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As a longtime Darkthrone fan and an appreciator of folk metal, I was thrilled to read that Fenriz had put out a few folk-inspired albums in the early '90s. I could not possibly have prepared for the record that I was soon to hear. This album alone may well be better than Darkthrone's entire discography - it ranges from blast beat-heavy black metal to melodic folk metal, even including an a capella song, and still feels mostly cohesive. Such a broad artistic range is rare in '90s black metal, and finding it on one album is nearly unbelievable. This impressive variety and the sincerity with which it is performed are the keys to Høstmørke's success.
From the first few seconds of the album's opening track, it's evident that this is a far cry from the music Fenriz is known for. The lo-fi production is there, as are the ominous riffs. But the driving 6/8 beat and Fenriz' pseudo-operatic vocals signify that this is a brand new beast - one whose simplistic but anthemic melodies are more exciting than anything Iron Maiden ever came up with. Layered backing vocals create a choral effect similar to Bathory, and act as a backdrop for the powerful lead vocal. And powerful it is - Fenriz' towering baritone manages to sound quite impressive, despite the obvious lack of training. When his clean passages finally give way to screams, it is done tastefully - the harsh vocals accompany the climax of the song, rather than adding a transparent "aggression" to the record.
Aggression takes a backseat throughout most of the album, and the short, enchanting "Landet Og Havet" ably demonstrates Fenriz' ability to produce music that is simply pretty. The simple lyrics praise the glory of Norway much in the way that America the Beautiful praises its namesake. There's nothing nationalistic about the song, speaking to Fenriz' professed apolitical views - instead, he simply and sincerely praises the beauty of his homeland.
The next few songs continue the style established by the first three and in doing so secure Isengard's place as a preeminent folk metal act (even if the project's influence is largely relegated to the underground). But, this is still Fenriz, and the record would be remiss to forgo black metal entirely. Tracks toward the end of the album tend more toward the hyperspeed onslaught that Darkthrone helped create. The English lyrics recall the Satanic imagery that typified most Norwegian extreme metal at the time, and despite the bare-bones approach these songs exhibit some of Fenriz' most deceptively creative riffs.
Creativity seems to be the name of the game all throughout Høstmørke. Its thirty-minute runtime seems worlds too short to contain such a wealth of metal mastery, but Fenriz proves his abilities in no less than three distinct styles over seven tracks. Despite his primitive aspirations and grassroots writing and recording methods, Fenriz is undoubtedly an innovator. Where Darkthrone looked to crust punk and d-beat, Isengard aims straight for power metal for nearly half the record - a stylistic choice that pays off surprisingly well, despite the relative simplicity of the music and the grainy quality of the recording.
Such creativity, however, is somewhat damaged by the last song on the album. If its title, "Total Death", is not already indicative of its misplacement, a quick listen will surely silence any doubt. Resembling Deathcrush-era Mayhem more closely than anything else, it almost sounds like someone else's song tacked onto the end of an otherwise spectacular record. The lyrics are basic at best, and are blatant in their Satanic inspiration; this is a major misstep after a half hour of subtle, almost poetic lyrics. Fenriz' vocal delivery is still convincing, and the song isn't bad at all as a standalone, but its inclusion dramatically mars an album that could have been the best of its kind.
Høstmørke flirts with greatness more than a few times through its short run, and this is certainly complemented by Fenriz' technical prowess. Though raw, the recording is still well-mixed and well-performed. The only notable error in production is due to an error in performance; Fenriz seems to move closer to and further from his microphone at random intervals throughout the songs, leading to vocal tracks that briefly sink into the mix, then roar back to the top at levels threatening to clip and distort. They never do distort, though, and this keeps the auditory anomaly from damaging the album's quality in any major way. His vocals are soar on songs like "I Kamp Med Kvitekrist", or "In Battle with the [Coward] Christ", and propel a pensive track into epic greatness.
Sacrilegious as it may be among black metal fans and critics, a listen through Høstmørke can almost make one wish that Isengard were Fenriz' main band, with Darkthrone a mere side project. Yet it may be better that this is not so: as metal bands have proven time and again, nothing gold can stay. It would be a shame most egregious to see the quality of Isengard fade over time, and having only this album and the demos compilation Vinterskugge through which to appreciate the project's genius only makes their legacy more lasting. Høstmørke may not perfectly exemplify folk metal, but it provides a blueprint that the best such bands would be wise to follow.
