originally written by Daniel Martinez
In. The. Woods. When combined, those three words are synonymous with mystery and excellence. You see, this is one of those bands that remain somewhat obscure even for more than casual fans of metal. Most dedicated metalheads have surely heard of them, but only a select few have actually gone through the trouble of checking them out. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to this band early on in my discovery of metal, and I’ve been an avid fan of their work for quite some time now. This reissue of Strange In Stereo doesn’t really offer anything new for those of you who already have the original in your collection, but this is the best chance you’ll ever have to finally buy this album along with the rest of their discography, which is being reissued by Candlelight USA.
In The Woods were notorious for their originality. They were constantly reinventing themselves and never really adhered to the ground rules of any given sub genre of metal. As such, it is very hard to classify them; they cohesively mix doom with prog and even folk/black metal. Strange In Stereo is the follower to what is, in most people’s minds, their crowning achievement, the classic Omnio. While this album isn’t as pleasing as its predecessor, it’s certainly the closest they came to equaling that tremendously high standard.
Strange In Stereo consists of eleven tracks, spanning a total of sixty three minutes. While it’s almost as epic as the aforementioned Omnio, it achieves a unique atmosphere that distinguishes it from the rest of In The Woods’ discography. The album opens in Doom Metal style, with “Closing In”. The keys that introduce the song are reminiscent of My Dying Bride at their best. The vocals may take some getting used to, as they come off a bit over the top, but they’re not bad by any means, simply unique. The following song, “Cell”, is definitely a highlight. It’s the first occasion in which we get to hear female vocals on the album, and these are absolutely beautiful and ethereal in nature. The vocals compliment the beautiful string arrangements perfectly, giving the track a neo romantic feel to it. Track three, “Vanish in the Absence of Reason” features an exciting juxtaposition of male and female vocals, which only further cements my preference for the female vocalist. For me, the definite high point of the album comes right in the middle, with the song “Generally More Worried Than Married” which spans almost nine minutes. This track finds In The Woods at one of their most emotionally vulnerable moments. One thing to note is that the mournful male vocals don’t sound as alien as they do on some of the first songs. This song is a good indication of what the band achieve with this album overall, as it progresses from a doom-like first half into a violent climax that even features some pummeling double bass drumming. It ultimately ends in a more subdued and less aggressive style, similar to how it started.
Production is top notch here, there are hardly any complaints at all. The entire album exudes a majestic atmosphere; it sounds as if these songs were recorded inside a church. This only makes Strange In Stereo seem more grandiose and epic in scope. The songwriting is damn near excellent both from a musical and lyrical standpoint. Strange In Stereo explores a full spectrum of musical diversity and In The Woods manage to sound cohesive (and more importantly, interesting) in the process. It features beautiful string arrangements, ethereal female vocals, occasional moments of uncompromising violence and quite a few moments of Doom Metal mournfulness. In case you hold lyrical prowess in such a high esteem as I do, you will be pleased to read that this album has some very profound, poetic lyrics which are not any less demanding than the music they compliment. Both, the lyrics and music may come off as overly pretentious to some, as I have heard from a few people, but I can’t possibly comprehend the reasoning behind these accusations. Sure, In The Woods are pretentious, but not in the negative connotation that some associate them with. Their pretension is perfectly realized and justified, as their music is magnificently executed.
While it is obvious that I am extremely pleased with this album, I do have to point out one very important fact: this is not music for everyone, nor is it appropriate for every occasion. In The Woods are among one of the most mood specific bands; their music is so dense and demanding in nature that I don’t see how anyone can fully appreciate it if not in the right mood. This, however, may be a compliment to what the band achieved throughout their career, as no one can blame them of creating simple or easy listening music. Nonetheless, I can definitely see how some people might find this less than remarkable and downright tedious. It’s not music you can crank up on the stereo and headbang to; rather, it’s something you’d find yourself listening to on headphones on a gloomy autumn night. Another important thing to note is that this reissue hardly offers anything new for listeners previously familiar with this album. If you already own it, I don’t recommend that you buy it again, unless you’re a diehard fan who must absolutely have everything by this band (and I don’t blame you if you are). Overall, Strange In Stereo is an album that you will most likely either love or hate, as it leaves very little room for neutral standing. It is with pride that I state my love for this album, but I’m somewhat of a sucker for epic, grandiose music. It’s a hard pill to swallow, that’s for sure, but it is well worth the effort.