In the Woods… officially formed all the way back in 1991 but Pure is only their fourth full-length to date. The Norwegian band formed as an offshoot of a very early version of Green Carnation, starting with a progressive take on black metal (Heart of the Ages) before developing a more avant-garde take on metal with darker tinges of gothic-rock added into the formula (Omnio and Strange in Stereo). Sadly, the band hasn’t put out an album since 1999. Not a single release of new material in the current century. So, after 17 years, and most of the members spending the bulk of their time on other projects, Pure better deliver. And it better repeat the band’s classic ability to never repeat themselves, always finding new challenges and knowing when to move on to a new sound or style without fear of the unknown or slightly bizarre.
The headline of Pure gets somewhat lost in the cover. Looking solely at the cover you may be misled into thinking of a headline like “Old Man Eats Cosmic Soup Near Skull of Dead Wife.” It’s not totally inaccurate. There are plenty of creepy vibes on Pure. Maybe even a few cosmic looks here and there. But, as an album, it feels more organic than the cover belies. The album feels more Woods of Ypres and Type O Negative than say King Crimson and Yes. It’s an album you can wear like a blanket. Warm and safe and cuddled up with the beautiful crooning, often utilizing diminished melody patterns, that hold you in the night.
Probably the most astounding aspect of Pure is the shear volume of work that amounts to the one hour and seven minutes of run time. Ten tracks are without flaw. That’s quite an achievement even if you have 17 years to pull it off. In fact, the album gets stronger as it goes along as if it’s actually learning from itself–gaining complexity. By the time “This Dark Dream” enters the picture, or the short violin concerto on “Transmission KRS,” it’s hard to imagine that any listener wouldn’t be sitting there, jaw agape, ready to accept the cosmic soup. Guitar solos are beyond melodious and perfect. The drumming is somehow non-intrusive yet solid. And the choir-like, symphonic touches create an atmosphere of beauty and a timelessness of purpose.
It’s the vocals that are immediately engaging. On tracks like “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” the voice is clear, the lyrics simple, yet the layering of the vocals and the near monotone melody line over the guitars, which are thick as walls of water, reach out and grab the listener. It’s almost as if newcomer Mr. Fog (vocals, keyboards, and guitar; who chose that name for god only knows what reason) is gently palming your face as he delivers his syrupy melodies.
The success of Pure is also largely rooted in the songwriting. The compositions, like the opener, use near breakdown-style tempo changes to alter the landscape. Where guitars attack thick and heavy the tempo reductions allow the keyboard to whimsically take over small portions of the track. On the militarily snare-beaten track “Cult of Shining Stars,” a rhythm change allows the bass to lead the way, trudging through an atmospheric, gothic-tinged bog before the song churns up the pace again with their characteristic massive guitar sound.
For a progressive album, Pure is very accessible. After only a few passes you will likely find yourself headbanging and singing along at traffic lights or in other public places. In The Woods blanket you with their compositions. There’s layers upon layers upon layers of addictive, sensual writing to gird the listener like some velvet Snuggie. Subtly, keyboards effectuate symphonic touches underneath nearly every aspect of the album. But it’s the mix, the thick production, that blends everything together to create what is an absolute chart climber of an album. Your first blush impression will not be nearly your last. In the Woods… has returned with a complex work. Expect to spin it incessantly.