To most people, Black Metal is nothing more than a joke. Fuck them. To even more people, Black Metal all sounds the same. Fuck them also. More people even think that there are only a select few bands that get published in the monthly issues of whatever major media magazine covering them that month. Fuck them in the ass as well. And last but not least, people think that Black Metal cannot be progressive because all Black Metal bands must copy MAYHEM, DARKTHRONE, and BURZUM with the occasional IMMORTAL, EMPEROR, SATYRICON, GORGOROTH, and (blech!) DIMMU BORGIR....you know what my rebuttal is by now I hope. I know I've already alienated a good 95% of the readers with this opening paragraph so far but to that 95%, that's what Black Metal is; a giant elongated middle finger in the face of convention. Black Metal, above all forms of Metal especially extreme Metal, is supposed to go against the grain. I mean they didn't do those heinous acts in the 90's just for their health. Well to the 5% that have a thicker skin, keep reading on. At the tail-end of the 2nd wave of Black metal, things started to change. Like everything else all good things must come to an end. During this time the 3rd wave started to sprout like black roses amongst the church ash covered ground from the freezing land of the Norsemen. Bands such as ARCTURUS, FORGOTTEN WOODS, etc....these bands helped the genre progress for better or for worst whatever your opinion is on anything past the classic 2nd wave bands. Amongst those 3rd wave acts was the Norwegian Black Metal band Into the Woods...and boy were they definitely onto something.
IN THE WOODS…was, and don't quote me on this one for this is my first ever review of their music, one of the first bands to really take Black Metal with a progressive edge. That's not to say that ULVER, and MASTER'S HAMMER is not included in the bunch, but IN THE WOODS… is one of those seminal acts much like CELTIC FROST were. IN THE WOODS…might have beaten OPETH and even ENSLAVED at their own game in giving their Black Metal a 70's Progressive Rock edge to it. No, IN THE WOODS…is not like OPETH in style or form...now that I think about it IN THE WOODS…is more akin to ENSLAVED....but in terms of how they structured their music, they beat OPETH and ENSLAVED to the punch. Their debut and classic album "Heart Of The Ages" would be their first and last album to have any traces of their Black Metal roots, after that they went weird. We're talking MASTER'S HAMMER, and FURBOWL weird. But their first album "Heart of the Ages" is a piece of Norwegian Black Metal history that has to be sat down and listened to. It's truly an album that much like those great challenging albums of the past takes you on a journey. It's weaves in and out of the sounds, song structures, moods, and general idea of where the music is going. IN THE WOODS…is Black Metal without a doubt but their music is more of a slower pace that gives it a very definitive Doom Metal feel much like "Turn Loose The Swans"-era of MY DYING BRIDE mixed with the best of BURZUM. Black/Doom this isn't. Don't confuse yourself or this band with say demo-era KATATONIA which is the closest thing you can come to as far as a definitive Black/Doom Metal band, but what IN THE WOODS…does is mix the two but still remain purely Black Metal with the extra sprinklings of other forms of influences and styles.
"Heart of the Ages" starts off with the song "Yearning the Seeds of a New Dimension" with dark Ambient/Psychedelic sounds that are played in the key of possibly Coil. Already the listener knows that this isn't your typical Black Metal album. After about the first three minutes we hear drums and guitars that take it into more of a Goth/Doom ala MY DYING BRIDE even possible PARADISE LOST territory. Then the clean vocals kick in we start getting an Enslaved feel and from there. Around the 6:30 mark we finally get something that resembles even more of a Black Metal feeling with some double-bass and drum rolls and then goes into a more BURZUM/classic Norwegian Black Metal feel. This whole song is a told build-up to the next possible extreme and can easily confuse the listener if they do not pay attention. And this is just the first song. The title track has less of this build-up and is shorter so it goes straight for the riffs. This song is more ENSLAVED-feeling if anything. Around 5:20-ish we get back to the BURZUM riffs and screams mixed in with the melodic Nordic vocals. And really this trend of the mixing of styles continues throughout the entire album. It's kinda difficult to keep reviewing this track-by-track seeing how it goes through the different styles making each song sound completely different almost to the point where it becomes almost impossible what to expect next. That's good, in fact that's excellent because this album comes straight-outta the left field musically speaking. If anything the album is based on building up to epic points and weird cuts of ambient/melodic parts in between.
To wrap this review up, and this is probably one of my more shorter reviews because I really enjoy being more analytical about albums to gives readers a more in-depth sense of what to expect; part Norwegian Black Metal in the vein of BURZUM/ENSLAVED. Part MY DYING BRIDE/PARADISE LOST Doom Metal. And part Ambient/Psychedelic influences/sounds. It's a good mix from what my ears hear and what my brain thinks. I may not even be close to what their influences really are or what sounds they were trying to convey which brings me back to this being one of the more difficult and possibly original albums that came from the mid-90's when the genre of Black Metal burned its way into the pages of musical history. Definitely recommended for those with an open-mind.
(Online July 30, 2012)