In the Woods... - PureI have a strange relationship with In the Woods…. Back when I was first discovering underground metal and devouring all the obscure releases I could find in the Internet’s further reaches, I remember being taken aback one night by a mysterious 1995 debut called Heart of the Ages. Both the record’s hazy cover art and the esoteric black metal contained within conveyed a haunting, archaic timelessness that, oddly enough, was so powerful it actually discouraged me from returning to the album after my initial awestruck listens. The mystique was furthered by the fact that Woods broke up in 2000 – years before I ever heard of them – and released two stylistically different but equally mesmerizing albums after Ages in the form of 1997’s Omnio and 1999’s Strange in Stereo. Abandoning the banshee shrieks for clean vocals, these records showed the band incorporating violin, heart-wrenching singing, and even some female vocals to transform themselves into some kind of avant-garde/progressive metal outfit. With it, Woods generated a sense of cosmic boundlessness and cemented themselves as one of early black metal’s most puzzling enigmas – less well-known than fellow Norwegians Ulver, but equally as captivating in their stylistic arc.

Thus it was with some intrigue that I approached Pure, the group’s first new record in 17 years. After several members spent time in gothic doom act Green Carnation (who reformed after Woods’ dissolution), three Woods members reunited and recruited James Fogarty (The Meads of Asphodel, Ewigkeit) in 2015 to provide vocals, keyboards, lyrics, and additional guitars for this newest venture.

But rather than get into what Pure is, it may be easier to start with what it’s not. This is not a hearkening back to the raw blackness of Ages, nor a career retrospective à la Surgical Steel. Instead, Pure seems to pull from the members’ experience in Carnation to continue Woods’ ongoing evolution, resulting in what’s best described as a doomier, more psychedelic version of modern Enslaved. Opener “Pure” begins things promisingly enough, riding on a triumphant recurring lead, thrumming bass lines, cooing spacey synths, and thick trudging guitars which soon reveal themselves to be the bedrock of the remaining nine tracks. The later sections of “Pure” even recall Woods’ early melodic similarities to doom metal’s Peaceville Three, while moments like the cycling main melody and strained sustained leads of “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” evoke comparisons to modern doom like Swallow the Sun. Likewise, late highlight “Towards the Black Surreal” channels Sun’s The Morning Never Came with its misty opening picking before climaxing with ‘oh-oh’ crooning.

In the Woods... - 2016

Unfortunately, not everything goes down so well. Throughout these 67 minutes, Fogarty sticks to a smooth, soulful bellow which – while competent enough – becomes monotonous by album’s end, and lacks the emotional grip of Jan Transeth’s performance on Omnio. Likewise, the slow shambling tempo grows tedious, with tracks like “Blue Oceans Rise (Like a War)” consisting of sluggish chugging that fails to go anywhere. Too many of these songs linger on stock riffs and basic clean picking that we’ve heard a million times before – so much so that when a decent lick does arrive, as in “These Dark Dreams,” it feels way more exciting than it should. Soaring leads and memorable melodies are all too scarce, replaced with guitar chords which do little more than shuffle around with a weighty modern crunch. Even for its DR rating, Pure is surprisingly loud, and while the rich layers reward repeat listens (like with the smooth krautrock synths and occasional background rasps) the overall atmosphere lacks the ethereal expanse of Woods’ earlier records.

Still, it’s not a total loss. For all its flaws, Pure is constructed well, with the hypnotic acoustic strumming, delay-pedal leads, and swooning extended solo of sprawling instrumental “Transmission KRS” providing a welcome dose of ambiance late in the runtime. The better tracks are evenly distributed throughout, and for all my mixed feelings on Fogarty, he does nail some engaging vocal lines in tracks like “Devil’s at the Door.” The overall effect is an easy, inoffensive listen, an album performed well and with just enough variety, atmospheric texture, and solid moments that listening never becomes an outright chore. But while it’s a decent comeback that fans of epic doom or synthy prog metal may enjoy more, in the end, I can’t shake the feeling that In the Woods… – a band who once so richly inspired wispy-eyed daydreams of rolling unexplored countryside – should be better than this.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
Websites: facebook.com/inthewoodsomnio | dmp666.bandcamp.com/album/pure
Releases Worldwide: September 16th, 2016

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  • george

    they left their inspiration somewhere in the woods

  • Norfair Legend

    I love epic doom…and this sounds pretty good. I remember In the Woods but don’t remember any particular songs from In the Woods. I am in the same camp though that simply chugging along can get pretty boring a few songs. Fantastic review though, I certainly have a vivid idea of the album from your text and am anxious to hear it.

  • AndySynn

    Damn, we are going to fall out over this one… this is definitely one of THE best albums of the year for me.

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      You need to start Andy Metal Guy, with the sub-title “How can more be less? That’s impossible!”, where every review simply showcases a differing opinion to the ones posted here. Have fake accounts posting reviews like Mark X, Madam Y, Steely Wonder, etc.

      • AndySynn

        You, sir, are a goddamn genius.

      • Nyet.

