Lunatic Soul’s folk turn on Through Shaded Woods
All journeys must have an end, and Mariusz Duda is nearing the conclusion of his with Lunatic Soul.
“I think it’s the penultimate album,” Duda says of the project he started in 2008 and has been leading ever since alongside his more high-profile work as a frontman and driving force behind music. Polish heavyweights Riverside. “It should be eight albums only. I don’t know if I’ll go back to Lunatic Soul after this.
“This is Through the shady woods, Lunatic Soul’s seventh album and the final left turn on a path defined by left turns. Lunatic Soul was conceived as an introspective, inverse reflection of Riverside’s grandiose modern prog, only to abruptly mutate in the middle of the last decade into a vehicle for their founder’s love of electronic music.
Through Shaded Woods is another metamorphosis, even more surprising than the previous one. Its six evocative titles make few concessions to modernity, preferring to draw inspiration from folk music, nature and Scandinavian and Slavic folklore. It feels both centuries-old and timeless. “I wanted to create dance songs in the forest,” he says, half-joking.
Duda speaks via Skype from the guest bedroom of her home in Warsaw. Like just about every musician on the planet, he’s been grounded for most of 2020. But he’s used that enforced downtime constructively, releasing a series of off-the-cuff electronic compositions under his own name via band camp.
Through the shady woods is different. It’s far from spontaneous, as illustrated by the relationship between its cover – a ghostly green photograph of trees in a woods – and the music he composed for it. Each LS album cover has a different color: black (Lunatic Soul I), white (LSII), Grey (prints), blue (Walk on a flashlight beam) and red (Fracture and its companion album Under the broken sky). Putting the aesthetic cart before the horse, he chose the color of the cover of his next album even before writing it. “I decided now was the time to go green,” he says. “Green equals ‘forest’. So I said, ‘Okay, maybe it’s time for that medieval, woodland, forest stuff.’
The title woods are literal. Duda has lived in Warsaw since 2000, but he spent the first 25 years of his life in Wegorzewo, a small town in northeastern Poland nestled between forests and lakes (“Carefree, quiet, calm, touristy, beautiful, magnificent” , is his Tripadvisor-worthy summary). It is in these forests that Duda would get lost as a child and as an adult. “To find the balance in my head,” he explains. “I could breathe deeply there when I needed to think about something important. These were the places where I could hide.
The environment around him matched the music he was listening to. As a child, he immersed himself in Tangerine Dream and Mike Oldfield, before moving on to the otherworldly choirs of Dead Can Dance, the Celtic mysticism of Clannad and the Swedish folk changelings Hedningarna. “I really liked these dark people, with a trance and a pulse,” he says. “It was always somewhere in the shadows, even when I wasn’t writing music that sounded like it.”
Through the shady woods has that same trance-like quality, hypnotic rhythms and wordless voices of Navvie at summoning danceritualistic abandonment. The title track explicitly evokes the forest landscapes of Duda’s youth, right down to the sound of footsteps crunching on the leaves that ends it.
But the arboreal imagery is also metaphorical. The title’s shaded woodwinds refer to what the singer describes as “fighting his own traumas and fears”, a concept that is central to the album.
“I wanted to tell a simple story about suffering, because everyone suffers at some point in their life and everyone struggles right now,” he says. “But being in pain doesn’t mean you just have to lie on the couch and do nothing. The reward is on the other side of the room. Get up and go. Take those first steps.
It’s not hard to read the overall theme of the album as a mirror of Duda’s own life. In recent years, he has suffered the sudden and unexpected losses of his father and his Riverside teammate Piotr Grudzinski. But the themes of perseverance in the face of personal pain run deeper and go further back.
“The whole Lunatic Soul thing was born mainly because I’m a person who suffers, from time to time, from a kind of depression,” he says. “I have these dark times, these days full of sorrow. Making these albums is therapy for me. I don’t need pills, I just need music. It’s just the continuation of my story. The story of Lunatic Soul is my personal journey.
When Duda talks about a story, he literally means it. A narrative thread has gradually materialized through the seven albums he has made so far under this name, though it is complex and heavy with symbolism. He doesn’t want to detail it, but he’s there for anyone who wants to dig deeper.
“There is a conspiracy,” he said. “Lunatic Soul albums are tied to the circle of life and death. The main protagonist is dying; after his death, he wanders somewhere in the afterlife. And then he has the chance to come back, to live again, to come back to life.
The story follows a circular timeline, rather than sequential. Duda divides Lunatic Soul albums so far into two camps: those on the “dead” side and those on the “life” side. Lunatic Soul I and II, and the third instrumental album, Impressions, fall into the first category. In the latter are Walk on a flashlight beam (“The Prequel – About Someone Who Lives, Before He Crosses Over”), Fracture and its companion album Under the broken sky. There are also other clues: the color of the sleeves (black, white and gray = death, blue and red = life); Lunatic Soul’s “snake” logo is whole on the “death” albums and broken on the “life” albums (“Because life is broken”, says Duda). Even the sound of each album is significant: ‘death’ albums feature organic instruments; ‘Life’ albums have always been electronic.
Through the shady woods is on the side of “death”, although it is far from dark. “This album in particular is about coming back to life,” he says. “It’s the opposite of Walking On A Flashlight Beam. It’s about crossing that line, but from death to life. For the first time in Lunatic Soul, I did something lighter than dark.
What changed in his life to cause this? “Life has changed,” he replies. “Time has healed the wounds. I found myself in a new place. I have a new family, I don’t feel lonely or depressed anymore, I wanted to do something positive. It’s like, ‘Let’s do something positive, let’s fight.’ »
If he sticks to his eight-plus album plan, there’s one more to come after. Through the shady woods. Four albums on the ‘death’ side, three on the ‘life’ side. This means Lunatic Soul’s latest album will be…
“It’s going to be about the chaos of life and something that forces the protagonist to close in on themselves,” he says, implicitly referring to the circle of life and death he talked about earlier. “Musically, I’m going to do something crazy.”
This madness extends to examining live shows – something he has resisted so far. “Early Lunatic Soul albums were hard to play on acoustic guitar,” says. “That, I can play from start to finish. When I finish the whole concept, I definitely will. Maybe a tour, maybe just a show.
All of this is in the future – a future that seems far away. But Mariusz Duda can wait. For now, the forests are calling.
This article originally appeared in issue 115 of Program Magazine.