, “and there’s more.” The six album tracks come complemented by an additional CD for those indulging in the deluxe package and who wouldn’t want more. And to be truthful, I’m loathed to play anything after The Fountain, except for going back to Navvies and starting again.

A shameful thought, but the extra three tracks reveal insightful compositions although you can perhaps appreciate why they didnt fit main album. A very close cousin, Vyraj, is cut from the same cloth as Navvies. By the time five minutes is up, you’ll be stoked playing it again. It’s a full-on folk rave and for anyone who’s just shelled out on the vinyl (green wax of course) or the basic CD, you’ll need this.

While Hylophobia passes in a blink, almost half an hour of Transition2 is an experimental exploration of various themes. What sounds like ambient backward effects lead to the most electronic influence on the record. Very Oldfield-like in the construction and movement through several passages, it meanders by. You can appreciate why longer might be interesting but isn’t always better.

This is an album reminiscent of when Danny Cavanagh took leave of Anathema to produce the stunning Monochrome in 2017. You feel like these departures are more than just a break from the day job. Monochrome and Through Shaded Woods are both stunning examples of what lies beneath.

Coming in as a highly unanticipated and surprise late contender for album of the year, even on first listen Through The Shaded Woods is an outstanding eye-opening album.

Listen to Navvie here:

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