I'm not sure I've ever heard an album that sounds so much like its cover image. Paysage d'Hiver are a Swiss band who play black metal in a raw and uncompromising fashion, even for black metal, which is a notoriously raw and uncompromising genre. Actually, they're not really a band, because there's only a single member, who goes by Wintherr, perhaps to underline how Paysage d'Hiver translates from the French to "winter landscape". The winter landscape I hear here is blizzard.
It's the vocals that really make this unique. The music behind them is relatively traditional, even with drums that slow down more often than I expected. It's wall of sound stuff and it's underproduced, as it has little of the crunch most modern metal has. It's a very thin sound, but one that howls like the wind even before the vocals layer on top like added bite. This icestorm of an album would be felt through an Icelandic parka but these vocals would strip you the skin right off your bones.
They really are outrageous vocals and, quite frankly, they're going to be the primary reason why this is either going to be something for you or not. Black metal diehards often look for the bleakest sound in the most abysmal production. This is certainly bleak and thinly produced but I don't think I've heard a shriek quite like this one before. I often had to concentrate to see if what I was hearing came from the throat of a human being or whether it was just some sort of bizarre feedback at the top end that had my speakers in a tizzy.
This is clearly not just noise, because the musical backdrop chugs along like a Hawkwind album playing in the background but the focal point is always the hurricane that's raging around it. Maybe there's a little more deep crunch to Undä. Likely Äschä is the fastest song. Certainly Geischtr is an ambient haven at the end of whatever journey took us through this hellish storm. But, with that sole exception wrapping up the album, there's precious little variety to be found.
I have to admire Wintherr's dedication to his art, because he's found a sound that feels extreme to me even in 2021, which really doesn't happen often. During the ambient sections, which I'm not convinced aren't the same ambient section kicking off every song, he sounds like an angry dalek. As the ferocity of any one of the eleven squalls which comprise this album kicks in, he sounds like a human wind chill factor. I wonder how he keeps his throat healthy. I also wonder if he records his shrieks in one system, plays them through another at the opposite end of a field and re-records them in a third using a very sensitive microphone, finally amplifying the results to match the music.
I really can't pick highlights because everything is so utterly consistent. This is less like an album with eleven tracks and more like one song that's merely broken up into eleven sections, with ambient bits here and there to break it all up. If you like one, you'll like the album, because it somehow never gets samey, even though it sounds pretty much the same throughout. It's almost like a ritual performance, lulling us into a hypnotic state and doing something to our brain in the meantime. But if you don't like one, there's really no point continuing. It's surely one of the most polarising albums I've ever heard.
At least it can't be accused of false advertising. It sounds like its cover image.