Im Wald begins on the slow, crunching footsteps of "Im Winterwald," while howling winds build a canopy of sound, offering a vision of how the succeeding time will unfold. That crackling, blanket of snow motif is one that will be familiar to anyone who has spent many a solitary evening with Paysage d'Hiver's - and it sets the tangible scene of a lonesome wanderer, trudging their way home after a long, arduous journey as the cold fingers of winter creep through the landscape.
Forming in Switzerland in the late 90s, Paysage d'Hiver (winter landscape when translated from the original French) is the work of Tobias Möckl, or Wintherr, and is an expression of how it feels to wander a land wholly covered by ice and snow, that it can feel like home and it will embrace every fibre of your being. Being transported to another world is a constant theme in Paysage d'Hiver’s black metal, with Wintherr creating snow-laden landscapes through flurries of sound - distorted vocals, synthesised melodies and layers of fuzzy guitar. It is black metal at its core with passages of dense ambient built into the fabric of the songs. With Im Wald - curiously the first official Paysage d'Hiver full length in over two decades of being active - Wintherr calls to mind an isolation that is only felt by truly giving yourself over to towering forests, heavy with snow and thought, and allowing yourself to accept your loneliness.
The timeline of Paysage d'Hiver’s work can look very strange as Wintherr has released a staggering amount of music in the form of demos, which is what Wintherr has imagined them as. Rather than full realised works they are stepping stones to what he has achieved with Im Wald (although in Paysage d’Hiver canon this work comes somewhere between 1998s Schattengang and 1999s Die Festung. The former signifies the beginning while the latter starts the end of the journey. Whether they are EP length or album length, or the rare split, Wintherr’s limited edition releases caught the attention of the underground and it’s strange to think that this is the record to fully push Paysage d’Hiver into the wider black metal universe.
Having also been a founding member of cybernetic black metal band, Darkspace, Wintherr is well versed in using synthesisers to create eerie and alien effects. Here they are used in several layers - to add texture and dimension in celestial waves, choral passages or inhuman drum patterns and this deftly rendered otherworld is a core part of Wintherr’s deeply personal philosophy of becoming one with the winter landscape. The sounds of Im Wald are controlled and deliberate, each movement a distinct step on this journey to familiar, yet harsh, lands. “Alt” is boundless in its heartbreak; the screams of Wintherr shatter the glass cathedrals that tower all around before “Stimmen im Wald” covers all avenues of reflection in eternal, frozen vapour and its synthesised choirs give rise to a sadness that is profound. Winter is a world of promise in the mind of this narrator, although what that truly means is known only to him and something we must glean from the emotive force of the music which is oftentimes impenetrable, at best.
Long-form songs are regularly interspersed with all-encompassing instrumental compositions - “Flug” being a beautiful, central point and highlight that enables you to get your bearings before walking headlong into the blizzard that is the latter half of the album. These instrumentals do much to allow you to enter a trance-like state, their simple melodies burrowing themselves deep in the earth and giving brief moments of respite in an otherwise intense experience. As Im Wald reaches its peak, "Kälteschauer" bursts with aggression as Wintherr's voice is dragged from the shadows while guitars punch out a curiously melodic rhythm that repeats itself in order to bring you ever closer to complete transcendence. "Weiter, immer weiter" is similarly meditative as it begins with those same crunching footsteps, leading you deeper into the forest and recurring vocal lines that illuminate the pitch-black pathways that steer you to the total isolation at the heart of the woods.
Im Wald runs for two hours, however, with such hypnotising and complex songs, that time becomes nothing at all. The music is akin to guided meditation; it's paced wonderfully, the story so beautifully written that pulling yourself from its encircling arms becomes a struggle and its layers of sound aiding in your own detachment from reality. So much so that after Im Wald has finished you are reaching to press play again, to enter the winter landscape and embrace the bleak atmosphere.