1995 was a very busy time for Fenriz. In a very short span of time, albums were released from Darkthrone, Storm, Neptune Towers, Dødheimsgard and his Folk Black Metal side-project, Isengard. Some would say that he was spreading himself a bit too thin, but the effects of this would not be seen until the following year. As for Høstmørke, Fenriz managed to deliver exactly what fans of the Vandreren demo were looking for.
"Neslepaks" starts the album with the same clean vocals found on the previous demo, quite similar to the style used on Nordavind, as well. Of course, this is a solo album, with Fenriz handling everything. The only involvement of outsiders comes from a couple brief vocal additions from members of Dødheimsgard. Musically, this is quite similar to songs like "Vinterskugge", though the feeling is a little darker. There is also some implementation of harsh vocals on this song. It's rather mid-paced, using the standard beat found in some of the Viking-era Bathory albums. Admittedly, Folk Black Metal is not my area of expertise, so I have little else to compare it to. Some have complained about Fenriz's clean vocals, but they sound powerful and well-delivered. The lyrics are in Norwegian, and one can detect a certain level of confidence in his vocals. He knew exactly what he wished to achieve and did it quite well.
"Oven til kosmos’ endeløse tidsrom skjenker vi den siste død"
The next song is "Landet Og Havet", which is very brief and pro-Norway in its lyrical approach. Of course this refers to the land itself, not to the government. It's not political in any manner. This consists only of vocal tracks, with no instrumentation. I imagine that it may be some traditional folk song, but this is unknown to me.
"I Kamp Med Kvitekrist" is another mid-paced song that is very similar to the opener. The sound quality isn't so great, giving the impression that this was taken straight from a tape, without being mastered. There is a slightly harsher edge to the vocals, at certain points, to give an added sense of aggression. Some of the background melodies are reminiscent of "Naglfar", though I wouldn't place this song in equal standing with that one.
This is followed by, what is essentially, an instrumental, "I Ei Gran Borti Nordre Åsen". There are vocals, but they seem to be utilized as merely another instrument, as I don't think there are any actual lyrics. The feeling is kind of dark and dismal. One almost gets the impression of people marching into a battle that they know they will lose. Certain death looms on the horizon, yet they must face it anyway. They are not afraid as they continue on toward their grim fate. The women and children weep as the men go off to war. They know that they'll never see them again, but fate cannot be denied.
"Over De Syngende Øde Moer" begins with a riff that wouldn't have been too out of place on Panzerfaust. Fenriz hits higher notes than on previous songs, really showing his range and conveying a lot of passion. This all adds to the epic feeling of the track. As the others, this is fairly slow and features sone really nice melodies that are dark, yet therein lies the beauty. It is easy to get swept away by this song, lost in its haunting atmosphere. This is definitely one of the highlights of the album.
At this point, the whole feel of the album shifts as we encounter "Thornspawn Chalice". This one is an epic, mid-paced Black Metal song. The vocals are very harsh and tortured, adding to the dark atmosphere, displaying that Fenriz can really pull this off pretty well. The lyrics seem to have been written long before this album was recorded, as they bear many similarities to those from the early period of Darkthrone. The folk-like rhythms are no longer present and the overall sound is as ugly and raw as that found on Panzerfaust. One could almost say that this song should have been saved for Total Death, as it would have surely raised its value. After a few minutes, the pace picks up and Fenriz unleashes one of the last brilliant tremolo riffs that he'd ever come up with, apparently. While this song really goes against the folk style of the earlier tracks, it still manages to keep within the same realm and this one riff certainly makes it worthwhile. This is the longest track on Høstmørke, as well as one of only two with English lyrics. The clean vocals mixed with the harsh ones, near the end of the song, creates a brilliant effect that one must simply experience to understand.
"Who fills their chalice with Thornspawn visions
Embrace symbols of That Night without end"
"Total Death" is the one song that doesn't fit in as well. It's a rather short, fast-paced, Black Metal song that has a lot of similarities to Darkthrone, but wouldn't really fit on any of their albums (except for the one of the same title), due to the strange riffing that is employed during certain parts. However, others riffs here utilized are right up the alley of any fan of old Darkthrone. As with the last song, one has to wonder why Fenriz didn't save this one for the next L.P. from his primary band.
