Review Summary: Gentle, ethereal, nostalgic...but also an album that comes with the threat of great disappointment, depending on how you like this musical style.
In the Woods... were once recognised as a band with a game-changing plan for the (then) current state of black metal. The late 90s was a time for up-and-coming bands of the sub-genre to expand, experiment and arguably improve what underground metal fans were used to, and the Norwegian pagan metallers couldn't have been better representatives of this change in the sub-genre's otherwise traditional aesthetics. However, this was the late 90s. Now, with black metal often being manipulated to invite literally every musical style you can think of into the otherwise extreme metal fold, an album such as Cease the Day
doesn't seem as much of a shock, rather a slice of nostalgia that the few long-time fans could latch onto if they were craving more of what Omnio
The 2016 comeback effort, Pure
, was simply a way of In the Woods... trying to get back and attempt to finish what they started, albeit to frustrating results mostly due to the apparent lack of confidence in musical delivery. It was nice, but it wasn't spot on and certain moments dragged. In comparison, Cease the Day
seems more thoughtful and intricate in its musical approach. Opener "Empty Streets" is probably the finest song you'll hear from the band's latest effort, if only because it sets such a beautiful, enthralling musical image in your mind that every other song afterwards struggles to match its warmth and ethereal nature. Not to worry however, because the song's progressive tactics are at the forefront and certainly present a songwriting advantage. Everything about "Empty Streets" simply brings to mind nostalgia, yet at the same time is thoroughly pleasant, even when the harsher vocal style is injected into an otherwise atmospheric soundscape. "Substance Vortex" follows on in similar fashion, breaking through the multiple layers of calm, earthy tones to introduce the listener to sounds beyond a mere rhythm section. Clean vocals manage to soften any extreme metal bursts, soundly confirming that In the Woods... have a collective awareness of how differing tones can complement each other. It's also never overdone, but this may well be both a core advantage and
Unfortunately, just like Pure
, a solid hour of this tried-and-tested musical technique means that Cease the Day
can't quite retain such a high level of interest beyond the first half of the album. For some reason, "Cloud Seeder" sees the band do away with the almost whimsical atmospherics of "Respect My Solitude" (a song more majestic than metallic) in favour of a more streamlined musical delivery. Vocals are harsher, the rhythm section becomes busier and the background is merely an echo of In the Woods... humble beginnings. It's almost like a different album, but you can still recognise the band's nostalgic approach to using what worked for them in the past and twisting it into more modernised settings. That said, the second half of the album generally feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, but only because of how (nearly) flawless those first three songs were. Perhaps if the song placement was played around with a bit more, we could have had a more piqued interest, perhaps an otherwise melodeath-influenced "Strike Up the Dawn" following the enchanting opener "Empty Streets". Furthermore, why exactly did the band decide to close the album with a two-minute title track, wholly atmospheric and devoid of any metal notion, when it sounds strangely similar to the beginning of "Transcending Yesterdays"? Who knows, but something about this slight inconsistency in both songwriting and composition makes for an equally as inconsistent album.
Yet the inconsistencies here aren't enough to dissuade those who enjoyed In the Woods... more experimental efforts from further listens. Cease the Day
is simply a warm, not too commanding full-length effort, but one which never goes too far beyond its own boundaries. A pleasant night in with a glass of wine (or something similar, use your imagination) is probably the best requirement for an album of this style, such is the gentle and, well, progressive nature of Cease the Day