In the Woods... - Heart of the Ages
Progressive Black Metal
7 songs (59:00)
Release year: 1995
Reviewed by Tony
Anyone who ever reads my yule-time reviews (this will be my second holiday season as a reviewer of about a year and a half) knows that due to my birthday and xmas being so closely placed I get a host of gift cards to binge on cd’s. This season I struck early, with a nice bonus, and was able to nab some records I have been seeking for years. One such album, is the incredibly rare (I am unsure why) and tough to access Heart of the Ages by Norwegian Atmospheric Black Metal horde In the Woods… I cannot even remember how I heard about this cd, but wanted it for so long a time that even after I ordered it finally I refused to hear what it sounded like online until it reached my player.

Now I know. Now I know just why it is so rare, why it is so revered, and what makes it such an incredible journey through space and time. This album can carve a tapestry of soul harvesting melodies and evergreen beauties without any effort or influence. The songs are so diverse, so majestic, so ahead of their time, and so ethereal yet substantial that one has to wonder was it worth the wait or had I missed out all these years. Without a ravenous effort I may never have seen Heart of the Ages, but after so much time wondering what In the Woods… may have sounded like on this magnum opus, I knew it would fall nothing short of classic.

On the first track, a lengthy drive called Yearning the Seeds of a New Dimension wispy notes laid in a celestial background lays the path for a host of warm and folkloric clean vocals before more atmosphere leads to the larger portions of the song – fundamental drumming and wildly harsh vocals laid around your solid 1995 Black Metal guitar sound. From the very onset of that starry night wrought in the blackened skies, the listener will acknowledge that every note and every sound on this humbling disc are nothing short of classic, timeless, incredible.

Just when the drums pick up, fills and kick drums showing more of an influence, more clean and restful vocals enter the picture, divulging spirits before the song finally wanes to a close. To be honest, I could listen to this song ten times straight before even listening to the rest of the album and call it an experience. These songs are just phenomenal. Next up is the title track. At just over eight minutes, this song is a bit more blackened in places, but starts off with more prophetic keyboards and clean vocals. I always thought the ability to instantly switch from clean to harsh vocals in such a schizoid manner is a talent all in its own, and on Heart of the Ages, Svithjod performs incredibly. The title track is a bit more of a rocker, with plenty of room to bang your head early in the song. Wild synthesizer tones and waves lead the way for some fast plucked riffs and double bass early.

The guitars do what they should on Heart of the Ages, not stealing the spotlight but enjoying enough time in the foreground to provide a melodic punch to their tone. It seems to me that these guitarists may have had a background in Classical music, because their style does not have the overwhelming guise of most contemporary metal guitarists, and they do not command the limelight liked their second wave cousins do, but in understanding their place in the band, still provide an intrinsically brilliant performance. Just as an indication of how incredible this album truly is, I am only four minutes into the title track (the second song) and have already written over 650 words.

The third track, titled after the band, is the most straight Black Metal track. By straight, I am not speaking of blast beats and harsh riffs, there is still much to see and hear around the actual instruments. The implementation of atmosphere in the form of acoustic guitars around the more frontal assault of the guitars still reigns as an important portion of the track. Here, these two guitarists perform their best work, as the incredibly harsh vocals and omnipresent jazz trained drums take care of the listener in a form that is both brutal and soothing somehow. …In the Woods still show plenty of their progressive side despite this song being more Black Metal than the rest. There is a killer guitar solo about halfway through the song, where the bass guitar shows itself in the light, and the solidification of these two guitarists as excellent in the genre is placed in stone. More warm vocals shine through, these more epic than the last and harder to comprehend.

Following this track, Mourning the Death of Aase plays. This is one of two instrumentals clocking in around three minutes. Both instrumentals lead the way for two of the most epic tracks on the album, the next being the monumental Wolan’s Return. A frosty wind leads the way to acoustic guitars laid under stronger beamed electric guitars. About a minute in and the harsh vox come in over double bass guitar and surprisingly audible bass guitar. Immediately you know that all 15 minutes of this song is going to be incredible.

Portions of Wolan’s Return are the heaviest on the album, with the band showing a very progressive side amidst the ferocity of the sound. It is incredible that despite quite literally one or two measures with blast beats in the whole album, In the Woods… are able to carry such ferocity throughout. One of the most redeemable factors of Heart of the Ages is their ability to transfer harshness into beauty, while at the same time utilizing so many clean and serene passages, yet not forcing the issue of epic quality like too many bands strive for. So many bands go out of their way to pursue a medieval and epicurean atmosphere within the darkness, without adding any substance. It is arguable, but Wolan’s Return might just be the best song on this masterpiece of an album.

There are riffs here that lead and follow a moonlit trail to valleys and snowbound peaks of aural beauty, when avalanches of violent rhythms part ways for a still silence after a blizzard. After a shredding solo, the arcane sounds of natural bubbling, the pinging of birds and wildlife off the walls of valleys, and the vargan play on. This is very much akin to the calm after a devastating storm, where the listener is wrested by the strong tones, then laid to relax by the mysteries of the flora and fauna around them.

Finally another riff arrives, just in time for another round of ethereal clean vocals and keyboards, making Wolan’s Return one of the most unique and awe inspiring experiences I have ever heard in music. Double bass and extremely heavy riffs along with that main riff pattern that laid under these wild vocals signal an end to one of the most complete Black Metal songs of all time, leaving the listener with a million reasons to love this track, and this album.

The album closes with the instrumental track, Pigeon before leading to the finale of all finales, The Divinity of Wisdom This track begins with some warm distorted riffs and grim keyboard melodies before the guitars isolate and lead into clean vocals and another jazzy derived drum beat. More intense vocals take flight before another moment in harmony, with nylon guitars quietly played under a saddening line of clean vocals. There are more classical, jazz, and even flamenco sounding solos. As the album ends, it rides off into the sunset, a transcendental experience that I, nor any true metalhead will ever forget. I recommend wholeheartedly not to put this off like I have, and get this record in your hands any way you can. It is a masterpiece that will likely never be replicated again as the chemistry of In the Woods… shows what can occur when incredible musicians grow together in a classical trained environment and dedicate themselves to the mysticism that embodies Black Metal.

Killing Songs :
Every Second
Tony quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by In the Woods... that we have reviewed:
In the Woods... - Cease the Day reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
In the Woods... - Pure reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
In the Woods... - Live at the Caledonien Hall reviewed by Alex and quoted no quote
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