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On the whole, the black metal community—both fans and musicians—have an obsession with the idea of purity. Perhaps nobody actualizes this ideal as extremely as Ildjarn. While there is more diversity within Ildjarn’s discography than detractors would like to admit, he definitely has his own distinct sound. It’s an extremely concise, harsh and direct brand of black metal that either hooks you like lines of coke or leaves you totally cold, unimpressed and irritated.
In a discography loaded with extreme recordings, none is more difficult to endure than Ildjarn’s self-titled full-length debut. Ildjarn is a massive album, containing 27 tracks that span 75 minutes. The basic elements are the same as you will find on every Ildjarn black metal release: repetitive percussion, dense and rough riffs, pounding bass and dry growls. There is actually a good amount of variety, both in tempo and style. There are a few melodic, hypnotic pieces, such as “Som En Ensom Bong” and “Morkeheim” that are actually quite catchy. There are also some slower, doomy pieces like “Krigere” and the bass-driven “Himmelvelv.” Still, make no doubt about it; the meat of this album is harsh, fast-paced bite-sized pieces of hateful black metal.
Ildjarn is definitely an endurance test; sitting through 75 minutes of music this intense is enough drive most people into temporary madness, which is presumably the purpose of music this vile in the first place. This record is sonically abusive and violating; it’s a form of masochism that some people will become addicted to and others will run away from in horror. While I usually am one to get addicted to Ildjarn’s thrashings, there is one element I find unbearable on Ildjarn: the drumming. There is such an ridiculous amount of hi-hat and the same basic beat is repeated so many fucking times that it feels like the tone is starting to shred apart the central nerves in your brain. To make matters worse, the drums are absurdly high in the mix. Perhaps some fans enjoy this constant rattling sound, but to these ears, the drums overshadow the other elements, resulting in an uneven record.
Of Ildjarn’s three black metal full-lengths, the self-titled is definitely the weakest. It lacks the overall cohesion of Forest Poetry or Strength and Anger and the high pitched drum tone is a sound that even many Ildjarn addicts are likely of tire of before they hit track 13. Still, there are some rather interesting and unusual gems embedded within this record, so it certainly should not be overlooked.
Originally written for deinos-logos.blogspot.com
Ah, Ildjarn. Everything that needs to be said about this band has already been said, and I come into this review with a great deal of bias considering they're my favourite black metal band. That being said, Ildjarn's first three albums are masterpieces, and the self titled album is the crowning jewel on their legacy (I say 'their' knowing it's a solo project... I don't like saying 'his'). As everyone knows, Ildjarn played an uncompromisingly raw, minimal and simplistic form of black metal just as the second wave was taking off in Norway. Forget about Transilvanian Hunger, Ildjarn was it for raw black metal. And fuck the majority of bands that came out of that scene, all you need is Ildjarn. I am exaggerating, but as I said they are my favourite black metal band.
Anyhow, the production here is very dull and hazy, recorded on a 4-track with Vidar Vaaer playing every instrument. The utter simplicity of the music means most of the time the same drum beat repeats for all or most of a song. The riffs are harsh and simplistic and mostly limited to a few chords a piece. But it's not just a few punky power chord progressions. The music is very dark and dissonant while retaining a punky pace and intensity. The bass is frequently audible even behind the flurry of distortion, and oddly enough isn't always distorted. Although that would give me a boner, the clean bass lines are well written and add to the hypnotic atmosphere, occasionally taking on different rhythms than the guitar. The album isn't all played at the same tempo either. Certain songs slow it down (such as the crushing and brutal "Krigere" and "Himmelhelv", and the percussionless and almost stonerishly hazy "Blikkets Storhet"). Vidar really knows how to deliver captivating filth as well as hypnotic repetitiveness and wonderful dissonance. All these things encapsulate the Ildjarn sound, and it's perfect all the way through. The vocals are also noteworthy. They're almost exclusively harsh rhasps that match the tone of the music well. He also throws in a few chant-like clean vocal parts here and there.
For some the album drags. It's 27 tracks and over an hour long. For me that's great, because I can't get enough of this stuff. Also I should mention that this is definitely how raw black metal should be recorded and performed. Many people get down on Ildjarn for having such a primitive approach, but out of the oodles of other raw black metal bands that exist Ildjarn does it best. The songwriting is perfect, everything flows, there are no awkward parts, no improper timing or mistakes, no annoyingly bad recording, everything is in the right place in the mix, and the whole album has a consistent tone and feel. Furthermore the songs sound genuine and full of substance. It doesn't sound like something some loser metalheads slapped together, it's inspired and creative music. That sounds like a pretty gay and elitist thing to say, but that's the way it is.
