Review Summary: Ghost of what it was, as the title would suggest.
It seems Paysage d'Hiver's goal in recent years is to go above and beyond with each release. 2020's 'Im Wald' was a first true example of that, with Wintherr dropping his longest album to date after 7 years of complete silence, while many fans speculated that there would never be another Paysage d'Hiver record. Granted, Das Tor felt like an appropriate send-off to the saga, however the next album, when announced, had to be hyped up to the moon. That was indeed the case, however Wintherr made the most of the said hype, releasing the most ambitious and envelope-pushing record of his career. 'Im Wald' presented Paysage d'Hiver's typical sound being completely turned on its head. Gone were the days of 15-minute drones backed with buzzing guitars and drums that sound like a washing machine with rocks inside. The production, while maintaining the fuzz and low fidelity of a Paysage d'Hiver album, was a lot more conventional and easier to digest. The length of the songs has been mostly trimmed, oscillating mostly around the 10-minute mark and letting the interludes provide the calmer moments of the album. 'Im Wald' is a benchmark record for both this band and black metal in general, and solidified Paysage d'Hiver as an underground heavyweight and a force to be reckoned with.
And yet, 7 months later, a new record had been announced, along with a single, 'Bluet'. To put it bluntly, it felt like the worst track under Paysage d'Hiver's name. The vocal performance on this one was pretty engaging, but the riffing was too basic for its own good, the writing felt really stale and the repetition worked against it in a big way. The other thing worth noting was that the production, once again, was less fuzzy, and the drum tone actually came close to hitting hard. I wrote the track off as a misstep and hoped for the best out of the new release. Two singles later it was clear that whatever Wintherr drops in 2021, will be the most experimental outing under his belt and nothing like the classics in terms of sound and appeal. While that is the case, 'Geister' is not half the opus magnum Im Wald was 10 months ago.
Geister continues down the road Im Wald was pointing towards, with shorter tracks, cleaner sound, less emphasis on ambiance, and an overall increase in accessibility. Since these same traits drew me into 'Im Wald' and made me enjoy the record much more than the previous outings, I was surprised to see a record clearly trying to outdo its predecessor, but with very mixed results. Throughout the 70-minute runtime there is very little in terms of variation and attention to detail. While there are a few highlights, nearly all of these tracks bleed into one another, while sounding very directionless and inconsequential on their own. 'Äschä' is a great example, the riffing on this track is clearly standout, but the song's lack of structure and mere 4 minutes of runtime make it come off as less epic than it clearly could have been. The only song using any sort of ambiance is the closer, which starts off like an epic build-up, but ends up going nowhere and loses flavor halfway through, and that's another thing. Wintherr is the master of build-up, and even if a particular Paysage d'Hiver track lacked memorable riffing, the project never disappointed on the dynamic front, one which 'Geister' abandons almost completely. Since most of the songs here are about 6 minutes in change, Wintherr doesn't really have time for any sort of a synth passage or acoustic guitars to clean up the atmosphere and bring the rage back in his typical fashion. An old track like 'Welt aus Eis' works because despite grinding on the same melody for 8 minutes straight, it has room to breathe during various sections and justifies its 19-minute runtime. Here, a vast majority of the tracklist cannot justify its much shorter lenghts and I don't really know why. My other major grievance with this record is its lack of layers. If your riffs alredy make Angus Young look like Joe Satriani, why feed the listener only one melody most of the time? These songs could have been improved greatly if more attention to detail and textures had been paid. The writing overall feels very rushed, which might get a pass in a different style of music, but I feel like black metal requires the opposite more than anything.
None of the above is to say there are no great moments throughout. 'Schattä' is a really good opener, with some very cold and steady chord progressions. It's not the avalanche that 'Im Winterwald' was to Geister's predecessor, but I don't really think it's trying to be that, instead starting the experience off with a slower track, but hard-hitting nonetheless. 'Undä' ends with a chunky riff I would have never anticipated out of Paysage d'Hiver, but it works stupendously well and is a glaring example of 'Geister''s experimentation done really well. One thing I can compliment throughout the entire album is the vocal performance. The screams, instead of being just another layer intertwining with the distorted guitar, as was the case with every previous outing, have distinct rhythmic patterns, which helps decipher them and adds to the dramatic performance they clearly opt for, and the shrieks themselves sound a lot more polished and, dare I say, technical. 'Anders' is easily the best track on the entire record, the speedy drumming and walls of sound conjure something never seen before in the Paysage discography; energy. I know that almost all of the previous discography features walls of distortion and fast drumming, but paired with cleaner production, 'Anders' sounds more visceral than it does epic or dramatic, resulting in another example of Witherr experimenting with his sound in a bold, exciting way. 'Gruusig' adds a very sweet violin melody halfway through, but it ends really abruptly, like most good things on Geister, despite the album lasting more than an hour.
'Geister' is far from terrible, as is every record under the Paysage d'Hiver name, but its lack of room to breathe, flow, explore and change up stifles the potential of what could have possibly beaten 'Im Wald' at its own game. I love the way this album sounds in terms of the production, the vocal performance, some of the atmospheres, but the songwriting needs a few tweaks, and if Wintherr were to make another amazing record with the new sound, it needs to be less, you know, boring.