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In The Woods... - Strange In Stereo CD (album) cover

STRANGE IN STEREO

In The Woods...

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.69 | 63 ratings

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Trickster F.
Prog Reviewer
5 stars You all shall take what you deserve from comfort and relief...

Having released the mind-blowing Omnio, In The Woods... found themselves in a complicated situation: it seemed that their fanbase were divided on people who were disappointed with the group abandoning their "extreme" roots, others who greatly enjoyed the album and expected another one of the same and even skeptics who thought the group's career was complete and any improvement would be impossible. Fortunately for us, the group had all the creativity and inspiration in the world to continue at the point, and what was released was a brilliant, yet, sadly, an overlooked album, if only due to the immense success of its monstrous predecessor.

The change between HEart Of The Ages and Omnio was a very easy one to notice and point out. The harsh vocals were gone, the extreme influence played a significantly less important role in the sound, being replaced by a rich, futuristic instrumentation that is more peculiar of progressive rock musicians rather than the metal scene. Conversely, the transformation between Omnio and Strange In Stereo is gruesome to describe with words. The group is still remote from the straight-forward metal scene, away from any kind of categorization box for music critics to use conveniently... The music presented is just as avantgardistic and enlightening, excellently written and there is an abundance of both female and male vocals... So, would I say Strange In Stereo is more of the same, a mere follow-up to the brilliance of Omnio? Definitely not.

First of all, Strange In Stereo is the group's most experimental album to date (and knowing that they have disbanded and it is their last studio release; ever), and they really had enough space for experimentation here - dividing the album on eleven (well, technically, ten)shorter tracks, each track being a special, independant story on its own and having almost nothing to do with the ones surrounding it. Just in case you did not know, Omnio was a single hour long epic, basically one lengthy composition made of five parts; the debut album HEart Of The Ages was crammed with bulky atmospheric epics mixed in with short "clean" tracks. In that way, the new release looks more refreshing in its structure, although one should not be cautious. The collective shows no signs of taking the simple way of writing music, as even the shorter songs are extremely satisfactory and captivating. The music takes all kinds of unexpected, unpredictable turns, always progressing on its way and taking directions you must not have been aware of before.

Now that I reach the point I am supposed to describe the music presented, I would like to start by claiming that I feel very comfortable separating the album on two parts - first six songs and subsequent ones. The reason for that is simple, the first six songs are very distinctive and almost feel like a compilation of fascinating, experimental music, whereas the last five tracks seem to be united in a successfully captured mood. The first songs on the disc may scare the listener off with the ways the group explored. We begin with Closing In, that denies everything the musicians have gone through. There are electronics, synthesized drums and unusual, uplifting vocals. It is not the most experimental composition on the album, however, as Dead Man's Creek seems to be even less conventional, with a jazz-influenced structure, bizarre performances by each singer, as well as soothing effects in the background. Cell does not exploit any of the group's explored formulas either, and is a dramatic, emotional track sung by the female half of the group's voice Synne Diana Soprana.

The choice of instruments on the album is not too ambitious, yet still holds substance in it. Besides the usual instruments exploited in rock music, there are occasional strings, a little piano, and even what sounds like mellotron on two tracks. The lyrics are also an aspect worthy of being mentioned separately. The lyrics are neither rooted in pagan myths(a trait of HEart Of The Ages), nor ridiculously abstract to understand to anyone besides the lyricist himself(I am talking about Omnio here). They are extremely personal, exploring inner conflicts and issues of the writer, often touching even the forbidden subjects. The lyrics are a crucial part of the music, just another instrument, simply put.

The production has improved significantly and so has the technical prowess of the musicians, which still does not mean they have decided to show it off rather than write excellent music. The guitar interplay is very well done, the bass is more audible than ever and delivers fascinating grooves and the drummer has reached his full potential by the release of this album.

I would like you to pay attention to the songwriting here, which features dynamic, emotional parts together with quieter interludes, but it is not just " heavy riff, acoustic interlude, heavy riff, repeat" some listeners have got used to whilst listening to certain groups of the genre. It is almost always the other way around, as sophisticated beauty is being mixed with creative wonderings of a restless mind and powerful energy of the main composer guitarist X-Botteri, whose guitar and songwriting abilities are a separate thing to mention. Regardless of his technical skill, which, let's be honest, is matched and even beaten by numerous other guitarists, is not as important as whatever lies within his mind and soul, that is the primary source of the excellence we know as In The Woods.... Omnio was a marvel, with each note seeming outstandingly impressive and having a cryptic meaning on its own, that can be interpreted by each listener in his own way according to his temper. Strange In Stereo is entirely different, as the listener is forced to stop comprehending the music and where it is going and if following it right, will easily understand that it is more about feeling the music rather than understanding its progression. One may not even tell apart a clean part from a dynamic one, as they are usually one massive "whole".

Changing the subject to the group's influences, it seems that they listened to more psychedelic and experimental music during the writing process, as it has changed a lot. There are still obvious influences from such groups as Katatonia and My Dying Bride, who seem to be a part of the inspirational source for the variety of riffs, as well as the remarkable atmosphere. The example of this influence is the third track Vanish In The Absence Of Virtue which, much like many early My Dying Bride compositions, features a doomy guitar riff that makes me smile mischievously upon each listen. This song is very emotional, sincere, featuring a duet of both singers performing together, which is achieved perfectly. The next song is, once again, drastically different from its predecessor - Basement Corridors is a bleak, depressing and also minimalistic number with Synne Diana Soprana singing in an unconventional way, which sounds reminiscent of Bjork to my ears.

The music seems to have a point, expressing various moods both with the instruments and the singers' voices. I may have to underline that Jan Transit's vocal performance on this album is by far his most impressive. Such engaging emotional songs as Generally More Worried Than Married, featuring his sincere work, is one of the reasons why Strange In Stereo is a must for any person reading this page. If the music of In The Woods... does not manage to make a stone cry, nothing will succeed. I will not go into even a more detailed analysis of the rest of the songs here, as the music of In The Woods... is not an easy thing to describe, and, most importantly, should be experienced, rather than merely overheard.

If Omnio was a journey of midday, through the adventures and issues it provides, and the search for a person's inner world, his meaning in life and a personal "everything", Strange In Stereo is a trip in the middle of the night, bleak, dark, yet just as adventurous. Not an accessible effort in any imaginable way, it will take many listens to truly sink in, although I can expect immediate appreciation on the very first encounter. Honestly speaking, the only reason why I refuse to call Strange In Stereo the best album of the collective is only because there is the "unfortunate" creation(as unfortunately as creating a masterpiece above others may be) of Omnio, an album that tends to eclipse every other effort by the group, making it difficult to delve into their other material.

Absolutely essential!

Trickster F. | 5/5 |

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