Apparently I was fortunate enough to see In The Woods at their first, last, and only U.S. appearance at November to Dismember 2000 (the band broke up shortly after). I didn’t know who they were, but an acquaintance insisted I had to check them out, so I did. My memories of their set are vague, but I was impressed enough that I picked up their album Omnio upon my return home. Honestly, I can’t ever recall listening to it since. That should not be taken as a slag on the band, however. So as I sit here listening to Heart of the Ages, I realize why I don’t listen to them more often; this is mood music, and I’m rarely in the mood to listen to it.
In The Woods is not a bad band by any means, but their hybrid of “doom, noise, ambient, progressive, pagan folk, and uncompromising metal” it not the sort of thing I want to be listening to, say, during a long drive or other times I’m trying to stay focused and/or awake. Other people love this stuff, and more power to them. Praise has been heaped upon this band from media outlets and musicians alike, and for good reason. They created a sound that was unlike any before them, and has not been duplicated since (with possibly the UK’s The Meads of Asphodel being an exception). It seems that this is what prompted Candlelight USA to make their three albums available in the U.S. for the first time. That being said, I respect In The Woods for what they did, but I won’t necessarily make their albums a regular part of my playlist.
I think what irks me the most with Heart of the Ages is that some of these songs seem to be long for the sake of being long. Opener “Yearning the Seeds of a New Dimension” is not without its high points, but it just seems to drag on and on, especially that two-and-a-half minute ambient intro. Fortunately, the track eventually goes from mellow to borderline black metal, which at least made it somewhat interesting. The title track follows suit, but is shorter. The track “In the Woods” starts off fast and heavy, segue ways into doom for a minute or so, and then closes on a heavy note, and this formula seems to work well, as I’ll soon detail. “Mourning the Death of Aase” almost seems like 3+ minutes of ambient, almost new-age filler. The high point of the album, to me, is the near 15-minute “Wotan’s Return”, which is almost all heavy, and even the slower parts do not seem out of place. This track is how an epic should sound; different parts that fuse together seamlessly. The oddly titled “Pigeon” is much like “Mourning . . . “, except without the ethereal female vocals. The album ends with another cool track, “The Divinity of Wisdom”, which keeps the fast guitar riffs throughout the song, but changes the tempo only with the drums, which go from fast to doom-like.
Overall, not a bad album at all. I can see myself listening to this while reading or working around the house, but the closest it will come to my car stereo is being in the cab of my truck as I transport it with me elsewhere. Fans of doom, black, and experimental metal would be well advised to check out this now-defunct band for a taste of something unique and possibly outside your normal “comfort zone”.