Most bands coming out of an extended period of inactivity are applauded for not missing a beat…in other words, sticking firmly to the formula that worked for them. If Norway’s In the Woods… had a formula at all, it was moving adventurously forward, mixing death, doom, folk and black metal in a way that didn’t sound like anyone else at the time. Since reuniting and coming back with 2016’s excellent Pure (an album that made both Corey’s and my Best of 2016 lists) the band feels completely revitalized, honing their progressive mix to larger extremes. New album Cease the Day further refines that sense of exploration in extremes, to fantastic results.
Forming as a broken splinter of fellow Norwegian outfit Green Carnation, the variation in mood and style makes sense and is apparent immediately on debut Heart of the Ages from 1995. Using weather effects for ambiance on tracks like “Wotan’s Return” or going full on Pink Floyd a la “The Great Gig in the Sky” on the latter part of “Mourning the Death of Aase” the rough, thin production couldn’t hide the ambitious nature of the compositions. 1997’s Omnio moved even further in the realm of experimentation, embracing classical orchestration to frame its gothic and cinematic inclinations. Removing much of the black metal that framed their previous release, tracks like the opener “299 796 km/s” and the massive three-art title track shows a band willing to play with unorthodox arrangements to capture a singular vision.
Fast-forward nineteen years later and 2016’s Pure felt like a more concise return to Omnio’s unique hybrid of styles. In that span of time other bands had already picked up the baton, most notably Woods of Ypres, and Pure takes that blend of gothic dark rock and metal, mixing it with art-prog traces of modern day Enslaved. It worked like gangbusters to these ears, so the news that it wouldn’t be another decade for the next In the Woods… release ramped up my expectations accordingly.
Simply stated, Cease the Day takes Pure and rips it open. Shorter in minutes, it’s a larger, more expansive album, returning to the dynamics and aggression of Heart of Ages but mixed beautifully against the progressive folk/doom of Omnio and Pure. In a way it’s what I wanted the new Thrawsunblat to be, or where Woods of Ypres could have traveled were it not for the tragic death of David Gold. “Empty Streets” opens with an almost fairy tale melody before mashing its way into 70s keyboard-laden doom. In the song’s nine-minute lifespan, though, there are twists and turns through folk, black metal, and prog rock. James Fogarty’s vocals have never been this assured or vicious, seamlessly moving from a clean, crooning salve to bitter black metal rasps. “Substance Vortex” fares even better: the aggressive punch is much more immediate, and the way the band comes together to weave in and out of the battle march of the more metallic moments is a marvel.
Each song on Cease the Day can be mentioned as a highlight, but beyond “Substance Vortex” words must be expended on “Still Yearning.” A follow-up to “Yearning the Seeds of a New Dimension” from debut Heart of Ages, the song carries in its vocal melody a startling sense of purpose, mirroring the ebb and flow of the original in spirit, but with a heavy modern swing. “Strike Up With the Dawn” might well be the masterstroke of the album, juggling majestic riffs and anthemic choruses even as the black metal reference creeps back in. It’s great seeing In the Woods… break out the really heavy material again, and to have it blend so successfully with the slower, more methodical riffing is just icing on the cake.
While many bands are apt to take chances with their music and explore new directions, In The Woods… succeeds where other bands fail by really ensuring that every avenue taken, every branch followed all lead to the same place. It’s in service to a singular thing, whether it be the song, the album, or the thematic glue that holds the band’s identity together. Cease the Day is another example of just how good that strategy can be when executed properly.