Sunday, 30 October 2011

Isengard - Høstmørke

You know you've met the girl of your dreams when you can go haunt record stores with her and she taps you on the shoulder to show you the obscure metal LP she's managed to unearth, buys it before you can wrestle it out of her clutches, and spends the next hour gloating that she found it before you.
When you don't COMPLETELY hate her for it, then I guess that's love.

Now that I've typed the most vomitously sentimental thing I've ever said, time to actually get into what record I'm talking about.

I'm by no means the world's biggest black metal fan, and FAR from an authority on the subject, but anyone with even a passing knowledge of the genre will be familiar with one Gylve Nagell, better known as Fenriz.

 I'm not going to delve too deeply into the myriad reasons why Fenriz is one of the most legendary, and hilarious, figures in metal, but safe to say the man is a true music fanatic.

From the death metal of the first Darkthrone album, to the genre-defining classics like A Blaze In The Northern Sky, Transilvanian Hunger et al, to the later punked-up speed metal, his music is nothing if not varied, and in all my years of listening to his stuff, I've never actually heard anywhere NEAR all of his assorted projects. One of those albums to have slipped under my radar was his completely solo record, created under the name Isengard.

I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this album, but I'm pretty excited to check it out because Fenriz is like the cool older brother that I (and a few thousand other nerds) never had.
Strangely enough, side A is first up...
Is that... is that fucking YODELLING!? I am almost tempted to put a colon-capital-d here because of the reaction this inspires in me. Yodelling. Amazing.
Knowing that he played all the instruments on this record himself, as well as sang/yodelled makes this seem actually pretty damn impressive. The riff in this track is pretty basic, but goddamn, it's almost... groovey? I can see why he did this as a seperate project, because there's a warmth and to his tone and a bounce in his playing that just wouldn't have worked in mid-90s Darkthrone, and a (I'm assuming) humour in the aforementioned yodelling and the maniacal laughs interjected into the vocals occasionally.

Most of the lyrics are in Norwegian as far as I can tell, but his voice itself is pretty damn brilliant, a real strong bellow thats a far cry from the shrieks and growls you'd associate with his main band's output at the time. I've no idea what he's yelling about, but it sounds good whatever it is.

One thing I can't get over is how great the production is! As the man himself puts it on the liner notes 'Engineered and produced [...] in Necrohell Studios to get that fine demo - sound. No clinical life - sound here!'. Yes, quite.
It has that great atmosphere to it that I like about the rawer end of black metal, Darkthrone in particular, it sounds like it couldn't possibly have been created by normal human beings, but at the same time... it does? Wow, it's a good job I don't write this shit for a living, huh? I can't put into words what I mean. Which, in a way, is exactly what I mean. There's an intangible, otherwordly quality to it, despite the fact that you know for a fact it's just a few Norwegian weirdos in a dingy little studio somewhere with fuck all to do except create this cacaphony.
But the fact that the resultant noise can send chills up spines worldwide... they must be doing something right.

I've lost track of what the fuck I was actually trying to say there... the production sounds real, human, and absolutely fuck all like most black metal, I think that was it...

Side A ends with 'I ei Gran Borti Nordre Åsen' which, regardless of what the title means, is some horn-blowing Norse insanity. This album is fucking brilliant, in the weirdest way.

Side B opens up with more surprisingly soulful vocal acrobatics, backed by an almost doom-y plod, which reminds me of, strangely enough considering this album predates it by a decade, the stuff Celtic Frost came back with on Monotheist. Thats as far as my doom-through-a-black-metal-spectrum knowledge stretches I'm afraid. Also, is that like the 50th time I've used the word spectrum in his post? Fucking hell, someone buy me some backened doom records and a thesaurus, cheers.

The next track, 'Thornspawn Chalice' is more like what I was expecting to hear from this album, opening with some splashy cymbalwork, descending into some very definitively black riffage, and tortured throat-shredding vocals. I dig it. It basically sounds like a one-man-band version of Darkthrone, and it's awesome. Sorry, Ted.

The final track, Total Death, is again purest, unfiltered black, and really does sound like it should fit somewhere on the Darkthrone album of the same name. I wonder if it's just tacked on here as filler? Because this album sure as fuck isn't a coherent body of work, considering it goes from yodelling and groovey riffs, through Norse horn nonsense, to tremolo picking and blastbeats in the final minutes... it's not boring, I'll give it that! And when I said 'filler' regarding this final track, I only meant it because it's a little... incongrous. The song itself is fucking killer.
As is this album, if you don't take it too seriously.

I would try and find somewhere that you can get hold of a vinyl copy of this slab of weirdness for yourself, but it's midnight, and I've had a long-ass day, and frankly I cannot be fucking bothered. The record was originally released by Moonfog in '95, but a quick glance at their website shows that they only have the CD version for sale now, and the website hasn't even been updated since 2007. So... good luck with that.

What I WILL suggest  is that you check out the shop where this was discovered, on the grimm, troo frostbitten streets of Edinburgh. If you ever find yourself up in the great grey North, make your way to Leith Walk, and trawl the racks of Vinyl Villains for some surprising finds. Make sure you buy something LP-sized, if only to get one of these cool-as-fuck bags.


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