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The eerie and beautiful atmosphere that surrounds the vast sound of "Heart of the Ages" is simply captivating and amazing. In the Woods... are definitely a very secretive and mysterious group of musicians who reveal little about themselves and use pictures of nature instead of themselves for band photos. However being mysterious and anonymous is not at all uncommon in the realm Black Metal, however it is their excellent musical depth and vision that strives for originality and diversity that sets them apart from many of the other black metal bands.
Black metal that has two sides to it, those who prefer the raw and harsher straightforward sound that is closely related to thrash or death metal and has a very formulaic approach to it. The other side is those who take a very creative and artistic approach on the genre trying to push it's limits and obtain recognition for achieving and creating unique music that stands alone. Both progressive metal and black metal are particularly known for their excellent and diverse musical innovations towards metal. "Heart of the Ages" is one of those albums that continues to be just as exciting, memorable and filled with pleasant surprises as when it was first released.
It is also an album that truly takes me on a surreal adventure through the magnificent land of Norway where each track shares the unique and beautiful aspects of the Norwegian landscape with the mountains, fjords, villages, wildlife, wilderness and the unquestionable humbling power and presence of nature. It is a majestic album where the guitar tone sounds almost like a chainsaw along with an atmospheric sound that is almost as vast as an ocean. The vocals are completely out of control, shifting from the crazed wailing to the typical spoken words verses which seem to fit into the music better than in other black metal albums being released at the time.
This is quite simply a perfect black metal album and a complete work of art. This is a low-key and discret album where the listener understands it's absolute and untamed power after multiple listens. The interludes and interstruments such as "Pigeon" are also quite impressive showing oblivious influences such as the reminscience of Pink Floyd. The grand sound and epicness of certain tracks are among the many other positive aspects of this album and is something that makes "Heart of the Ages" stand out and instantly recognizable. As a whole, this is just simply a majestic and downright superb album.
Norway's In The Woods... create lengthy and richly dynamic soundscape compositions in a musical style most related to the heathenish, epic side of black metal, similar to early Enslaved and Borknagar, but usually at a slower pace, with a noticeable 1970s prog-rock influence in the Pink Floyd-style psychedelically-introspective atmospherics and expansive structural design.
Unconventional and highly atmospheric, the music possesses a broad expressive range with an eccentric quality, and a diverse representational faculty resulting in an immersive sound of romantically reflective character. The intent is focused on enveloping the listener in a vast array of atmospheric shades, all of which conjure profound emotional responses, and to awaken a sense of deep experience in living from the spiritual perspective of universal connection through enlightened personal realization.
"Among hills, we do wander.
Through the forests so cold.
Crossing mountains of raging thunder,
followed our way untold."
The songs are quite involved without being excessively elaborate, building to awe-inspiring moments of soaring, shimmering melody that reflect an instance of beautiful awakening. Keyboards are tastefully utilized as supplier of atmospheric backdrop, dreamy and of a meditative quality. What is most impressive about this band's imaginative and intelligent composition is the sense of graceful change in the realm of dynamics, beautifully harmonizing gentle moods with ignited, jarring charges of stampeding rhythm and enraged expression. This feature of the band's approach makes for an exciting, unpredictable musical journey, portraying with striking perception the inconstancy of human emotion in the context of circumstantial experience. This is always carried out with the highest degree of sensitivity and grace, effectively flowing through and exploring each mood with patience and affection.
This is often slower than most black metal, frequently moving at a pace that might be more relatable to doom metal, though the band is by no means averse to aggressive tempo, as a few blazing passages of barbarous assault testify. The percussion is strong and commanding, with frequent, quirky alterations on the beat and unannounced blasts of pulverizing double-bass runs, providing a serious quality of power and weight to the music. Distinctive bass guitar performs a significant though subtle role in atmospheric depth, particularly during more spacious, contemplative moments.
Exquisite, shining lead guitar blesses this music with atmospheric fortune, played with pure feeling and a yearning spirit. Solos appear where an abstraction in melodic expression is required for a deeper penetration into an emotional spectrum, well done within the context of the main melodic idea. The riffing style is similar to the furious, chaotic extended phrasing style of early Enslaved, with a slight similarity in folk-derived melodic orientation, and when guitars are played fast, they display a resonant frenzy of obscure melody that guides each passage to its determined, though unexpected, culmination.
"Related with my own balance of knowledge.
I am divined from the pain and the pleasure,
which has been gained from...
all thoughts and memories (from thoughts and memories
As I feel the Divinity of wisdom,
float inside the veins.
