Comeback albums are often over-hyped to the point that, when listening to them, the experience is tarnished because of such lofty expectations created by the salivating masses. For German progressive black metal band In the Woods…however, a “comeback” may be stretching the term from its original meaning. Back in the day, some two decades ago, In the Woods…were so far ahead of their time they may as well have time-travelled and still remained relevant to future aeons, simply because of the elaborately experimental musicianship and excellent songwriting of “Omnio” and “Strange in Stereo”, two records which garnered the band a loyal cult following but did little to catapult them to the forefront of black metal itself. Thankfully, the band have returned 17 years later to release an album which, if not quite a progression of their sound, is certainly another record to mark their long-winded, masterful legacy as impressive.
“Pure” isn’t as experimental or versatile as it has been hyped up to be over the last month or so, but it still sounds unmatched because of its fresh, organic take on an otherwise stale sub-genre which is now clutching at straws to remain original. Throughout this hour-long piece, you can sample a lot of what made In the Woods… stand out in the first place. Sorrowful, soulful musicianship and hollow albeit morose vocal delivery is practically every song’s focal point here, but the performance is really what matters, even if the songwriting isn’t quite as strong. The title track expands the limitations of black metal with a spacey, otherworldly metallic vibe which often reaches celestial heights, and even at times brings to mind Enslaved’s mid-era noodlings in progressive rock territory. Elsewhere, the band attempt to recreate standard blast-beat rhythms by injecting pulsating atmosphere and rhythmic menace, all the while maintaining that organic, malevolent harmony which races throughout every track. Songs such as ‘Cult of Shining Stars’ practically worship this very formula, but it isn’t just a case of going through the motions for the band-this is definitively a powerful performance, and In the Woods… go from strength to strength.
There are a few things which hold “Pure” back from the brink of true greatness however, and it’s unfortunate to note that as powerful and eccentric as the album is, it really sounds dated, for want of a better description. Maybe it’s the production at fault, but there are numerous times in the record where it feels like you’ve been hauled back to the turn of the 21st Century, when bands of cut from this very cloth were choosing avant-garde sounds and black metal mastery as their standard route. For this reason alone, it’s hard to categorise In the Woods… in a field of their very own, because what we hear here is essentially a remnant of the past. Of course, there are golden moments, but there are also very stale moments too, particularly towards the end of the record. The sole instrumental piece, ‘Transmission KR5’, simply meanders rather than delivers, and for the majority of its almost 11 minute run-time, doesn’t add anything of interest to an already interesting sound. Its successor, the seven-minute ‘This Dark Dream’ also loses itself in celestial vibes, and eventually seems confused because of the band’s tendency to wander when they are already seemingly lost. However, the album’s real saviour is the creative songwriting paths the band choose to traverse, making stand-out highlights such as the monumentally powerful ‘Towards the Black Surreal’ so authentic and exciting. Matter of fact, there are more of these, but the problem is they don’t often seem so easily identifiable, as if the more impatient listeners have been given the task of really concentrating on the little things.
“Pure” is thus as frustrating as it is enjoyable, and it will surely take some time to come to terms with what In the Woods… have done here, Whether or not it will stand to be as much of a game-changer as “Omnio” was in 1997 will remain to be seen, but the fact that the dated production values hold this back from further greatness is unfortunate to say the least. Nonetheless, In the Woods… have presented us with a fine, welcome return and hopefully won’t be leaving us anytime soon.
Released: September 16th, 2016
- Blue Oceans Rise (Like a War)
- Devil’s at the Door
- The Recalcitrant Protagonist
- The Cave of Dreams
- Cult of Shining Stars
- Towards the Black Surreal
- Transmission KR5
- This Dark Dream
- Mystery of the Constellations