Legendary In the Woods… thrive as upheaval leads to revamped sound on captivating ‘Diversum’

Photo by Runar Haugeland

Permanence is not a gift that the heavy metal world has enjoyed very often. It’s a volatile art form, performing it can be a mental and physical challenge, and losing the forces that helped create the music in the first place is as natural and expected as anything. Even the greatest powers in metal have gone through changes, and where they take their work is anyone’s guess once new people are in control.

Long-running Nordic force In the Woods… have had their fair share of revolving door chaos, which is going to happen to any band that managed to stick around for three decades. Their latest full-length “Diversum” is a product of further disruption in their ranks with only one member still here from their “Heart of the Ages” days, though that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to create thought-provoking, stimulating material. On this album, their sixth, the band—new vocalist Bernt Fjellestad, guitarist Bernt Sørensen, guitarist/keyboard player Kåre André Sletteberg, bassist/keyboard player Nils Olav Drivdal, drummer Anders Kobro (he’s the one who was on “Heart”), session keyboard player Alf Erik Sørensen—breathes amazing new life. Fjellestad is a godsend as their new frontman, a voice that takes them into new territories that the band explores with creative lust. It took me a few listens to fully adjust to this new version of In the Woods…, and now that I have, I am fully immersed, have completely bought in, and I hope this is just the beginning of an exciting new era.

“The Coward’s Way” starts dreamy before taking on an Enslaved-style edge, Fjellestad immediately flexing his pipes, which are formidable. “Redemption, exemption, it’s just a blade away,” Fjellestad wails over the very effective chorus as the playing soars, and the seeds embed themselves into your bloodstream. “Moments” brings heat with scorching leads and a mix of elegant singing and guttural howls. The vibe is catchy as hell as things gets muddier and heavier, strange speaking sends chills, and the chorus is another tidal wave that mows you down. “We Sinful Converge” is driven hard, angling toward gothic melody, the singing sowing the darkness. The chorus once again is massive, something the band knocks out of the park on this record. Thorny growls strike, the playing gets into strange fog, and the power jolts, the chorus coming back for one more ride. “The Malevolent God” is heavy and murky, though Fjellestad goes lush at first, balancing the terror. Guitars burn as the growls wrench, the playing goes off, and everything ends in a pocket of mystery.

“A Wonderful Crisis” spills in, Fjellestad’s voice taking off, reminding of Geoff Tate’s deeper singing back when he was at his apex. It’s hardly a surprise that the chorus crushes, the power flow is contagious and fills your guts with energy, and the emotion is thick and real, floating in darker waters as it washes away. “Humanity” bubbles to life with clean calls and the playing burning in place. Growls enter the mix as the band tilts toward elegance, allowing the sheen to envelope you before they reveal the thorns, navigating endless obscurity and trudging through your mind. “Master of None” is dark and cold, Fjellestad flexing his voice but also knowing when to remain subdued. The sweeping chorus pulls you under, howls rip at you and peel back flesh, and the guitars take over, elevating the temperature before slipping away. Closer “Your Dark” brings cool water and deep singing, diving into mid-tempo doom and absolutely selling the torment. Calm waters rush, though the power is there, growls carving into rib cages. The pace gets fiery and more aggressive, the chorus reaches back one final time, and the whole thing finds a gap in the clouds and sinks in forever.

In the Woods… are not strangers to upheaval within their ranks, and it would have been easy for “Diversum” to instantly wash out if the chemistry wasn’t right. But it is. It really, really is, and some tweaks to their sound and the emergence of Fjellestad on vocals were expert moves, making this one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the year. I’ve been with the band through every one of their eras, and the one “Diversum” kicks off has me very excited for the future of this long-standing power.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/inthewoodsomnio

To buy the album, go here: https://soulsellerrecords.aisamerch.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.soulsellerrecords.com/