Høstmørke should please those who are into other projects that Fenriz has been affiliated with. If you're a fan of pure Folk Metal, I can't say whether or not you would enjoy this as my knowledge of that particular sub-genre is almost nonexistent. The only thing I might compare it to, in atmosphere alone, might be the Viking-era Bathory stuff. It really doesn't sound anything like that, but it manages to convey a vaguely similar feeling. This is, more or less, something you simply have to hear for yourself.
Because frankly I don’t think anyone, Fenriz included, could have ever taken this release seriously. I’ve always had trouble considering Darkthrone themselves as more than a complete joke to begin with, but I abandon it to black metal specialists. However this is supposed to be half folk metal, so I guess it more or less falls into my realm, though I now wish I had never crossed the way of this parody of an album.
First of all, this release lacks of the most elementary coherence. I wrote “half folk metal”, and indeed this could apply to the first five songs, but the last two ones are pure black metal, with screaming vocals, blastbeats and everything one generally associates with the genre. So tell me, what’s the meaning of this? If I wanted to hear Fenriz playing black metal, I would have listened to a Darkthrone album, period. Now I won’t develop more on those two tracks to focus on what was supposed to be the main interest of this release, the folk-inspired tracks. But unfortunately they suck so much they can’t redeem the BM tracks a single bit.
I don’t know how much time Fenriz spent on this work, but let’s just admit he doesn’t seem to have involved much effort in the songwriting as well as the recording. On the songwriting first, I can barely think of songs simpler than those. All of them consist in the same melody repeated ad nauseam, when there’s of course an actual melody to be heard through those painful and clumsy guitar lines. Do you really call music those two keyboard notes on which is built I Ei Gran Borti Nordre Asen, which are endlessly repeated during not less than 3.5 minutes? And don’t tell me Fenriz actually WROTE his vocal lines before recording, they reek far too much of crappy improvisation, as most of the album if one think of it half a minute.
Not only one struggles to find a sketch of a vocal line, but the voice itself is unbearable. Indeed, this is a clean voice. Of the worst sort you could think about, the voice of some drunken retard, most of time off-key if there’s a key to be found somewhere, this album overall sounding like the perfect negation of any music. And when you know the atrocious second track is entirely a capella, it gives you an idea of the kind of torture it is. Besides, I really wonder if Fenriz is even able to use a mike properly, as vocals often seem to go back and forth in the mix for no obvious reason, without mentioning the high amount of parasite noise. Eventually, most vocals consists in some shitty chant – something like aaaaah aaaah aaaaah aah, you really have to listen to it to believe it – as if he didn’t bother for writing lyrics. There are some, occasionally, but as they’re in Norwegian I’m unable to judge their intellectual content, though I guess I’m not missing very much.
The instrumental mastery is on the same level the vocals are, simply because it can’t be lower. Not only the songs are atrociously easy as stated before, but he doesn’t even seem to be able to perform them correctly. Fenriz is Darkthrone’s drummer, isn’t he? Thus I suppose at least the drums should have sounded decent. They aren’t, or better, what you may hear of them, lost in the shamefully raw production, isn’t. Note that there aren’t drums on every track, but when there are they consist in some basic 2/4 beat without almost any variation, something the most badly programmed machine could have done.
Finally as I said the production is abysmal as well, but considering there’s nothing worthwhile to be heard there anyway, I wouldn’t have given a fuck for a cleaner sound. I may recommend this release to anyone who feels like jerking off on anything Darkthrone-related, otherwise, just avoid. I give it 20% for a good reason though: the first time I listened to it this album, it made me laugh as I think music never did before. That alone is worth a small reward, isn’t it?
Highlights: what are you expecting?
Of all the bastard children projects Fenriz has Isengard may be the only one that stands out, in part because Isengard is only consisting of Fenriz and no other second rate musicians to water down his ideas. Hostmorke won’t amaze you with musicianship or the layout of the songs. It is nothing terribly too complex or mind blowing. It certainly doesn’t have the best production either, of course that is expected with a Fenriz project. What may catch the listener’s attention is the unique vocals that come out of Fenriz as well as how he tries incorporate folk elements into basically Darkthrone style riffs and metal. Fenriz certainly posses the ability to play folk music, and he posses the ability to sing in a folk style, but his ability to fuse folk with Darkthrone style black metal is debatable and questionable. One thing is for sure, that this is original and something that in its own right is good.
