The last few years were ripe for metal bands we’d long since hoped would return finally did and brought with them new music. Grind/death maulers Carcass was a huge one, and their “Surgical Steel” record proved to be one of the best in their catalog. And then we had melodic death kings At the Gates resurface with a less-awesome album, but a scorching live show nonetheless.
Now, a few years later, we have another in Nordic wonders In the Woods…, perhaps the least likely of all of the bands mentioned to reunite and bring with them new music. Their brand new one “Pure” arrives 17 years after their last studio effort “Strange in Stereo” and finds the group wildly reimagined and with a new player in the fold. Gone are the band’s days of creaky, woodsy black metal that pieced the world on their legendary debut “HEart of the Ages.” Instead, they continue to follow prog and melodic doom pathways that won’t come as any big surprise to anyone who has been along for the ride. The most important thing is the music, and In the Woods… still have much to offer a metal world that often is too shallow when it comes to heart and creativity.
In the Woods… early days go back to the early 1990s and the dawning of the second wave of black metal. They were more of an oddity at the time, with gothy undertones, synthesizers, and female voices mixed in with the torment. They always had their heads in the clouds, seeking dreamscapes that could make the listener float off amid the sinew. Along the way, the core members have been guitarist Christian “X” Botteri, bassist Christopher “C.M.” Botteri, and drummer Anders Kobro, who all return here along with new vocalist James Fogarty (Ewigkeit, Old Forest, etc.), who also contributes guitars and keys. The result is new life for this band, whose work sounds as vital and inspired as ever.
The title track begins the record, and it’s a really good indication as to what’s ahead. It’s also a really strong kickoff song, with weird keys, elegant sheets of doom, and proggy organs spilling in, with a strong, memorable chorus poking at “a shiny future waiting,” which may stick in your head for days. “Blue Oceans Rise (Like a War)” has a synth haze rising like a morning fog before the song slips into a stoic stomp. “You are in my mind, in my soul,” Fogarty bellows, while the cut gets punchier and adds more dark textures. “Devil’s at the Door” is another strong one, beginning clean before the storm clouds arrive. Grim growls work their way into the picture, though there also are a lot of cold, chilly melodies, with Fogarty wailing, “I want to leave the world behind.” There are many tempo shifts, as well as self-reflection on past shortcomings and the door left open to forgive oneself. “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” is moody and melodic, with some of the most expressive singing on a record full of that type of thing. “All the archetypes surround me,” Fogarty imagines, as he sees his life and his darkness being played out on a stage, a place where he’s not comfortable being so vulnerable in such a state. “The Cave of Dreams” mixes doom with post-rock fog, as the track gets chunky, with the pull of psychedelic dreams prompting Fogarty to insist, “It was not real.”
“Cult of Shining Stars” unravels slowly, as the music trickles, the verses get a little more raucous, and eerie synth settles over the scene. The music cascades in sheets, while cloudy synth and punchy tempos lead the way. “Towards the Black Surreal” slips in on clean guitars that give way to an emotional release. There is a strong hint of deathrock here, as the pace plods along and Fogarty observes, “Gravity has become distance.” From there, the song bursts to life, with the music crushing souls and leaving hope in its dust. “Transmission KRS” is a lengthy instrumental, one that sounds inspired by 1970s space prog, as it spreads over 10:46, with voices calling out from a control station, and the track starting gently with acoustics and different shades. As it goes on, the energy tears through the middle of the song, with blazing soloing that bursts with emotion, keys pulsating, and your heart, surely, surging. “This Dark Dream” is rife with strong riffs and belting singing before it slips into chilling territory and long synth stretches. The crunch then returns, with Fogarty noting, “My dearest friends, they turned their back,” as organs rush in and get heavily proggy, with a dramatic finish bringing the exclamation point. Closer “Mystery of the Constellations” unloads trudging guitars, with stabbing verses and fiery soloing. The cut is sweeping and dramatic, with power metal and doom mixing together to make a thick mud, guitar work stirring, and the cut fading into the distance.
Having In the Woods… back in metal’s realms is a gift or the highest proportions, and their appearance at next year’s Maryland Deathfest will force me, happily, to make the pilgrimage south. “Pure” is a new page for the band, but one we could see coming, and it is work that stands up mightily even against their classic work. This is a fine later-year surprise that’s going to sound perfect matched up with autumn here in North America.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/inthewoodsomnio/
To buy the album, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/12-eshop
For more on the label, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/