So this is Ildjarn's debut. It's their best album (although that's a tough distinction with the amazing follow-ups Forest Poetry and Strength and Anger to contend with) and since Ildjarn is my favourite black metal band, it's high up there as one of my overall favourite black metal releases. This is what I look for in black and metal and to a large extent in music in general: raw, harsh, filthy, and uncompromising music with a level of substance that I sort of feel intuitively. When I reviewed "Strength and Anger" I said the first three albums are all very similar and roughly equal in quality, but over the past few months I've slid over to hailing their self titled as the quintessential Ildjarn release. I'm sure most black metal fans have already heard it, and there's a great many people who say it's utter trash and horribly overrated. Those people just don't have the same ear for rawness as me, and they probably don't enjoy much of the filthy trash I crave. There's not much point in making a specific recommendation on such a well known album/band, but there's my two cents.
Ildjarn's “Ildjarn”, then. If you are familiar with the man behind the band, then you already know what is about to happen here. Power chords. 4/4 drum loops. Comical levels of distortion which hang from every intonation like so much damp seaweed on a shipwreck's corpse. Check. Now, throw them all into a body bag, shake well, pour out onto a CD, and serve.
Ildjarn's black metal output is abrasive, relentless and unforgiving. It is also utterly divisive like no other music could ever hope of becoming. Within an instant, the listener knows whether this assault to their ear canals is something valuable – an intangible quality which defines a whole ethos within its three-chord jumbles - or an abomination that will require medical correction in later years. The solo work of Mr. Vidar Vaaer is often called an “acquired taste”, though that is an over-simplification of the fact. There is no acquisition needed here: what is playing for the first 20 seconds of the album is almost exactly what is playing for the last 20 seconds of the album too. And just about every other 20 second increment throughout, to boot. So, twenty seconds in, you will have a pretty good idea of whether you like Ildjarn or not.
It is almost tempting to break “The Reviewers' Golden Rule” here and actually go for a track-by-track breakdown of this album, if only to witness the catastrophic farce that such a review would inevitably become. You see, Vaaer is an album man, most definitely. You can see it on his conceptualised later synth work where motifs return and evolve through the tracks, and you can see it here within his black metal records too. He blurs the micro in with the macro so that these tiny, shattered fragments of compositions begin to seem more like single elongated riff-chunks of a bigger, holistic composition which makes up the album. So rather than attempting a track-by-track evaluation, how about a relatively novel “instrument-by-instrument” instead? There are really only three areas to explore here: guitars, vocals and drums, (and “guitars” includes the bass as well, because it is impossible to differentiate between the two on most of the recordings).
Ildjarn barks rather than screams. His vocal patterns are steeped in the fine juices of cheap guitar pedal distortion and poor, direct-line mic'ing technique, thus making the lyrics no doubt as incomprehensible to a full-blooded Norseman as they are to the rest of us. Is the human voice really an appropriate inclusion into such alien sounds anyway though? Probably not. Despite the electronic crackle of the Filosofem-esque effects, the vocals belie the human touch involved in the recording process here, as they are the only musical facet to escape the attention-grabbing gravitational pull of the incessant percussion track.
The drums... Oh! The drums....
Even if you know absolutely sod all about music or musical production, you would have to be a dunce of some great standing to believe that this tippy-tappy racket is an actual drum kit being beaten here to a high-pitched, tinny pulp. Perhaps if Norwegians fashioned their drum heads out of pieces of flint, or mahogany, this noise could be described as approaching something close to "natural sounding". But they don't. Norwegians love to kill animals and to use their skins for rhythm sections in extreme metal bands.
The things do not stop. Ever. Ildjarn's drum programming is the black metal equivalent of sharing public transport with an unruly child who spends the entire journey whining “are we nearly there yet?” whilst ungraciously hoofing the back of your seat with his snot-nosed, Velcro-shod feet.
