Paysage d’Hiver – Im Wald [Things You Might Have Missed 2020]

Paysage d’Hiver is not new to black metal—not by a long shot. The Swiss one-man act has been hashing out quality blackened tunes since 1997 in the form of demos and splits, releasing some of the iciest sounds to grace the scene. Always toeing the line between raw and atmospheric, mastermind Wintherr’s (also a member of the formidable Darkspace) demo work has ranged from the crystalline ambiance of Die Festung to the unrelenting rawness of Winterkälte, consistently providing an aural experience of a blizzard at its most violent and a winter’s evening at its most empty. This has all built up to this: first full-length Im Wald,1 which feels far too anticlimactic for this stunning project’s storied 23-year career.

Wintry black metal may not be the most original thing since sliced bread, as genre-mates Coldworld, Vinterriket, Forest Silence, and millions of others have never shied from the cold. However, none have ever sounded as solid as Wintherr’s solo project. Furthermore, in the truest sense of the word, Im Wald is a culmination of Paysage d’Hiver’s greatest assets. It’s an absolutely mammoth release, a sprawling 13-track and two-hour affair of blisteringly icy tremolo, searing shrieks, ominous darkness, and just enough ambiance to add dimension. It’s a continuation of the band’s last, 2015 demo Das Tor (aside from a couple splits), a blend of the old second-wave shredding and the new cleaner production that blessedly never forsakes its teeth. Combining the best of Krystal und Isa’s fury, Einsamkeit’s ominous darkness, and a combination of Wintherr’s trademark unrelentingly icy aesthetic with the twisting and labyrinthine uncertainty of isolation in a night-shrouded wintry forest, it may not be Paysage d’Hiver’s first, but I’ll be damned if it’s not its best.

While often designated “ambient black metal,” Paysage d’Hiver never feels like it sacrifices its bite in favor of synth textures. Instead, stellar songwriting in the form of trademark tremolos and blastbeats intertwined with subtle melodies ranging from ominous to melancholy exhibit Paysage d’Hiver’s incredible balance and restraint. Tracks like “Im Winterwald,” “Le rêve lucide,” and “Stimmen im Wald” are unrelenting over-ten-minute exercises in blistering textures that never feel overdone or underwritten. Meanwhile, “Kaelteschauer” and colossal closer “So Hallt es Wider” are overwhelmingly ominous plodders that stretch its songwriting to nearly doom proportions. Also crucial to the flow of Im Wald is its ambient interludes, which have the potential to be derailing or dull, but instead provide uneasy and dread-inducing rests, like moonlit clearings in the frostbitten woods.

True to its name, Im Wald channels a trudge through a blizzard-ridden forest, which proves Paysage d’Hiver’s adherence to its trademark sound as well as its willingness to expand its aesthetic. While unrelenting in its second-wave utilization and ominous in its intertwining ambiance, it’s a stunningly colossal listen that is both evocative and engaging, but nonetheless demanding. Perhaps its only flaw, the album is an absolute bitch to get through in one sitting, although it’s difficult to imagine an album this monumental as anything less. For the patient wanderer, this two-hour listen’s rewards are bountiful and its imagery unmatchable. Im Wald is a true pinnacle for an act accustomed to distinction and excellence—and I can’t help but feel that Wintherr is just getting warmed up cooled off started.

Tracks to get lost in a wintry forest to: “Im Winterwald,” “Stimmen im Wald,” “So hallt es wider”

Show 1 footnote

  1. “in the forest” in German.
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