I am me. Master, but not divine."
Mention must be made of the vocals, which are impressive in range of tone and potent expressive variety. Clean vocals of a mighty melancholy and deep, rich tone provide an element of emotional theatricality, sincere and passionate if not always perfect in key, while nocturnal banshee screeches rise behind the music in bizarre and distant tone, impulsive and possessed of the absurdity of desperate longing. The nearest comparison would be Count Grishnack of Burzum, though not quite as blatantly tormented and more abstract in delivery and form. Sorrowful yet reverent female singing is heard in "Mourning The Death Of Aase", providing a refreshing and well-placed change in expressive perspective that gives the relevant emotion a fine treatment the quality of which the male vocalist is unsuited.
The execution reveals clear instrumental talent and musical understanding, yet the playing is quite simple and direct, as these epic, atmospheric songs do not call for technical instrumentation. The production is bombastic, with particular sonic presence awarded to drums, which have a huge, organic sound, and are felt as well as heard in the bottom-heavy mix, while instrumental clarity is achieved for a satisfyingly representational sound.
"One with this world,
This is where I long to be."
While In The Woods... is closer to black metal in technique than any other style of metal, it seems inappropriate to classify their sound purely as such. There are pronounced elements of doom metal, folk, and progressive rock, though none of those influences are more prominent than the black metal characteristics. The music, while certainly foreboding and fearsome at times, is not exactly evil or misanthropic. The overall feeling of the album is one of reflection and reverence, with a thematic focus on philosophical introspection towards harmonizing the individual spirit with the perceived truths of the natural world for a deeper, more aware quality of passionate living. This is a fascinating band creating some of the most interesting and imaginatively captivating music of its time.
Of late I have become addicted to the early innovators of the 1990’s, bands such as Fleurety, In The Woods… and Ved Buens Ende. Anything that challenged the listeners perceptions of 1990’s black metal and I’m there, sifting my way through the material in the hope to find something that isn’t in a similar vein to the most notable bands of that particular era, including the likes of Burzum, Darkthrone and Immortal. It is my understanding that the majority of people find black metal synonymous with the latter bands instead of the former due to their general antics, or increased popularity but I find that I am personally more rewarded when I listen to any of the former bands, this includes In The Woods… debut, ‘Heart of the Ages’. Although it doesn’t live up to the longstanding popularity of bands like Burzum, for instance, I find bands such as this one more capable of achieving results as I concluded some time ago that Burzum have a very mixed discography with the likes of Varg’s prison work and earliest records falling short of my own personal standards and requirements for a classic.
It is my understanding that In The Woods… were born out of the complications that struck down the early career of the band Green Carnation, an act whose discography is unknown waters to me. I also understand that Green Carnation may have begun life as a death metal act and when complications arose with the exit of its main member to Emperor, In The Woods… were conceived in the mêlée of confusion and complications. As well as being a bit of an amateur when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of the bands history, including the original conception of Green Carnation and the remaining In The Woods… full-lengths, ‘Heart of the Ages’ displays a few of the qualities which later transformed the band into the avant-gardé, progressive act they are today. An increased sense of experimentation appears to be something the band, and their fans, are accustomed to with the act transporting their influences from one sound - black metal - into others of a largely unrelated form like avant-gardé styled progressive music.
The introduction to ‘Yearning the Seeds of a New Dimension’ hints at the sorts of unusual, cosmic components we’re about to stumble upon in the form of an electronic opening which stimulates the imagination in the same way that literature does as the words begin to jump off the page and transform into objects in our minds. In a similar way to that, the cosmic force of the electronic elements paints a fascinating picture into the inner workings of my mind and soothingly introduces us to the surreal world of this enterprising Norwegian band. With most of these notable acts, including the likes of Fleurety and Ved Buens Ende once again, I always remind myself to expect the unexpected, as clichéd as that may sound. The portrayal of black metal to bands like this isn’t as straight forward as the majority of bands working during the mid 1990’s to push the genre forward into the new millennium. With bands like this, ‘Heart of the Ages’ isn’t meant to continue traditions of a repetitious nature, but it is meant to break the rules and push the boundaries by developing a sound that isn’t solely reliant on what we’ve come to know and expect.