        • AndySynn

          It’s happening.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        hmm I don’t know about Nurse Fisting tho

  • Boter

    Saw them on GMM this year. I have seldom been witness to such amateurish and incredibly boring metal. In fact, not ever before. I am therefore, not going to check them out at all.

    • Frost15

      Seriously?!, Can’t believe what you are saying…

      • Boter

        Yes, really. Did you see them as well? The bass player looked like he had serious trouble playing seriously easy stuff and had troubling bowels to boot. The rest of ‘in the woods’ looked like a shy school band performing on the second stage of the old people’s home in eastern Helmond.

        This, mind you, was just after having seen an extremely nice and very surprising performance by The Algorithm. The contrast could not have been any starker.

      • alba

        Unfortunately I’ll have to agree with Boter. Was there too, such a disappointment!

  • Frost15

    I’m diggin the new vocalist. Apart from that the embedded track left me interested, I shall give this a listen definitely….

    • I actually thought he was the same vocalist they had on Omnio after listening to the tracks on Bandcamp. I only found out otherwise after reading this review.

  • brklyner

    After hearing and greatly liking the first advance track, Cult of Shining Stars, I was expecting a lot from this record. Now I wish I hadn’t read this review before listening to the whole record myself. Bit of a letdown.

  • The Unicorn (Blueberry Balls)

    Why yes, Unicorns do prefer to live in the woods.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I’ve been meaning to check In the Woods… out since I saw their album “HEart Of the Ages” advertised in Metal Maniacs.

  • Treble Yell

    Great review, shame that it falls short. Green Carnation, The Meads of Asphodel, Swallow the Sun, all bands that I admire (or outright love) so it’s disappointing that they can’t tie it together. I’ll probably check it out either way as I remember enjoying Heart of the Ages.

  • Wilhelm

    I’m having mixed feelings; This really doesn’t feel like In The Woods, a band I once admired, I think it’s because of the change of singer. I much preferred Jan’s bellows, tone and nuances but I understand that they had to move on with someone else. I’ll form an opinion after I hear the whole thing.

    • Patrick L. Bertlein

      Thoughts today? I have been struggling with a review for all this time, probably more so than anything I have ever written.

      • Wilhelm

        Truthfully, I’ve only listened a couple of times but I was actually surprised with how much I liked it. It’s actually a solid atmospheric/prog doom album, the problem is that it’s made from a lot of elements that don’t sound like in the woods – it is also missing the dynamic production (sadly) and of course the vocals (which I mentioned before and were so vital to their sound) and even though it’s slightly avant garde or whatever, it sounds too normal – like every ITW album had this sense of “wow, this is WAY out there, WAY different” I’m not getting that same sense of unique identity. I suspect you have some of the same feelings, I would be interested in reading your review or hearing your opinion, keep me posted.

  • Dobbie03

    I cannot wait for this…I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high.

  • I think Omnio is one of the best albums of the 90s and I like the 3 tracks I’ve heard so far from this. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest.

    • MelbCro

      Omnio is perfect

      • Hulksteraus

        I agree with Omnio – even listening it to it 20 years after I first heard it I still get goosebumps. I did not think they would make a comeback after they split, but am excited enough to get this new album even despite the average review.

  • Omnio is an album I regard as one of my all time favorites, and I really hoped this reunion would produce something similar in quality, but the songs I already heard online were kind of disappointing honestly. I guess Jan Transeth and Synne Soprano did have some significant creative control on the older albums.

  • Dorknagar

    Having loved their previous work, this album simply doesn’t have the experimental and transcendent feel those earlier albums did. Whilst the core sound is still present and immediately recognisable, nothing elevates beyond the obvious to me. Maybe this is “Pure” but I really feel it can’t capture the passion those earlier records held. Where are the beautiful harmonies, the entwining lead guitars, the bass that worked as powerfully and melodically as the guitars…no. A better title would be “Dull”. And I love this band so that’s a hard thing to say.

    • Patrick L. Bertlein

      Love the name! And damn, you put it well, I’ll try hard not to just copy you…

  • JJnetZach

    “doomier, more psychedelic version of modern Enslaved”
    Count me in.
    “Rating: 2.5/5.0”
    Wait, what?

    • TLFernandes

      I don’t need to listen to this, but the fact of reuniting deserves already 2.5 rating!!

  • Dead1

    Those vocals…yuck. They remind me of My Dying Bride’s clean vocals which are also terrible.
    Rest of it is pretty meh. Just a typical slow song.

  • junkyhead

    Warmly welcoming these guys to my collection. The embedded is excellent.

  • sir_c

    Christ, the embedded track sound you’re playing a vinyl single at 33rpm.
    ITW have made better music than this. Hope this track was not the highlight of the album

  • Shaid

    While I can enjoy this album for what it is, it only invokes memories of In the Woods… when they’re blatantly lifting riffs and melodies from their own back catalog. It’s a disappointment, but not an unexpected one.

  • Patrick L. Bertlein

    Absolutely agree with the Ulver comparison!