The reformation of Norwegian avant-garde and progressive metallers In The Woods in 2014 was highly anticipated as the band released some of the most challenging and wholly satisfying albums in the 90s operating on the fringes of the Norwegian black metal scene. During that fertile period the band released three excellent albums each offering a unique slice of progressive and experimental extreme metal that jutted against the trendy blackness that was prevalent at the time. Arguably the band pioneered the burgeoning and embryonic avant-garde black metal subgenre by introducing clean vocal elements alongside the more aggressive song writing aspects as those cleaner aspects continued on Green Carnation releases which was where the band members took their creative juices in the 2000s.
It has taken 17 years for a new album to appear which is a very long time to remain faithful to the bands vision of all-encompassing experimentalism. Coupled to the prospects of this new album the band has undertaken a raft of festival appearance slots where I caught the band put on an excellent and accomplished performance at Brutal Assault. So was it worth the wait! It definitely was as this fourth album is one of the best releases of 2016 and is certainly the best comeback album of the year and most likely the last 10 years or so.
To isolate individual tracks for praise would be doing this opus a serious disservice as the moment the title track starts the album you are flung into a magical and beautiful sonic landscape where serene clean melodies are tied together with ribbons of monolithic doom. It is a long time since I listened to an album clocking the 60 minute mark to fly by without a dull moment and like the sophomore by Canadian progressive act Anciients this is a contender for album of the year. There is a delicacy about the song writing that enables each track to blanket the listener in shrouds of magisterial opulence. Parts of the album have signs of modern day Anathema but whilst the UK band retains that softer more genteel approach the Norwegians insert fluidly aggressive traits like dark shimmering jewels.
The multiple vocal styles adorning this album are exquisite, especially the clean vocals which are wondrous, haunting in delivery as on “Blue Oceans Rise (Like A War)” with an almost soporific tone. Contrasting massively with that softer vision is “Devil’s At The Door” which begins sweetly before a malicious almost death metal style surges forward with unabashed tyranny as the alluring cleaner aspects render the listener paralysed ready for an upsurge in aggression that has gothic polish gleaming gloriously.
Any fan of the band will identify with the chameleon like transitions the songs go through and also the echoes of the bands past work via various guitar hooks and vocal intonations such as “Towards The Black Surreal” which harks back to the band’s debut and the opener from that album called “Yearning The Seeds Of A New Dimension” with its pagan like delivery that also materialises on “The Cave Of Dreams” which is far more upbeat song than expected but intensely heavy. In The Woods love their epic songs and whilst this whole release is epic “Transmission Krs” is a ten minute plus sonic extravaganza. Layering dulcet serenity in its initial few minutes the song is peppered with various keyboard atmospherics initially. As the tune unfurls a gradual gathering is seen where the individual musical components congeal into an edifying and palatial tune that stretches the bands musical vision into newer realms of luxuriant finesse.
Astounding, luscious and dazzling this is an essential album for any fan of progressive music as established fans will adore it and those requiring fresh blood in the prog scene should look no further as this will be your best album of the year without doubt.
(10/10 Martin Harris)