My superlatives surrounding this Norwegian bands previous album “Pure”, which saw them return to the world of progressive experimentalism after a long hibernation in the forest wilderness of which they were very fond of back in the 1990s, were abound with high praise and I still stand by those judgements. However setting the bar so stratospherically high means following that magnum opus means taking everything to whole a new level or diverting the creative juices into new, unexplored sonic avenues and it is fair to say the band has adopted the latter for this fifth album.
Everything that In The Woods… composes is meticulously strategized as the opening track, “Empty Streets” starts with a mournful vocal soliloquy that leads into a dense doom laden riff. That sorrowful aura continues vocally within the tendrils of melancholic melody embedded into the fabric of the guitar which yields for a desolate section that haunts the tune. The bass flows gently under the guitar wonderfully as the clean vocal elements have a beguiling eeriness that leads into a magnificent blackened transition where the track increases its power and malfeasance done in stages of morphing violence.
An acoustic guitar starts “Respect My Solitude” interspersed with metallic elements but melded with a majestic posture conjured up with symphonic features that add considerable depth. The harmony of the vocals is wonderful, so crisply and deftly executed they float within the song creating a cushioning effect against the heavier aspects which eventually yield for the blackened assault that juts against the calm passages in an acerbic effrontery within those more serene passages. Linking in superbly is “Cloud Seeker” with its evocative keyboards and vocal bleakness that suddenly shifts into a more uplifting piece that is just terrific and channels the track down into a more aggressive furrow, revealing a stunning guitar melody that etches into your head. Beautifully relaxing in parts the song transitions through various styles as the harsher blackness is coupled to double kick density but that catchy guitar riff is always there and in some respects it is very reminiscent of Sabbath, now whether the band will agree with me on that is another matter, but undoubtedly it is one of my favourites on the album.
Building sequentially is “Still Yearning”, an epic tune with an emotive beguiling guitar riff that is utterly enchanting, as the clean vocals saunter in like a drifting wind, possessing a sombre tone though weirdly it is also quite heartening which I know is a contradiction but you’ll get what I mean when you listen to it. The song slows into a gloomy phase before sonically shifting into a harsh black ferocity yet everything is kept so well controlled, as each change is refined for maximum effect when the song cohesively morphs back to the gloomy, sorrowfulness that leads into a straight up heavy metal riff and slow double bass infusion that steadily intensifies towards the songs climaxing finale; sonic magnificence personified.
Possibly the most accessible song on the album, well for this band anyway, is “Strike Up With The Dawn” which initiates with an acoustic phase before smoothly switching to a melodic black metal track. However In The Woods… never do simplistic as symphonics are incorporated along with the mix of clean and traditional black metal throat savagery. The tempo changes are rife too as the song manifests each with a raft of subtle vocal elements and a fine lead break as the album enters its closing doublet of tracks with “Transcending Yesterdays”. An atmospheric beginning with crowd noises starts the song, and again the song is very metal oriented as a blistering riff juts into the song dispersing the crowd noises, the song is also fairly traditional compared to the other songs on the album, with a far more dominant harsh vocal initially and much heavier approach, though the ever mutating compositional style the band employs is not far away as the clean vocals flood out, linked to the grandiose atmosphere that is also generated and some fine lead work that is embedded that allows the song to slow down into doom pace. I love how the band can turn the songs on their head, make them become so powerful and emotive with just a single guitar hook as the album ends with the very short title track. A poignant piano and vocal piece, the song has disconsolate ethos that creates a grief stricken finale to the album but very fitting in the way the album has taken the listener through a myriad of sensations from start to finish.
Once again In The Woods… continue to spellbind us with a palatial album of tracks that will utterly enthral and mesmerize you.
(9/10 Martin Harris)