Review by Xephyr for Paysage d'Hiver - Im Wald (2020)
Unlocking The Blizzard
Although I've learned to relish the blurry realms of Atmospheric Black Metal over the past few years, I can't say that the genre impacted me in the way I've seen from others. From the cold anger of Burzum, to the folk inspired Soar, I've come to appreciate the monotonously discordant but rewarding style of the genre, but deep down I knew I never exactly got the full experience of what some of these albums can offer. Classic Atmospheric Black Metal albums have a knack for transporting listeners to icy, snow covered mountains as the freezing wind rips across the landscape, slowly draining the life and color out of the frigid atmosphere. The grinding, nondescript guitar riffing over pounding drums echoing from miles away as haggard, shrieking vocals pierce through the turbulence has been the tried and true formula since the subgenre's debut in the mid-1990's and, in a lot of ways, it hasn't changed much. Strides have been made to take Atmospheric Black Metal out of the snow covered hills and into other locales, even the farthest reaches of space with acts like Mare Cognitum, but if anyone wants an unadulterated experience of the subgenre, it's hard to stay away from the raw, wintery ambience that artists like Paysage D'Hiver pride themselves on. So, for the first time, an Atmospheric Black Metal album fully transported me to the blizzardy wilderness that it fiercely attempts to convey. And that album is Im Wald.
Even though I've been listening to albums like this for a few years now, Paysage D'Hiver had gone completely under my radar, with me forgoing late 1990's and early 2000's releases in favor of the mid 1990's classics and the more modern, 2010's releases. In many ways Wintherr, the man behind Paysage D'Hiver, has been carrying the torch of classic Atmospheric Black Metal by keeping the production quality on the low side and keeping his projects as a one person operation. There's something nostalgic about the way he continues to create this type of Metal in the way he does, even though I wasn't around and listening to this kind of stuff when it was first making waves in the Metal scenes. Although Wintherr has been producing albums that can clock in at over 50 minutes in length for the better part of 20 years now, it's only with the release of Im Wald that he says he's released his first true album. Although I scratched my head at this notion at first considering his self-titled "demo" is very much a full-fledged album in my eyes, I can see where he's coming from, given the structure and production quality for Im Wald is vastly different from the likes of Paysage D'Hiver or Winterkaelte. The absurdly low quality production that these earlier albums had is all but gone in Im Wald, and for some that's a deal breaker considering the history that Atmospheric Black Metal has. For me, I much prefer the more resonant and full sound that Im Wald has, allowing me to become fully engrossed in the cold wall of sound but still able to pick out memorable riffs and parts on every song. It's still not immediately approachable since most of the riffing is extremely similar throughout its gargantuan 2 hour runtime, but the more I listened to this record throughout the year the hidden details began to surface more and more.
It's not entirely wrong to say that this album doesn't cover any new ground whatsoever, with the basis of every long, drawn out track being a flurry of almost indiscernible tremolo picking that carries some sort of chord progression across its entirety. However, Im Wald feels like the most completely Atmospheric Black Metal package I've ever heard, with it transporting me into the cold, dark, snow covered forests right from the beginning. "Im Winterwald" showcases most of this albums' elements wonderfully, with a haunting tremolo chord progression, indiscernible vocals, a strangely satisfying kick and snare drum sound, and a mystifying synth towards the middle of the song. This type of song structure will be repeated throughout the rest of the album but in distinctly different ways, keeping the album consistent and cohesive but not too stagnant. I'd be lying if I didn't think that tracks like "Flug" have a progression that goes on for a bit too long and something like "Kälteschauer" feels a little redundant after an hour and a half of music, but I never really mind when I listen to the album cover to cover. Im Wald was able to grip me so tightly that I began to not really think about how long it was or how repetitive it could be, but to focus on what was happening in the moment and appreciate the satisfyingly sluggish progression of the riffs. "Über den Bäumen" and "Le rêve lucide" have incredible main riffs that hit incredibly hard despite not being very accented in the mix and always have suitable build up for maximum effect. These riffs aren't even the crowning jewel of Paysage D'Hiver's work though, since I found myself incredibly drawn to the extra little effects that he puts into certain songs that turn them into some of the best Atmospheric Black Metal I've ever heard. The transition from "Wurzel" to "Stimmen im Wald" with the male choir is easily one of the best transitions I've heard, and the faint but chilling vocals of "Weiter, immer weiter" to go along with the main riff is stunning. These small but substantial additions to the perfectly executed generic formula that Wintherr creates elevate these songs in a way that I can't really believe.
Among all the chaos and sometimes indistinguishable riffing, Im Wald is blanketed by a layer of atmospheric powder, with most of the intros and outros to the lengthy tracks being a mix of poorly recorded wind, swaying trees, and what I presume to be footsteps through the snow. There are even interludes to showcase these recordings, with "Schneeglitzern", "Wurzel", "Eulengesang", and "Verweilen" serving as short interludes to build atmosphere and to add a bit of ominous synth into the mix to set up the next track. There's a point to be made about these feeling like filler sometimes, but I personally think they serve as adequately spaced breaks in-between the rest of the chilling chaos. While most of the recordings themselves sound extremely similar, I'm assuming to keep the album grounded with a cohesive baseline, the small flourishes each one uses to distinguish themselves is satisfying and keeps the album moving after growing accustomed to how it progresses.
All in all, I think that Im Wald marks the first album that made me truly understand this kind of music on a deeper level than just throwing on Atmospheric Black Metal for some background noise. It challenged me with its seemingly reprehensible runtime and supposed monotony, only to have me wanting even more after two hours of it. I can understand why diehard fans of Atmospheric Black Metal would prefer Wintherr's self-titled release, since that one is so much more raw and really leans into the classic style, but Im Wald is able to bring that classic style into the modern era in a massive way. The riffs are crushing, the atmosphere is frigid and dark, the production is haphazard but rewarding, and it produced some of my favorite moments that I heard in all of 2020. I was finally able to walk through the blizzards in the snow covered forests whenever I decided to embark on the journey of this album this year, and it never disappointed.