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In The Woods…: Norway's psychedelic black masters branch out again

Into The Woods… press 2016
Oak metal: from left, Christopher Botteri, Anders Kobro, Christian Botteri

With their unique and self-contained vision, the emergence and success of In The Woods… during the early 90s provided evidence of just how broad, varied and creatively free the Norwegian black and extreme metal scene could really be. Drawing heavily on elements of folk, prog rock and psychedelia, their sound proved both imaginative and immersive, pulling the listener into an atmospheric and emotive musical journey unlike any other.

The band’s own journey would ultimately see them gradually shift away from their black metal roots over the course of three albums, heading into notably more experimental territories before mysteriously vanishing altogether at the turn of the millennium. Fifteen years then passed with neither information nor sign of life, the vacuum left by the group’s departure painfully obvious, despite a notable shift toward more progressive expression within metal as a whole.

But now, seemingly from nowhere, the band have made an unexpected, even unlikely return. The core members, brothers Christian and Christopher Botteri (guitar and bass respectively) and drummer Anders Kobro, are back with a new guitarist, Kåre ‘Corey’ Sletteberg, who enters the fold due to the 2013 passing of guitarist Oddvar A:M and the departure of guitarist Bjørn Hårstad.

More curiously, original frontman Jan Kenneth Transeth is also replaced, by UK underground metal veterans James Fogarty – best known for his work in such diverse outfits as Ewigkeit, Old Forest and The Bombs Of Enduring Freedom – who also contributes keys and guitars to proceedings. An unexpected combination indeed. So how did this all come about? And why did the band vanish at the height of their popularity in the first place?

“It was the only right thing to do at that time,” explains Anders of the band’s split. “It was a separation within the band, the musical direction was going too far apart in too many ways. The person playing guitar was drifting away from myself and the twins musically, toward this ‘indie rock’ style, while we were sticking with our metal roots, so it got more divided. It was also an age where some of us were young parents or had a lot happening in our jobs, and couldn’t find the focus that was needed.”

“It was also Kenneth the vocalist,” interjects Christian, “he was was on a backpacking trip for almost two years, and while he was gone he seemed to have lost interest.”

“I remember him saying, ‘Fuck this shit, I don’t want to do it anymore’ during a rehearsal,” recalls Anders. “That was the summer of 1999. But it wasn’t any harder to put the band back together; I said, ‘Let’s do this again’, and they agreed. It certainly wasn’t a bad breakup, we actually played our ‘final shows’ about six months after we split, so it was a nice, clean break, so to speak. There are no bad feelings – Bjørn is even involved with the guitar leads on a couple of songs on the new album.”

Plug him in: new Brit frontman James Fogarty

Plug him in: new Brit frontman James Fogarty

Remarkably, despite the lineup changes and the lengthy hiatus, the group seem to have picked up more or less where they left off. One year after announcing their return and they already have a new album completed, entitled Pure, a confident, rejuvenated and triumphant-sounding affair, and a record that is as fresh and expansive as you’d expect from the band’s back catalogue. It’s also arguably a more focused effort than their somewhat divisive ‘swansong’, 1999’s Strange In Stereo, the new opus harking back a little more to its popular predecessors, 1995’s Heart Of The Ages and 1997’s Omnio.

“What you hear on the new album is more unity,” replies Anders simply. “We are more as one than we were on Strange In Stereo.”

Strange In Stereo was the darkest album we ever did and that was how those days were,” adds Christian, “but the new album, we had a good time making it, and that has an effect on the music.”

“I was not so pleased with the earlier albums,” admits Christoffer, without doubt the most quiet and serious individual of the group. “I wanted to do better on this album; that was my motivation.”

“On previous albums Christoffer was somewhat overrun by the other guys,” clarifies Anders, choosing his words carefully. “This time we just kept it within ourselves. We actually don’t have any outsiders involved in the writing or recording process at all now, it’s just myself, James and the twins. We were working with outside producers before and it was like too many chefs for comfort on the last two albums.”

Speaking of James, it’s fair to say that making a Brit the frontman for a renowned and resurrected Norwegian band has raised a few eyebrows in the scene. How exactly did the Brighton-based multi-instrumentalist become involved in the resurrection of In The Woods…? Subterranea contacted the man himself back in Blighty to get it straight from the horse’s mouth…

“I’d been urging Anders to reform the band for about a year, but he said it wasn’t likely,” James reveals. “I offered to help out – on keyboards, for instance – but nothing happened. Then one day he told me that Oddvar had died and shortly after that he met with the remaining members and discussed reforming. Jan was happy for them to do it but he also told me that he has no interest in recording or performing music anymore. Shortly after, Anders asked me to record some vocals on some old tracks to see what it was like, and from those rough recordings they asked me to join the band and help to complete the album. That was really cool for me – Heart Of The Ages has long been the album I listen to when I am totally wasted,” he laughs. “The real challenge was working on songs for which the bare bones had already been recorded. Also, I actually had to jump straight into the shoes of two departed members, as I was now covering Oddvar’s guitars as well as Jan’s vocals… and to round it off, the keyboards as well.

Drummer Anders Kobro rises from the ashes

Drummer Anders Kobro rises from the ashes

Playing at the Doom Over London fest a few months ago, it was obvious that there was strong chemistry and understanding between the four men. Moreover, their collective hunger to create new material would seem to separate them from the many reformed metal bands whose primary motivation is clearly to play live shows. As mentioned, In The Woods… have not been ignoring that side of things either since the reunion, and it’s worth noting that this is the first time that the band have been touring with Christoffer present.

Nevertheless albums remain In The Woods…’ focus – so much so, in fact, that the band are already looking beyond Pure, with Christian casually mentioning that the two brothers have stockpiled many albums’ worth of musical ideas over the last decade.

“We have like, three tapes, just of black metal riffs,” he says enthusiastically. “There are lots of ideas. We hope to make many albums.”

“What Christian is trying to say is that he is a productive machine like no other,” laughs Anders. “We have sketches for one more album already finished.”

“The new album is already being rehearsed,” adds Christoffer. “I think it’s even better than Pure.”

As unlikely as it seemed even one year ago, the future seems bright indeed for In The Woods…. Not only are they proving highly productive, but judging by the new album, the vision and quality of their work is also as strong as ever. And though Anders isn’t entirely happy with the ‘prog’ tag that’s been put upon them, there’s no doubt that the sort of progressive metal the band specialise in is a lot more accepted today than it was in the 90s and therefore they have a lot more potential fans to reach. Not that the band seem too concerned with anything to do with commercial potential mind you…

“We don’t look outside,” concludes Anders categorically. “Christoffer maybe does more than his brother, but his writing style is the same as it was when we were in our teens. We were always kind of isolated in the south of Norway back then, there wasn’t a scene like there was in Oslo or Bergen. There was tape trading for sure, but it wasn’t like today with social media and information in your face right away. We’re still an inward-thinking band and we don’t have concerns about success or expectations. We make music for ourselves and what happens after that is up to the individual. If people like it that’s great, but if people don’t… that’s OK too.”

PURE IS RELEASED ON SEPTEMBER 16 VIA DEBEMUR MORTI PRODUCTIONS

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