The opening and evolving of songs like the aforementioned bring this to life as the clean, soaring vocals become a factor within the slow atmosphere of the songs, bearing a resemblance to the vocalist of the doom era of Anathema, one of England’s finest talents. Not only this, but the core elements of the black metal genre are missing for large parts of not just this song, but others too, like the mammoth ‘…In The Woods’ which also taps into the clean vocal path and walking pace that isn’t often applied to black metal music. Of course, well known elements such as shrieked vocals do exist, though these elements don’t define the record as a whole. Instead, it is in the more audacious aspects that we can truly grasp the full extent of what this early and innovative record is about as it inspires a generation of musicians to do similar things many years down the line. As with bands like Ved Buens Ende, In The Woods… allow areas like the bass to flourish despite the heavy nature of some of the aspects on the record.
In fact, the keyboards are also allowed to flourish due to the fact that, on songs like ‘The Divinity of Wisdom’, the Norwegian act doesn’t suppress the listener with too much distortion and the guitars are largely downplayed in order to allow the softer aspects to come forward within the dark, eerie atmosphere of the production, something which generally fit’s the tone of the record and, in particular, the vocal display when both the clean and harsh styles are applied to the songs. Whilst not being overly symphonic, the keyboards play a major part within the soundscapes, often producing a divinity that the darker aspects, such as the guitars and largely uneventful drums, don’t and probably can’t manage by themselves. The atmosphere has a nice habit of shifting from a grimier sound, to a relaxed, laid back sound which features prominently in the short filler tracks, particularly the keyboard driven ‘Mourning the Death of Aase’, which is accompanied by some unexpected female vocals, which adds a variety to the record. Song lengths can become a bit of a problem with ‘Wotan’s Return’ being particularly sizeable. The sound of the band isn’t one which works too well over such a long period of time, but the excellent work within songs like this make them bearable despite the daunting song lengths. This record is regarded as a classic for a reason and is to be treasured and respected.
The first time I listened this whole album through, I went and sat in a parking lot in my car with my ipod plugged in and my stereo all the way up. It blew my mind. The shrieky vocals take all of two seconds to get used to. On top of this, there are growled low male vocals and clean vocals (male and female). The guitars were very adequate, often playing in beautiful harmonies to add to the texture of the composition.
William didn't think that he had heard any guitar solos, but there are several, and I noticed one on Wotan's Return as I was reading his review. And it was a ripping solo. This band is a bunch of true musicians. I can only guess that they are classically trained, because the music utilizes elements that classical training would make much more available.
As for the electronic sounds used, they add very much to the atmosphere of the album. It's very tasteful and at times (the middle of Wotan's Return especially) seem to separate my brain into two sections, as there are pulses with different frequencies happening as well as all sorts of other wonderful stuff.
The opening track, Yearning the Seeds of a New Dimension, starts out right off with some really creepy sounding electronic stuff. Heart of the Ages is a great track, definitely epic and worthy of the album title as well. This is followed by In The Woods, which is definitely the heaviest and most straight black metal song on the album. Thrashy and incredible. Mourning the Death of Aase is a great 3 and a half minute track featuring a repeated motif by a female vocalist. Then Wotan's Return, the longest track takes you on a 15 minute journey, followed by a keyboard composition, Pigeon, and then the epic closer Divinity of Wisdom.
Great album, A+
I honestly don't know why this album is so celebrated. This album brings nothing original to the table. Although this album is considered by many to be black metal, this album was done long ago in the doom metal scene. However, the originality of this album isn't the problem. The REAL problem is the fact the songs just aren't that great. The songs for the most part, just aren't that interesting, the guitars and the drumming aren't technical and the even though the clean vocals are good, the "harsh vocals" just suck.
First for the songs, as mentioned above, they just aren't that interesting. There are no solos to be found on this album (at least I can not remember any) and the guitar riffs are pretty simple for the most part. There is nothing wrong if the songs are simple, Cannibal Corpse, for example, have some pretty interesting songs which are simple, however this is not the case here. The same can be said of the drumming, don't expect to be wowed by intense, fast complex drumming, just prepare yourself for some pretty average drumming. What's surprising about the drumming being so mediocre is that Kobro, the drummer of Carpathian Forest does drums here. Judging from some of the Carpathian Forest songs I've heard, he's a very good drummer, why he held back here is a simply mystery to me. Another problem with the songs is that there were some sound effects (e.g. random electronic noises and beeping) added to the songs which were totally irrelevant and added nothing to the song overall. In fact, they detracted from the song. Quite simply, these sound effects shouldn't have been there, had they not been added, I would have looked upon this album more favourably, only marginally though.
