"Love the living while they're still alive" -- this is a line from Woods of Ypres's fifth and final album, W5: Grey Skies & Electric Light, and the somewhat ironic theme of a night devoted to Woods founder David Gold's life and work. Mere months after Gold's death, this Toronto event (the first of two Ontario memorial shows) served as tribute to an individual's musical legacy and bittersweet celebration for the fans, friends and family left behind.
Eleven bands each performed a different Woods of Ypres song, pairing their cover-in-honour and a track of their own making, with only headliners Novembers Doom (up from Chicago) delivering a slightly longer set. The night was also a fundraising event, supporting, in part, a college music scholarship in Gold's name.
Hallows Die were the first band to play, opening with a Philip K. Dick-inspired original and Woods' virtual theme song "Northern Cold." Performing a range of extreme metal genres and a couple of acoustic interludes, other supporting acts were similarly Ontario-based, from black metallers Panzerfaust to the heavy groove of Gypsy Chief Goliath and much in between (Pagan Ritual, Sixes and Sevens, Bolero and Empyrean Plague).
The Woods of Ypres covers drew from the band's four previous releases and tended to mimic sound and spirit rather than attempting new interpretations. Execution levels varied, with Eclipse Eternal, Kittie, Musk Ox and Novembers Doom pulling off the tightest renditions. But even where the delivery was less polished, the sincerity was hard to miss.
The Musk Ox/Novembers Doom collaboration was particularly moving, vocalist Paul Kuhr joining the guitar-cello duo for the Woods 4 track "You Are Here with Me (In This Sequence of Dreams)." Though things moved at a steady pace, Novembers Doom started roughly an hour late, cutting their melodic death doom several songs short, but they powered through in good-natured heaviness.
After all but the final performance, Gold's mother stepped up to the mic, remembering her son and warmly thanking those gathered to collectively experience his career-culminating work, Grey Skies & Electric Light. Gold's performance coming through the sound system underscored a sense of his absence that had been building all night, but also reminded us to "love the living" and not "worship the dead."