Review Summary: Riff and snare, until it is done.
Atmospheric black metal has been my favorite style of extreme music for more than a decade. The sound of sweeping tremolo riffs and the methodical smacking snare create a captivating, fluid repetition, interspersed with rolling drum fills, soaring melodies (or abysmal dissonance), and screeching, emotionally-driven vocal performances; it’s something I’ve always been able to come back to. I find a kind of solace in the chaos, like being pulled into and through another world against your will, with no control over your journey, yet you are feeling and learning as you go, and thus you want more.
In recent years, however, I’ve found that my old mainstay subgenre just hasn’t been getting the job done. Perhaps I was simply burnt out on bands trying to smother me with atmospherics or riddle me with a relentless sonic assault. I drifted to other types of metal, from crushing doom, to blazing thrash, to seething death. All the while I was waiting for an atmospheric black metal album to come along that would recapture my attention and rekindle my love for a type of sound and an approach to music that I once found to be near the pinnacle of emotionally impactful art.
And then without warning, emerging from the darkness as a swirling winter storm, an unrefined and forthright force of nature, came Im Wald.
You get less than 30 seconds of windy, wintery ambiance before you’re assailed with frigid, high-pitched riffage and an equally icy scream to back it up. Wintherr isn’t going to wait for you to settle into the scenery; he’s going to bring it crashing down around you, engulf you in it, suffocate you with it. The wall of sound is monolithic, but more inviting than it is imposing, immediately sparking your curiosity as to what all exactly is comprising this towering monstrosity of aural elements.
You close your eyes and suddenly find yourself trudging through a dark, dead forest. Branches bend and twist from the wind howling all around you as each step you take through the tightly packed snow has purpose, intention. You don’t know where you’re going, but you know you have to get there, whatever it takes. An electric keyboard whirl impels you forward faster, a caustic voice in the air ignites your confidence. You are not just ready for the journey ahead; you were born to make it. This undercurrent of resolve permeates the album and is almost certainly a reflection of its creator’s determination to fully realize his ambitious vision.
This will not be easy trek, however. Monsters lurk amidst the crooked limbs and rotting trunks, and you’re going to have to get through them if you want to survive.
Nuances in driving basslines and soft chimes and keyboard strokes abound, as the consistently vehement vox layers atop blistering blasts and freezing cold backing riffs that sear and singe with their subzero sting. The lead melodies are instantly entrancing and continually evolving in a cerebral but still emotionally stirring stampede that threatens to flatten the very trees of this ancient forest you've been transported to.
The interludes feel more like the true beginnings or endings of the songs they surround, rather than bridges or breaks between them, moving the album’s structure beyond simple smooth transitions and into one massive, cohesive whole. This doesn’t mean that all the tracks sound the same; far from it. Each one has some unique characteristic, it’s very own story within a story to tell. Shrieking trems and a relentless double bass march form the heart of “Uber dem Baumen”, which then draws you into the eerie ethereal soundscape of “Schneegliztern”.
“Alt” picks up the pace, pouring out panicked pangs of urgency in the frantic cymbal splashes and seemingly erratic snare strikes, occasionally tempered by the lightest keyboard touches that float across the backdrop. The guitars tear forward, angry and unrestrained.
“Stimmen im Wald” introduces a triumphant vocal chorus to spur you onward, “Le reve lucide” an aching, undulating violin and perhaps the strongest melodies on the album. Kalteshaucer unleashes those lurking monsters that mistake you for the trees and try to rip your limbs off with a bone-chilling riff-fest, but the airy aura of “Verweilen” arrives just in time to whisk you away to safety.
The final two tracks offer the most crushing, followed by the most spacious composition of elements here, and serve to drag you down to the deepest depths and then raise you up and, finally, out of the doomed woods and onto the next journey. The closing track, “So hallt es wider”, is perhaps the most powerful of all, a coalescence of preceding elements that carries the residue of its haunting opening strums straight through to end to come full circle, as if an album unto itself.
For the second time in as many months, a band I had been trying to get into for years finally clicked with me. I had listened to Paysage d’Hiver’s self-titled album several times before and never heard much of anything but static-y noise. Somehow, the beauty of its pristine, stripped down, otherworldly quality eluded me, until it didn’t. I went back through Wintherr’s entire Paysage discography and it became readily apparent that all his previous work on this project has led to this album, and what a culmination it is.
Only a small handful of people will ever hear this, and less still will be struck in the same way that I have by its alluring atmosphere, mesmerizing melodies, relentless riffs, and ensnaring snare work. This is probably for the best. Wintherr is known for his reclusiveness (though that has changed somewhat as of late) and if you’ve ever read an interview with the man, you know his concepts and perspectives are not for the unimaginative. It’s seems fitting then, that one of the greatest black metal records of all time remain true to the essence of the ideology that spawned it; hidden in the shadows of the dark, dead forest it is named after.