(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by In the Woods…, which was released on November 23rd by Debemur Morti Productions.)
While this will most likely be my last review before I unveil my annual end-of-year onslaught of lists and lurid opinions, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be my last review of the year, as I already have several items earmarked for further coverage during the post-Listmania come-down.
I didn’t want to sit on this article any longer though, as this particular collection of words has been burning a hole in my brain for several weeks now, and I was starting to worry that I was risking permanent damage if I waited much longer.
So here’s a few thoughts, and maybe even a “hot take” or two, about the magical new album from In The Woods…
Clocking in at almost fifteen minutes, and two full songs, shorter than its predecessor, Cease the Day is certainly a less elaborate and more concise album than Pure, but that’s not the only way in which the two differ, as this is also the first record in the band’s history not to feature any creative input from the Botteri brothers, who elected to depart the group soon after the release of their long-awaited 2016 “comeback” album, leaving long-time drummer Anders Kobro and new vocalist/multi-instrumentalist James Fogarty to steer the ship alone.
But while such an upheaval would have been enough to sink most other bands (you can see that I’m going to be continuing with the nautical metaphors, right?) Kobro and Fogarty have somehow managed to batten down the hatches, re-rig the mainsail, and forge their way onwards into… if not entirely uncharted waters (the obvious similarities to certain other members of the Scandi-wegian Prog Metal fraternity are kind of hard to ignore)… then at least fresh new pastures.
And, yes, I’m aware I mixed my metaphors there at the end. Deal with it.
Of course they haven’t done this entirely alone, as Cease the Day also features contributions from guitarists Bernt Sørensen and Kåre André Sletteberg, but it’s clear from the moment that the folksy, slow-burn intro of “Empty Streets” transitions into a much more primal display of winding tremolo riffs, soaring, snarling vocals, and perfectly-placed percussion, that this album is, first and foremost, the product of Kobro and Fogarty’s ever-evolving creative partnership.
The moody magic of “Empty Streets” eventually gives way to the darkly proggy, blackened bombast of “Substance Vortex”, which shows that while the duo clearly haven’t abandoned the formula which made Pure such an outstanding album (one of the best of the year in my opinion) they’ve definitely tweaked it a little this time around, making room for a much more obvious Black Metal aspect as well as an even greater appreciation of subtle, sombre ambience which frequently serves as a perfect contrast to the grittier, more metallic elements of the music.
With its soaring lead guitar refrain, glimmering synths, and mournfully majestic clean vocals, “Respect My Solitude” firmly establishes that this particular incarnation of In The Woods… shares more than a few strands of creative DNA with their compatriots in Borknagar, and this impression is only solidified by the breathtaking bombast of “Cloud Seeder”, which could quite easily – with only a few minor alterations – find itself a place on Urd or Winter Thrice.
Don’t let this lead you to believe that Cease the Day is somehow a derivative or uninspired piece of work, however. For all the clear similarities between the two bands betrayed by these two songs, Fogarty and Kobro still possess a clear voice and vision of their own, and neither band (or their fans) should take this comparison as anything but a positive one in both directions.
That being said, “Still Yearning” pulls off many of the same tricks as “Cloud Seeder”, but does so in a much more distinctive manner, distinguishing itself both from its own immediate predecessor and from the band’s respected peers with a beautiful blend of evocative melody and electrifying energy that takes all the best parts of Pure and distills them down into a singular, striking song.
Unfortunately the album stumbles a bit right at the very end, as although the potent “Strike Up With The Dawn” more than earns its place here, the same can’t be said for either “Transcending Yesterdays” or the all-too-brief title-track, both of which, in their own way, sound oddly rough and unfinished when compared to the effortlessly expressive compositions which preceded them.
Still, it’s a testament to just how strong the first three quarters of the album are that this slightly underwhelming climax fails to ruin the overall impact of the record as a whole, and while its flaws might mean that Cease the Day doesn’t ever quite reach the same stratospheric heights of Pure, it’s still a fascinating, enthralling piece of work in its own right.