Lunatic Soul is the solo studio music project of creator, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Mariusz Duda. As the lead singer of the hugely popular prog-rock band Riverside, Lunatic Soul was created in 2008 as an opportunity for Duda to explore musical territories outside the rock domain.

On album number seven Duda extends his musical explorations to include dark Scandinavian and Slavic folk. The concept has been described by Duda as the “Shaded Woods” being our worst traumas and nightmares. Going through these woods symbolises facing them. It’s a test of courage. Musically, we’re going on a journey inspired by dark Scandinavian and Slavic folk.”

Mariusz found his inspiration for the album from his childhood home, an area of Poland known for its forests and lakes, ” I think I have always wanted to create an album steeped in nature and woodlands. These bring to my mind freedom, breathing and a dance ritual of coming back to nature, so I wanted the album to include such ritualistic primal dances, shamanic, Slavic and Viking moods. I wanted to mix it all up and put it all together, making “Through Shaded Woods” the most intense, dynamic and the most danceable album in my career.”

We have an atmospheric introduction to this album with `Navvie` with a wonderful beating heart of a guitar throughout with accompanying percussion. The vocals are almost whispered giving it a slightly unnerving feel, possibly an air of trepidation entering this pilgrimage. The addition of tambourine and a hurdy-gurdy or similar gave it an overall superbly hypnotic feel. Mariusz has stated that ’The Passage’ is a signature piece of the new album, on which we enter a mysterious forest full of dynamic, ritual dances. The title “passage” is the destination for the main character, where he is to be cleansed and reborn. It`s a really compelling and entrancing piece, a spiritual rebirth may be the outcome of the journey, but this track has that underlying feel of unease and maybe trepidation for what`s to follow.

Title track `Through Shaded Woods` is a much heavier offering musically. At first it sounds as though there is some guttural chanting with a beaten drum and quite forceful guitar chords. But the song tends to mellow as it continues and Mariusz`s vocal joins a little distorted at first but then delicately shared as the chorus is related. A composition that would make you feel that you are being observed. There`s an intricate guitar riff and constant almost tribal beat that runs through `Oblivion` which has a wonderfully ethereal texture about it. Lethe is referred to in the lyrics which is one of the five rivers in Hades, the underworld in Greek mythology. In classic Greek, Lethe means oblivion, forgetfulness, or concealment and in keeping with classical mythology, Lethe was also the name of a Greek spirit: the spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion. A song of almost a baptism from grief.

`Summoning Dance` gets underway with a complex guitar chord structure repeated as Mariusz`s quietly shared vocals almost fuse with the music. The vocal becomes more prevalent at the chorus before the track becomes instrumental mid-way through the song. The drum and piccola bass guitar and synth lead us along this questioning of faith possibly. The album closes with `The Fountain` a quite a pensive and reflective number that gives the impression of an emergence into the light, an awakening of sorts. It`s guitar and piano based and has some graceful cello swathes.

“Through Shaded Woods” is a much more optimistic album and the singer has said that it`s about overcoming the darkness and a trauma. It`s superbly challenging lyrically and has some of the most musically hypnotic tracks that I can recall. Mariusz Duda played all the instruments on the album and has made a drum machine sound as close to a drum as I’ve ever heard one. The album seems very cathartic and the title could possibly be a metaphor for a cleansing or a rebirth, but the singer has related that the title is whatever you want it to be.

This for me is my album of this difficult year.

Rating 9.5 /10