Amid the sprawl of Norwegian black metal in the early ‘90s, replete with the murders and church burnings that would become the catalyst for waves of controversy and media frenzy, Into The Woods… found themselves at a great distance from all of it. Their music was nothing like what encompassed the so-called Satanic sounds of their contemporaries, favouring softer, more keyboard-driven tones and a greater command of atmosphere for their coinage of “psychedelic black metal”. Indeed, it also managed to avoid the shackles placed on a lot of black metal of the time and net some critical acclaim, particularly their 1997 album Omnio which is frequently held as their opus to this day. Even with their 2016 album Pure, not only their first release with English vocalist James Fogarty but their first album altogether in sixteen years, the praise remained, and while not as prevalent within the genre as some of the bands who rode the media sensationalism almost two decades ago, there’s something to be said for the way that In The Woods… have largely kept their heads down and reaped their rewards on skill alone.
Thus, it could appear that there’s quite a bit riding on Cease The Day, not just from fans but from In The Woods… themselves. In fact, this album serves as an autobiography of sorts chronicling the last two years for this band, not only regaining an aggressive live sound but also teetering on the edge of collapse once again. As such, it feels appropriate that Cease The Day is as towering and dramatic as it is then, leaning more on the progressive rock side for winding, expansive passages and predominantly clean vocals that only ever break into screaming in short bursts. It’s definitely a considerable move away from being a black metal band at all, and though it doesn’t always stick the landing when trying its hand at something so overtly melodic, Cease The Day is an engrossing listen all the same. It’s not an easy one by any means – and with songs as drawn-out as they are here, that becomes an ever-present reality that never really goes away – but in terms of grandiose music that still has its feet firmly planted in the ground, Into The Woods… definitely succeed here.
And that all leads into unquestionably the greatest asset of Cease The Day – the mood and vibe of what’s presented. Melancholy clearly takes a focal point here with tracks like Respect My Solitude in its dour, downbeat guitars and wilted strings section, but even on a wider scale, the oppressively murky tone that’s only emphasised by Fogarty’s knell of a voice is the clearest presence here, and possibly the most fully-formed through line that their black metal side has left. The way that In The Woods… work this, though, is so that it’s never overbearing or one-note, coming across as more of a tactic of collating these sounds together as a wider piece, but a tactic that works nonetheless. These tracks aren’t necessarily interconnected (see the stormier Strike Up With The Dawn for the best example of that), but it still flows as a body of work, not exactly helping how implacable even individual tracks are, but for those willing to put the work in, there’s an enormously rewarding album to get into here.
And besides, it’s not like anyone besides existing fans are going to take the time out to explore this album fully; Into The Woods… are very much a niche band, and though a greater process of distancing from their black metal side could help that, it’s pretty unlikely. Nonetheless, Cease The Day remains an album that fans are easily going to enjoy, serving as more of a continuation to Pure’s rebirth, but one that’s still suitably gripping and compelling. Even if it’s not like the great, genre-defining In The Woods… albums of yore, it’s an album that’ll more than satisfy, and for what this band have been through in their career to get to this point, that’s hard to disparage.
For fans of: Ihsahn, Ulver, Myrkur
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Cease The Day’ by In The Woods… is out now on Debemur Morti Productions.