There are a lot of Darkthrone style elements to be found on Hostmorke, naturally. The intro riff to Neslepaks sounds exactly like a Darkthrone song. What immediately makes Neslepaks an Isengard song and not a carbon copy of Darkthrone is Fenriz’s unique vocals. They are sung in a loud clean folk style. Almost a chanting where Fenriz is trying to project his voice as if he had to speak to many people without aid of a microphone. There are plenty of dirty black metal style vocals on this album as well, but they are always second to the more dominant loud folk style vocals. Landet Og Havet is a melodic track with no instruments, just Fenriz singing with plenty of volume and layering his vocals apart from themselves to make him sound like a medieval choir of sorts. The rest of the album keeps up with this unique vocal style. I Ei Gran Borti Nordre Åsen is a melodic black metal song with a slow moving pace which works well with the vocals. It also introduces a horn to the album that carries the song with a simple rhythm. To make the song metal at times a few slow, raw, and dirty guitar riffs are presented during non vocal parts. The song didn’t necessarily need them, and I feel would have been better suited if the song used more unique instruments to metal, like a pipe instrument or something of the nature. What makes Hostmorke good and original is that although its labeled as a Folk Metal album it doesn’t use many folk instruments, it how Fenriz uses the unique vocals that when combined with the blackened folk rhythms of the songs makes the need for folk metal instruments irrelevant. Although there were a few times where a folk instrument would have been nice, but not necessary.
Many folk metal bands have folk, then metal, then folk again. Creating an album which isn’t a folk album, nor is it a metal album. Fenriz doesn’t use Folk instruments in many of the songs on Hostmorke, therefore this problem is almost non existent. Instead he plays the guitar and structures the songs to have a blackened folk style rhythm so that his folk style vocals work well with it and take over the need for any folk instruments. This in turn allows for the entire song to be of a folk structure and style, although no folk instruments are played it still certainly has the feel of a folk song. Neslepaks has an traditional German oompa style rhythm going for it at times that when combined with the loud vocals forms a unique sound which isn’t done by many. Over De Syngende Øde Moer also has a nice folk style rhythm that is slow and a bit more choppy than the rest of the album. At times the song has some dirty raw Darkthrone style riffs that make it a bit metal. But these are done at exactly the right time and are used the right amount of times to create a well balanced folk metal song. The majority of the album flows like this, except for the last two songs which although good, do not fit on the album at all.
The only problem this album encountered is on the last two songs, Thornspawn Chalice and Total Death. These are typical, very typical, black metal songs. Dirty, raw, and grim guitar riffs, repetitive second place drums, and the normal screeching grim vocals. All that good stuff. But there are none of the unique Isengard style vocals to be found, nor the enjoyable folk structure. Its like someone took these two songs off a Carpathian Forest album. They do not fit at all basically making this album five unique blackened folk metal songs, and two black metal songs. All of the songs are good, but if this album stayed on the track it was heading by keeping the last two songs in the style of the rest of the album then Hostmorke would be one unique and amazing album. While all the songs with the folk elements are very well done and very enjoyable, the consistency that was broken on the last two songs ruined the flow of the album and limits Hostmorke’s originality. Since Hostmorke is basically the only good full length album doing what it does, it has a monopoly of this specific style of music, or genre. For what the album has it is very enjoyable and unique (something that the black metal world has seem for forgotten as of recently). For its originality and just some very enjoyable and well laid out blackened folk metal Hostmorke gets its high rating.
Isengard is a one man band, who plays FOLK black metal. This contains some awesome riffage, awesome drums, etc. But what sets this album apart is that it feels SO fucking medieval. Folk metal usually makes me picture folklore, most of the time. However, when I heard this release, I could easily picture anything medieval, like fights or whatever. The first thing that made me think " whoa...medieval" is the vocals. They're not your usual black metal vocals. They're low-pitched melodic vocals, and believe me, they will probably sound like nothing you've heard before.