Now, for the vocals. It's very important to have a vocalist who suits the style of music you’re playing. The guy is not a bad clean vocalist and his deep vocals suit the music quite well. The problem is when he starts doing black metal vocals. There are two problems with this, 1. they are in the background, 2 he sucks. To give you an idea of what he sounds like, recall what Maria Sharapova sounds like when she’s hitting a tennis ball. If you can, you will know what he sounds like. I am not trying to be a smart ass or anything here, he really does sound like that. Thankfully however, about 70% of this album is clean vocals and some songs such as Heart of the Ages have no black metal vocals on them. But, it's extremely difficult to appreciate the music when he's doing his annoying black metal vocals. For example, I was enjoying the song, The Divinity of Wisdom, but he’s vocals drastically weakened that song and, it wasn’t the first time either. There is also a female vocalist on this album, although she only features on one song, which was a shame because she did sound quite nice.
There are a lot of ambient sound breaks in this album which are nice and do create a sort of, nice peaceful atmosphere. Sometimes, they have whispers mixed into them, with a soft, slow acoustic guitar being played in the background. I thought this was a pretty nice/cool idea.
In conclusion, this album is overall lacking. I was really expecting big things from this album, but came away disappointed. At the end of the album, I paused for a moment and said, "So, that was it?" I failed to realise what was so great about the album and still don't see what's so good about it. So, in summary this album isn't the worst thing I've heard, but it falls miles short of my expectations and what it's hyped up to be. A nice thing about this album (I thought I might throw this in here for the hell of it) is that it has nice art work, but art work alone doesn't cut it.
Conclusion: The above is not recommended for purchase, get it only if it's given to you for free or if you really want to listen to it, but if you don't you're not missing much, believe me.
In the Norwegian black metal scene there was two levels of bands. One level is best recognized in bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum and other bands that have had a great deal of influence upon the black metal scene as it exists today. But under this more widely known level there was a number of bands who were already in the early 90's pushing black metal beyond the basics. Of these bands one finds names like Forgotten Woods, Ulver, Arcturus, Ved Buens Ende and among others the subject of this review In the Woods. But like almost all of these bands who made up the substrata of Norwegian black metal, In The Woods eventually left black metal behind, instead highlighting the more progressive internal aspects contained upon this recording. And while Omnio was still as effective as this recording, their last records seemed weakened by a kind of pulling away from the Natural beauty which held this album together (and to a lesser extent Omnio).
Now, In the Woods on this recording reminds me of old Primordial, it is somewhere in between the driving doom metal of Funeral and My Dying Bride and the black metal movement, in particular being similar in many ways to the spirit that is in Burzum's recordings (and indeed the black metal vocals on here are very similar to Varg Vikerne's wraith shriek). Like even the more well known Norwegian bands, In the Woods flirted with many outside of the box concepts, 5 years before Enslaved's Monumension, similar ideas are being expressed here, but without the fire and fury of that recording.
One finds epic compositions which create deep emotions, a sense of mournful melody and expression. The guitars are both center stage and yet are not the only driving force of the music, as they exist to highlight the mood the band desires to create, and they are not like Malmsteen levels of metal theatrics. They are well written insightful riffing with a passable tone, very often with the kind of melodic riffing one hears in Summoning, My Dying Bride, etc. The keyboards create a deep atmosphere when used, often one can even pick up on how In the Woods influenced some of the newer funeral doom metal bands like Shape of Despair, for the way in which the guitars, drums and keyboards interact is often very similar, particularly on sections of the title track.
The vocals are one thing that sets this apart. They are primarily clean male vocals, with a deep folkish feeling. He expresses a good amount of emotion, and although he is not always on key and sometimes pushes himself beyond his own ability, it is these aspects which helps it create the kind of power he was attemping. Beyond the clean vocals, there is a small amount of high pitched screams that are very similar to Varg Vikernes and are very blood curdling. There is some whispering as well. Combined with that on one song we find a female vocalist, who does a good job for what is required of her.
Now there are a few interesting aspects to this albums historical importance. Think about it when this was released in 1995, there were very few bands with this sound, and in fact the closest comparisions come from two bands who released albums similar to this in the same year, Primordial with Imrama and My Dying Bride with The Angel and the Dark River. Thus one can only come to the conclusion that In the Woods along with Primordial was one of the bands to create this kind of black/doom pagan metal style that has become important, if very rarely done anymore (though it seems to be on the upswing). This is in the black metal side of things, but is so forward thinking that its hard to believe it came out in 1995. But like many bands at this time, black metal was a genre still with few rules, Darkthrone created the most pure vision of it with Transilvanian Hunger, but there was still a lot of room to breathe. Burzum as well had moved in this direction before being put in jail, though no one would really know untill 1995/1996 when Misanthropy (who also released this album) would release Filosofem.
