When is a side project no longer on the sidelines? Mariusz Duda has now turned out as many albums with Lunatic Soul as he has in his day job of nearly 20 years, as frontman, bassist (and lately, guitarist too) of Polish proggers Riverside. This year he also made a solo electronica album with the none-more-2020 title of Lockdown Spaces, so maybe his artistic horizons are expanding still further from their Riverside roots.
Either way, Through Shaded Woods suggests his output hasn’t suffered in the least from him spreading his resources too thin. Despite playing all the instruments on this album, this is one of the most richly evocative, melodically powerful records he’s made under any name.
Publicity shots of Duda in a hooded druid’s robe hint at the kind of folk-imbued, pagan flavoured vibes that dominate here. “I always wanted to make an album steeped in nature and woodlands,” he says. At the same time, he’s admitted the influence of “dark Scandinavian and Slavic folk”.
But while Through Shaded Woods isn’t short on gloomy atmospherics, it’s instantly accessible – even danceable. Opener Navvie reels us in through an infectious acoustic hook and rustic celtic percussion before hypnotic, breathy incantations suggest some sort of medieval rave tune. “I wanted the album to include such ritualistic primal dances,” Duda has said. Then a more wistful, dream pop vocal, laced with ghostly female harmonies, breathes fresher melodic air into proceedings.
Eight-minute second track The Passage employs more conventional songcraft at first, seducing us with a beautifully mournful lost soul’s lament, geared around another addictive acoustic motif, before latterly, chugging metallic textures, distant cries and agitated breaths throw up a very real sense of foreboding.
Another nimbly finger-picked riff draws the listener into the gently yearning strains of Oblivion wherein Duda’s pleading vocal is redolent of Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance, an avowed influence on this album. ‘Silently falling into your breath/Let me pretend I am born again,’ sings Duda, reflecting a distinct sense of escapism repeatedly evoked by this record. At other times, it sounds more like a heartbreak album: The Fountain employs an irresistible combination of piano and acoustic picking to beg us (or a significant other) to ‘wash away the darkness in my soul’.
Through Shaded Woods is never less than captivating. Whether wandering through an ancient forest or adrift on the waves of disillusionment, this is the perfect soundtrack.