Enjoyable breaks come in the form of the few contemplative lead-in tracks which pockmark the album's track list. Songs which sadly I can't name, because my copy of this album is on cassette and I have never yet kept up to speed with its cloned, fast-flowing contents as they fly from one identikit mini-song to the next and then – seemingly - back to the first one again. But to help you out: these songs are those few tracks with the half-speed percussion or – Bog be praised - no percussion at all. These brief respites from the paralysis of the ratcheting treble clicks allows the listener the space to look into the melodic simplicities of the composition, and to hear as young Vidar naively struggles to pick out an open-ended progressive melody on his six-string, while the bass line plods gloomily through root notes in the background somewhere. A basic grasp of the fundamentals of harmony - and zero preparation - are the key ingredients of the Ildjarn oeuvre, and it is heartening to see them laid unashamedly bare here, with nary a returning chorus nor distinguishable riff for adornment.
The remainder of the album is left to hop from drum beat to drum beat; but pitched instruments are fighting a losing battle for attention against the percussion throughout. This creates a very odd and perhaps entirely unique effect whereby the listener engages with the songs as though they can hear only a single instrument – a weird sort of distorted, pitched drum instrument that, every now and then, emanates a disembodied voice through a gravel-filled larynx. Because, even when the guitars or vocals are sounding off between the drum strikes, you barely hear them. All sound becomes regimented into the rank and file of percussive quarter notes. There are similar effects produced by hard-compressed dance mixes and club muzaks perhaps, (where the gigantic kick drum literally squashes the other instruments into micro-seconds of silence), but that is not the same as what has been reproduced here by Ildjarn. Everything is at once distinguishable, yet framed so severely by the drums that its mechanised rhythms are all that remain.
At this point in the assessment there follows a paragraph of arbitrary personal opinion, which is divided into three parts, and proceeds thusly: One: you have not heard another band that sounds like Ildjarn. Any band that says they sound like Ildjarn is in fact just a rubbish band. Therefore, you should at least try listening to Ildjarn once. Two: when approaching Ildjarn's music, it is perhaps most rewarding to hold in mind the breadth of the entire discography. Knowledge of the later synthesizer albums contextualises the earlier black metal recordings to a significant degree, whilst the very contrast of styles is in itself both amusing and insightful. Three: Of the black metal recordings, this is potentially the greatest. Many would say Forest Poetry with its hyper-monotony, or one of the Nidhogg collaborations, but the recordings here capture the very purity of essence that is Ildjarn's reason for being. It is music that is practically unconscious; the synaesthetic result of wounds inflicted on the world by Man's own oppressive ego. Sounds bizarre? It is that, and more.
I'll be the first one to tell you that Ildjarn sounds bad. Come on, this was all recorded by one man on a 4-track machine. The drums sound like they were programmed, but its a real drum kit. The guitar/bass work is simplistic. The vocals are unintelligible. There are no lyrics to the songs. But, this is natural music. This is music recorded by one man, for one man.
The idea behind the music is just as important as the music itself, in this case. Ildjarn's love for the Norwegian landscapes, and his widely publicized misanthropy shines through each primitive song. Its repetitive and simple, but you can't help but headbang to this. Ildjarn knew what he wanted his songs to sound like, and he does it with the knowledge that most won't like his work. It's a little hypocritical, I know. In a time where anyone can pick up their guitar and bass and record black metal in their own homes, this album, this project, still remains very relevant. It's black metal the way it was meant to be, raw, minimalist, and natural. There's no drum programming here, unlike the Nidhogg works. No overdubbing, no editing. Its improvised to reflect the thoughts and feelings of one man, and it works perfectly. Even if you don't listen to Ildjarn much, like myself, you can still hear and feel Ildjarn's passion for his music, his surroundings, and his outlook on the world. You may not enjoy the sounds from this album, but this is natural music, free of any restrictions or pretentions, and as far as I'm concerned, it's very enjoyable.
The production on this album is awful, in fact I'd go so far as to say that it's the worst production I've heard on any album and I listen to a lot of black metal. People are always using the Deathcrush EP as a point of comparison when talking about production so I'll just say that Deathcrush sounds like pop music compared to this.
The drums on here don't even sound like drums at all, it sounds like he's banging his drumsticks together, and they just drone on and on with hardly any variation throughout the entire album. I can't say much about the music, because every song sounds very similar and it's hard to hear anything under the clacking of the "drums". When it comes to bass, I don't think there is any. As for guitar, it sounds like each song only has one or two riffs repeated over and over.
I suppose that some people can appreciate whatever is underneath all that noise, and with repeated listens I might be able to understand this album. After all, I once thought that Burzum sounded like total shit when I first started listening to it and now it's one of my favorite bands. If you can get past the terrible production and the drums drowning everything else out there might be some brilliant music to be found here, but if you're not a diehard black metaller you should probably avoid this album.