What a long, strange trip it has been for In the Woods… Few bands could truly say they have gone down that proverbial rabbit hole in quite the same way, with its roots and branches entrenched in Green Carnation and its early years of phenomenal black metal on Heart of Ages that never received due respect. Some of In the Woods’s later releases contain some of the most innovative and exciting approaches in the greater metal genre that I have ever heard. On Omnio, they set off on a different yet equally dark path that explored the destitute, misshapen corridors of the avant-garde and neoclassically tinged face of doom metal, and they continued this while exploring progressive melodies and more on Strange in Stereo. All of these albums have something special to offer, and while that has been a generation or so ago, many things have changed. One clear example was the sad loss of original guitarist Oddvar A:M. While he was not part of the final years of In the Woods…, I cannot imagine that his return wasn’t hoped for. The other big change is in new vocalist “Mr. Fog“, who has not only seen the passionate and wild vocals of Jan Transeth be traded away in exchange for his presence, but also the outright disappearance of Synn Larsen’s lovely female vocals. Still, the Botteri twins are the heart of the band, and they have continued years later to show that they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
With all of this, it should be understood that Pure is still very much In the Woods…; there is little doubt about that, but comparing the album to previous releases unfairly places pressure on an album that could never top its predecessors in the first place, and that is fine. What made all of the previous albums so great is where they stood in time and place. Coming out today, Into the Woods… have had to fit into the contemporary era of metal, where the music scene they were a part of has changed dramatically. This updated sound is prevalent in the use of heavier vocals and similarities with bands such as Amorphis in both guitar and vocal melodies. Pure is much more formulaic than previous albums, and while I said it is unfair to compare it to its predecessors, the vocals are not nearly as passionate or as powerful. Many riffs and songwriting elements are quite strong, and the album offers plenty that the casual listener would find enjoyable. With each listen, I find more subtle elements that draw me in.
Pure features a cover that certainly stands out: a powerful drawing of an elderly man eating a proverbial cosmic soup with an atomic structure circling him. The artwork instills air of mystery befitting of the music it accompanies: the wonderment of being and the wandering into other worlds. The guitars are definitely placed a bit more on the forefront of the mix as opposed to previous works where they were largely used to build atmosphere and are quite hypnotic.
Tracks such as “Mystery of the Constellations” contain long sections of calm riffs that are backed by atmospheric synths before switching into a verse wherein the guitars kick the mood up a notch. In a sense, it is easy to understand what formulas In the Woods… are using here.
The instrumental “Transmission KRS” is heavy on the psychedelics, with consistent drum work and intriguing progressive elements that will trip you up. It meanders a bit too much before the guitars kick in, but this is a minor complaint. At one point, someone yells into a megaphone, which sounds a bit too Pink Floyd-esque for my taste. Before Pure, the influences blended in a bit more, but now they are more obvious and have lost a sense of identity because of it. There were times when I felt I may fall in love with this album. The psych-tinged synths that begin “Blue Oceans Rise (Like a War)” are perfect, and as the atmosphere builds, I am definitely reminded of earlier works. In “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” is one of those moments where Mr. Fog’s vocals really shine, where he sings the words, ”the archetypes surround you.” This is one of my favorite tracks on Pure with its cerebral lyrics that instantly were stuck in my head. A passage midway through “Cave of Dreams” sucked me in as well, and tracks such as “Mystery of the Constellations” have long sections of calm riffs that are backed by synths which give them atmosphere before going back into a verse where the guitars kick up the energy a notch or two.
In general, the formula used on Pure is not entirely different from much of what you can hear today, and this will no doubt be a complaint for some. Part of the issue here is that Pure lacks the mystery of older albums and can be compared to other bands in its methods. In time, I found that the album had grown on me, and I look forward to hearing it again in another five years—or even ten. I also know it will not become a regular part of my playlist like the earlier works, however. The return of In the Woods… has been like running into an old friend you haven’t seen in many years. At first, I was really excited, and I really enjoyed the conversation, but at the end of the day, I knew that our friendship was in the past; if we were to run into each other again, so be it. But I would never put this on with the same anticipation and longing that I have for former albums. It is missing too many aspects, from the original vocalists to the violins and more. The core sound is still intact, but if this is the Pure sound of the band, I prefer the wild impurities of the former sound.
02) Blue Oceans Rise (Like a War)
03) Devil’s at the Door
04) The Recalcitrant Protagonist
05) The Cave of Dreams
06) Cult of Shining Stars
07) Towards the Black Surreal
08) Transmission KRS
09) The Dark Dream
10) Mystery of the Constellations