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Disney's Paysage d'Hiver - 65%

we hope you die, July 31st, 2020

After a lengthy silence, bar a couple of split EPs, pillars of raw European black metal Paysage d’Hiver return with ‘Im Wald’, which sees this artist graduate beyond the realms of obscure, half-finished demos into the world of full-length albums, with all the production values that entails. Emphasis on ‘length’ here however, as this piece is a weighty two hours long. That being said, the length – as with so many aspects of ‘Im Wald’ – is par for the course when it comes to this notorious Swiss outfit. The only real break with the past that’s worth taking note of is one of presentation and scope rather than philosophy.

What was always noteworthy about Paysage d’Hiver was the fact that it took the definition of the word ‘ambient’ to heart when applied to black metal. Their recorded works were ambient in philosophy as well as the lavishly cold atmospheres and minimalism. The fidelity to pure black metal came to typify their obscure sound. But more importantly, it was the way this ungainly, sodden guitar tone was utilised to unfold elongated chord sequences, the progression of which was always challenging to precisely follow beneath the murk. The same could be said of the drums, which were more of a presence than even the merest suggestion of percussion. Vocals and minimal keyboards were vehicles functioning on a binary metric of adding and removing texture. Upon this foundation, sharply defined and constricted by its own aesthetic limitations, the music would progress in simple, logical steps. There may have only been a couple of tricks at Paysage d’Hiver’s disposal, with little development from the initial idea over the course of each demo, but each one is a finely crafted artefact in itself, always rewarding upon a revisit.

And so we come to ‘Im Wald’, which deviates little from this tried and tested formula. The production may have been cleaned up a little, the instrumentation is sharper and proves of little detriment to the overall work. This still oozes atmosphere from every crack. Wintherr is still able to drag his simple chord sequences out beyond the dictates of good taste with mileage to spare, the drums have been promoted from simple makers of noise to an actual metronome. The distinction between the keyboards and the guitars is easier to discern. The structure is also a little better defined; with clear transitions from one segment to the next, signalled by interludes of melody and the all-important wind samples. There’s even some trademark calming violin sounds to add a layer of harmonic complexity here and there. Each movement transitions logically from the next, offering the right balances of contrast and continuity through expert manipulation of tempo and key.

So far, so typical, not so much a radical new look as it is an attempt to repair any shortcomings of the past. But of course, some would say these very shortcomings were anything but, and were integral to our understanding of this sound as a statement of aesthetics defining the structure. A project that used these rigid musical limitations to define the direction and breadth of the music itself. An approach arguably just as legitimate as composing first, applying effects and adornments second. And yet…and yet, like Disney’s Star Wars, we are still left wondering why it exists. There is the temptation to call this fan service. It’s all those things you love, but more competently put together, but (in this case at least) in that very competence is the death of the artistry. The view we are afforded by the slicker production into the layers of instrumentation and composition at each stage remove some of the mystery behind the fog of previous releases. The overall result may be technically more competent, but whatever uniqueness we could attribute to this artist begins to fade as a consequence.

There’s no doubting this is a fine album of atmospheric black metal, and a cut above so many additions at this end of the genre for sure. But there is nothing here one cannot find on their back catalogue which fundamentally offers a more unique and enchanting environment.

Originally published at Hate Meditations