2020’s Album of the Year with DJ Witchfinder: Paysage d’Hiver’s Im Wald

by DJ Witchfinder

Paysage d’Hiver, while a legend among black metal enthusiasts, is relatively unknown to the general consumer. However, this is exactly how Wintherr (the sole member of the project) wants it; choosing to release his music under his own label and keeping himself out of the public eye. These factors have contributed to his mythic status in black metal circles since he began releasing music in 1997.

His latest record, Im Wald, released in late June of this year, has been a long time coming. In his 20+ years of recording music he has released ten albums, the last having arrived in 2013. However, according to Wintherr, these albums have only been “demos”; this statement speaks volumes. It is incredibly clear to me that this latest album is the culmination of decades of experience and the pursuit of perfection. I believe that Im Wald is the album of the year, and I will try my hardest my express how I have come to this conclusion.

Picture this: You find yourself exploring a dilapidated home in a rural area, just outside the city. You wander down into the dark cellar. The air is stale, the wooden steps creak, mice scurry into cracks in the foundation, and spiders disperse at the sight of your flashlight. You sweep your flashlight around the pitch blackness to find the only object in the cellar is a small wooden chest. Within this chest is a cassette tape, tattered and dusty, but you can make out the words Im Wald hastily scribbled on the front.

You race home, relieved to be away from that cellar, but intrigued with the tape. Sprinting up the stairs and into your room, you lock your door and throw yourself onto the bed. You retrieve the tape from your pocket and slide it into the tray of your potable cassette player. With your headphones on, and head resting on a pillow, you click play.

That very moment you find yourself in a raging blizzard. Your vision is obscured by sweeping snowfall, your movement is stifled by the icy ground, and your appendages are numb from the cold. You can hear the music. The distorted guitars put you in a trance. The raspy vocals horrify you. The pounding drums seem to be marching you forward. As your body succumbs to the blizzard, your mind succumbs to the music. You lose track of yourself and time; you finally understand: this album is incredible.

This is what I pictured in my head as I listened to Im Wald for the very first time. Never in my life has a black metal record painted such a clear picture in my head. If this experience is what Wintherr was trying to create, and I think it is, then he nailed it perfectly.

The record itself is quite long and is possibly the longest record I have listened to, with a total runtime of 120 minutes. However, the 13 tracks are a shorter than usual on this record (Paysage d’Hiver likes to make songs that are over 20 minutes in length), with an average runtime of 9-13 minutes per track. Four out of the 13 tracks on this record could be considered interludes. Often containing field recordings of the outdoors accompanied by clean or distorted guitars, they act as a pallet cleanser for the longer tracks.

If you are an avid listener of black metal, then you are used to the oft-used lo-fi production. However, this is sometimes off-putting or confusing to new listeners. In short, this album and others strip away the bass, leaving just the treble. Some people refer to this sound as “small” or “flat,” but I think it adds so much to the atmosphere of the album. The drums, guitars, vocals (and synths occasionally) are distorted and muddled together in a way that makes it hard to distinguish them. Paysage d’Hiver uses this to create an incredible “swirling” sound that creates a cold sound, which is why I compared it to a blizzard. Sometimes it does not even sound like music, but rather pure emotion being spilled into your ears. This record is a masterpiece in every definition of the word.

In the time of COVID-19 Im Wald has been a cathartic and therapeutic escape for me. The monotony of my daily routine of online classes and feeling sorry for myself has been violently shaken up by this beautiful record. The atmosphere, emotion, and authenticity of Im Wald greatly outweighs any other album I have listened to this year. Paysage d’Hiver has truly created a monolithic epic and is certainly my album of the year.

Check out Im Wald on Paysage d’Hiver’s Bandcamp and Spotify profiles, be sure to follow DJ Witchfinder on Instagram, and tune in for Liturgy every Thursday from 8-9 AM on your favorite college radio station, WUSC.