In the Woods… – Diversum Review

The average age of all the cells in an adult human is somewhere between seven and ten years old. We constantly replace parts of ourselves, so that you are mostly a different person every decade or so. That means if you really, like, think about it, no band that lasts longer than ten years has any of its original lineup left. This is how I explain In the Woods… to myself. The outfit is in its fourth decade of shuffling through lineups and genres, with drummer Anders Kobro and the ellipsis in their name the only constants. They began as a black metal act, segued to a form of avant-garde progressive metal, and lately they specialize in doom- and psychedelia-inflected progressive rock. It’s a thrilling and occasionally confounding arc, and it’s fair to question whether all these sounds fit comfortably under the umbrella of one little band name. Still, In the Woods… has always been worth listening to, and here they are with Diversum, the third album of a comeback that launched in 2016. So who exactly is In the Woods… now?

Diversum features anthemic rock songs, composed in conventional verse-chorus-verse structures that are adorned with progressive and metal flourishes. Before he passed on to a realm of utter trvth, my colleague Mark Z saw parallels between the recent work of In the Woods… and Enslaved. That remains their best comp, but the specter of Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd also looms over Diversum. These are hummable, chorus-driven songs about bleak topics like the isolation that accompanies depression (“A Wonderful Crisis”) and praying for the release of death (“The Malevolent God”). The band’s spirit of adventure seems to have wandered off; there’s nothing avant-garde or even daring about Diversum. Still, the album is a capable and occasionally stirring effort that’s bolstered by an upgrade behind the mic in new singer Bernt Fjallestad. Diversum soars in spots and bores in others, finally landing toward the high end of the “middling-to-good” continuum that has defined the outfit’s post-comeback output.

James Fogerty, who sang on previous albums Pure and Cease the Day, quit the band just before In the Woods… recorded Diversum. Fjellestad was a late replacement, but he’s a good choice all the same–Fjallestad boasts superior vocal technique, even if he sometimes lags behind Fogerty in emotive power. Fjallestad works in three modes: a carefully enunciated baritone, a sandpaper-scuffed belt, and a harsh but always understandable rasping growl. Harsh vocals are all over this thing, co-existing with soaring cleans in songs like opener “The Coward’s Way” and “Moments.” But the real power of Diversum comes from the build-up to the choruses, and the release as Fjallestad’s voice and Kåre André Sietteberg’s guitars push the songs over the top. The platter is littered with moments like that, but the best of them come on lead single “A Wonderful Crisis” and “Your Dark.”

The flashes of prog and metal enliven the album, but Diversum, in spite of its title, could use more variety. An In the Woods… album used to promise surprising turns, like you might encounter on a hike through the forest that begins with no destination in mind. That sense of possibility is missing here, replaced by a formula that, while well-executed, still gets dull as the record wears on. Two of the weaker cuts (“Humanity” and “Master of None”) are stashed near the end. By the time you slog through that boggy patch, you’re ready for this walk to be over. Closer “Your Dark” does its best to redeem the home stretch with a striking balance of the gorgeous and the heavy, but there’s no disguising the second half’s drop in quality.

The three albums of the In The Woods… comeback, considered as a whole, leave an impression of a band that’s casting about for an exact identity. That’s a strange thing to say about an outfit that launched in the nineties, but there you go. It seems that the current members of In the Woods… are more certain that they want to keep the entity alive than they are certain of what it should be. But maybe I’m too spoiled by all the triumphant reunions of the past decade to appreciate a pretty-good-but-flawed one for what it’s worth. Diversum peaks with a few terrific songs, and the whole thing holds together well enough that I’ll return for more spins. I wanted more; the odds are you will, too. But strip away the expectations that come with the band’s history, and there’s plenty to like here.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Soulseller Records
Website: facebook.com/inthewoodsinthewoods.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: November 25th, 2022

 

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