Our Journey Through The Woods (Reissue)posted on 9/2008 By:
First of all, I don't consider myself a fan of the jollier, Humppa-styled metal released by bands such as Finntroll or Korpiklaani, so I approached this album with a fair bit of caution due to the playful nature of the artwork adorning the cover. Two cartoonish woodland folk standing atop a boulder and surveying a vast forest is a pretty good indication that you're about to be hit with a fair bit of grinnin', twirlin' and bouncin'. I soldiered on, however, mostly because I have a great deal of respect for what Vendlus Records has done in the past, and also because one of the two men steering Germany's Klabautamann happens to be Florian Toyka of the impressive avant-death metal outfit, Island.
Originally self-released in 2003, Our Journey Through the Woods is indeed a rather sunny affair, but it's nowhere near the beer-soaked ditties produced by either of the Finnish bands mentioned above. For one thing, Klabautamann's brand of black metal is sans any sort of traditional folk instrumentation, save for the abundance of acoustic guitar scattered throughout each song. No tin whistles, accordions, flutes, mouth harps, dulcimers or blithe maidens swinging arm-in-arm to knee-slapping jigs here, just surprisingly fast and bright progressive black metal with just enough of a touch of darkness to keep crabby, moody louts such as myself coming through the door.
Much of Klabautamann's sunny disposition has to do with the nice pinch of classic German thrash (ala Eternal Devastation era Destruction) thrown into the mix here. "Der Nock" and "Tower of Sorcery" are the most obvious culprits, but nearly every song features extended moments where all players involved have their sites locked tight on pure speed. The record also brings to mind Isa/Ruun period Enslaved quite often, which has as much to do with the Grutle-styled vocals of Tim Steffens as it does with both bands' penchant for swirling King Crimson-styled progression into their black metal. The amazing "Seaghost" is proof enough of this, and definitely stands as one of the album's strongest cuts amongst a number of worthy contenders.
The speedy merriment on Our Journey Through the Woods is nicely offset by its copious use of darker acoustically-driven woodsy folk. These measures naturally bring to mind bands such as Agalloch and Tenhi, and I'd have to say such comparisons are certainly on target. Elegant twelve and six string layering abounds on nearly every tune, but it's the instrumental "Elfentanz" that really lets the folkish expertise of these guys shine through. And when the duo fold aerie leads within the quieter moments we even get an Awaken the Guardian/Spectre Within vibe due to the Jim Matheos flavor of the guitar work.
Our Journey Through the Woods has been getting more and more attention from me over the last two weeks, and the reasoning goes well beyond just hearing musicians perform their craft deftly. This record glows with the warmth of an old, familiar fairy tale, and it delivers what I believe all good fairy tales should deliver: imaginative stories unfolded through a nice balance of light AND dark. It's easy to understand why Vendlus chose to reissue this gem, and I definitely recommend it to those interested in finely crafted progressive black metal. Now I just need to track down the band's newer material.