So thus, this album stands as both a great album in of itself, and a monument to a movement that seemed to simply lose itself around 1996/1997 with the exception of a few stalwarts like Borknagar (at the time), Enslaved and Gorgoroth.
For those who love the feeling of nature metal, dark, mysterious and mystical, who don't mind black metal that is not 100% black metal but instead focuses on using whatever tools to create the desired atmosphere, or who just loves this style of pagan metal needs to own this album. It is an amazing journey of a recording and essential listening in my opinion. Yes it takes time to get into, I didnt like it at first, but it is a great album (and like most albums that take time to get into it well rewards the effort). And to add to the pluses, the artwork and cd booklet are really nice, even though the lyrics themselves are difficult to read.
Like I said this is a must buy for fans of dark mysterious and mystical Northern metal.
Now this is a surprise!
I had never heard of this band until earlier today, when I went to a local pawnshop to check their CD selection. I saw this album, and since it was only $3, and was released by Misanthropy Records I decide to give it a try...this is the best $3 I've ever spent.
This is a very atmospheric, slow, and (at times) depressing album. There are several kinds of vocals here, ranging from female vocals to harsh male vocals to clean male vocals. The female vocals aren't used too much, but sound great wherever they are used. In fact, "Mourning the Death of Aase" is comprised of all female vocals and is one of my favorite songs on this album. The song sounds quite depressing and slow, but is at the same time very relaxing. The harsh male vocals are screechy, and at times sound like those of Varg on Burzum's masterpiece "Filosofem". Very well done. The male clean vocals are common, and are sung in a very deep voice. They are well done, although the singer's accent is a bit too noticeable at times, but it doesn't detract from the quality of the album.
The guitar riffs on here are mostly slow and dreary, although on occasion the pace picks up. There is a large amount of keyboard created sounds on here, which greatly adds to the atmosphere of the album. The album isn't too complex, but the skill of the musician is greatly displayed in the atmosphere and feeling of the music. The drums are powerful, and the bass adds to the album's heaviness a great deal.
Another high point of the album is the lyrics. Although the ones printed in the album booklet are a little hard to read, I have read the transcriptions on this site and the lyrics are brilliant.
All in all, this is a great album that fans of atmospheric black metal or maybe even some goth metal fans may like this Norwegian classic.
This being the first of three full-length albums released by In The Woods is the most deeply rooted within the Black Metal sub genre. Saturated with mid paced melodies and atmospheric keyboard passages this album evokes the deepest emotions creating a truly wonderful experience. Even from the beginning this band could do no wrong. The transition from clean vocals to screeching rasps (This is the only In The Woods album to feature harsh vocals), mid paced, soft atmospheres to blazingly harsh atmospheres is utterly flawless. Truly one of the better bands of our time.
Most of this album is fairly mid paced for the genre, with deep sung vocals, atmospheric leads up front and keyboard ambience riding the background. Yet despite their obvious musical skill and ability this band Never becomes overly complex, but would rather showcase their talent through their compositions and creativity rather than drown the listener in mindless wanking and pointless over complexity.
The guitar work is flawless; this album is saturated in tasteful leads truly adding to the immense atmosphere. A fair amount of heavy palm mutes and tremolo picking is evident on this album more reminiscent of the Black Metal style with a hint of a pagan feel. The riffs as well as the leads and solos are excellent.
The Vocals are well executed also. Mostly clean deep sung vocals are used. The singer’s accent it's too bad, much better than perhaps the sung vocals on Wyrd’s "Heathen" album. The harsh vocals are more screechy than raspy; similar to those of burzum perhaps, a more throaty version of Silencer (Swe)'s vocal style would better describe them. They're fairly high pitched and powerful. A Female vocalist appears on only one track and unlike their later releases she does not sing with the male vocalist.
The Drumming is very powerful; the bass drum is loud in the mix and totally pummels the listener during the fast double bass sections. The drum sound on this album is much heavier than on their other releases, I can't say which sound I prefer more, the drum sound works well with this album considering it is the most black metal of all their releases. Their next two lean more towards a progressive rock/atmospheric metal style.
The Bass is well heard and adds tremendously to the atmosphere during the slower more ambient sections, with well-paced fills and warm tone the bass sound on this album enriches the already incredible atmosphere.
This is easily the heaviest and most metal of the In The Woods discography probably the best place for a Black Metal fan interested in finding a more experimental and atmospheric band to start.