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Album Review: PAYSAGE D'HIVER Geister

7/10 Reviewer
Score

Tobias “Wintherr” Möckl has been releasing cold, raw, harsh black metal under the Paysage d'Hiver pseudonym since 1997, and bears the standard of Swiss underground metal. His more experimental side manifests in the cosmic explorations of Dark Space, leaving Paysage d'Hiver to the frigid wastelands in which black metal originated. He’s dropped music fairly consistently, so it’s a wonder he never dropped a full-length until 2020’s Im Wald: two hours of caustic, ambient hypnosis. Never one to slow down, Wintherr followed that up with an EP, two compilations, and now, Geister. Whether or not Paysage d'Hiver has reached artistic overload depends on the listener’s threshold for lo-fi, hypnotic noise.

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Geister is black metal at some of its most stark and unforgiving depths. Every one of these 11 songs is bookended by the same combination of howling winds, clanging noises, and piercing screams, which plays into black metal’s repetitive nature, along with its air of suffocating hatred. There’s a disturbingly clinical execution to Paysage d'Hiver’s sound, from the moment the mid-tempo blast and buzzsaw guitar kick in on “Schattä.” Wintherr has mastered the art of imbuing an unfriendly exterior with atmospheric, melodious brilliance. As simple and straightforward as they are, each riff manages to avoid wearing out its welcome.

Wintherr’s voice cuts through the mix like a layer of harsh noise, painful not just in emotion but in the way his screams hit the ear. It’s this inhuman quality that makes cuts like “Bluet” and “Wüetig” more than just the sum of their parts. Whether it be the former’s rock-ish rhythms or the latter’s punkish speed, his wretched rasps contribute both to Paysage d'Hiver’s ambiance and to the project’s blunt impact. The instrumentals follow suit, knowing when to use more meat-and-potatoes riffage, and when to elaborate on some of the melodic qualities. The same could be said about the sporadic synth patches, which add more modulative heft to the album without taking from its grating sonics.

Though certainly elite in terms of execution, just listening to the other two singles “Äschä” and “Schtampfä” start to test the patience of all but those who want nothing but more Paysage d'Hiver. It’s not like “Äschä” is trying to win over outsiders with unending blast beats and primitive tremolo riffs. Wintherr has come so far without compromising, and “Schtampfä” proves that his songwriting chops haven’t gotten lazy. For all its monolithic progression and monochromatic aura, this guy’s inexplicable ability to switch his beats and guitar licks keeps the album moving along its crude if predictable path.

Paysage d'Hiver’s balance of tremolo melodies and grinding power chords does give a cut like “Undä” more to work with—especially during its final passage, which offers a surprising amount of low-end crunch for a band in this style. Even so, the album’s most obvious double-edged sword becomes percussion, which is as mechanical and unwavering as you’d expect from a drum machine. To Wintherr’s credit, the beats on this album sound surprisingly detailed and natural. However, the cracks in the armor start to show by the time a cut like “Wärzä” rolls around. The lack of human discrepancy makes the songs blend together more than they already would.

There are only so many sterile switches from half-time, double-time and blast beat that can recur over an hour and 11 minutes before Paysage d'Hiver starts sorely needing a new hand of cards to deal. The saving grace really become the guitars, which subtly elevate deeper cuts “Anders” and “Gruusig” in spite of their abject sameness. The riffs are catchy, energetic, and surprisingly groovy. Even a “Schuurig” benefits from Wintherr’s flow of ideas, relegating itself to slower, more hypnotic vibes. Still, Geister could have benefited from more ventures like “Geischtr,” which closes the record by fully embracing the industrial ritual ambient only hinted at throughout the record.

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Ultimately, Geister feels like getting caught in an impenetrable blizzard. It’s hard to make anything out beyond the frigid gale and biting frost… and it’s certainly not something anyone in their right mind would willingly wander through. But then again, would most people really want to listen to Paysage d'Hiver? It’s an acquired taste, even by black metal standards, but there’s definitely something special happening on this record. Wintherr knows what he’s good at, and this album shows how dedicated he remains to his self-appointed cause.

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