The most medieval song on this is undoubtably I Ei Gran Borti Nordre Asen (whatever that means...). It starts out with a simple melody played by some
keyboard, and then he starts singing on a very low tone. The whole song feels like an interlude though, since it has no drums or bass, and it's shorter than most other songs on this album. I also have to mention Landet og Havet, which is just him singing. This one also sound very medieval, especially when he introduces the high and low vocals in the same time.
It's that simple, this is probably the closest to medieval an album will ever get. Recommended to both black and folk metal fans.
Fuck Elvenking. They can't write folk metal worth shit. They try and act like they know what they're doing, but for all the trouble they go through they should try actually learning how to write something halfway decent for a change. And I know just who should teach them.
You want something melodic that makes you dance? This has it. You want something that gives your inner Lord of the Rings fan a chill? This has it. You want something that makes you headbanging and worship the black goat of Mendes? THIS HAS IT. Fenriz pulls out some concepts on this album that I didn't even know you could do. Like, mixing folk and black metal and not having it utterly suck.
Fenriz is a good musician, and he plays some good guitars and bass and drums on this. But it all takes a backseat to the vocals. You've heard of Garm? Fenriz sounds just like him. His vocal style is all-encompassingly operatic, but he also breaks into some truly sick and disgusting black metal rasps, too. He has a lot of talent in this field and I can't believe it's going to waste, now that he's no longer recording with Isengard anymore.
Now, those expecting a bastardized Darkthrone should download a song or two and listen to see if you like it, because this really doesn't sound anything like that at all. Sure, there are a couple of black metal songs, but for the most part it's folk, with highly melodic vocals and that black Druidistic feel. This may not appeal to everyone, but if it appeals to you, you will truly enjoy this.
The best tracks are Neslepaks and Landet Og Havet. The former is a very Nordic-sounding song, like something the Vikings would sing around a campfire, or whatever it was they did. The latter does not have any vocals, but it has a VERY good vocal performance that more than makes up for its lack of instrumentation and its short length. The other good songs are I Kamp Med Hvitekrist and Thornspawn Chalice, the latter being one of the aforementioned black metal songs.
If you're looking for something folky and evil and not Elvenking, buy this, or download it, I don't know if they sell it anymore. This is truly an underappreciated album by an underappreciated band.
I'll start off by saying that Fenriz' competency as a solo artist amazes me. He may have discarded Isengard back in 1995, but even then his contribution to Darkthrone was minimal as far as actual music was concerned (only doing the drumwork). In Isengard, Fenriz took care of everything, and he did it well.
Now Vinterskugge was a great album, but words cannot describe how much better Høstmørke is. Vinterskugge focused on the aspects of folk and black metal equally, while Høstmørke places much more emphasis on the folk side of things. The only real black metal on the album is seen in the last two tracks, "Thornspawn Chalice" and "Total Death". Furthermore, these are the only low points of the album, "Thornspawn Chalice" being slightly better. On the rest of the album everything is amazing, from the folk music to the highly melodic vocals.
Which brings me to my next point: the vocals. I'll quote the person who originally recommended me Fenriz by saying "his voice has character". Simple as it is, that statement sums it up entirely. The vocals on the folk side of the album are clean, melodic, and rather operatic sounding (for lack of a better word, mind you); they are captivating and are by all means a sole reason for listening to the album.
The music on the folk part of the album is just as good. While fairly simple sounding, it draws you in and complements the vocal style perfectly. The riffs in the songs (or at least, the songs with riffs) are all extremely varied too, straying from the repetitive sounds often seen in similar styles/genres. The drums (Fenriz' main instrument, it seems) are also very well done. Songs like "Landet og Havet" and "I ei Gran Borti Nordre Åsen" deviate from the normal folk sound, yet still blending in perfectly with the rest of the album. The former is actually sung in the vein of the Christmas carol "What Child Is This?"...I am sure if this was at all intentional, but the two do sound strikingly similar; the latter uses some traditional folk-sounding instrument whose name or origin I am not aware of.
It's really a shame Fenriz isn't still making Isengard albums; nevertheless, Høstmørke should fulfill your musical desires for a long period of time despite its short length.
Highlights: "Neslepaks", "Landet og Havet", "I Kamp med Hvitekrist", "I ei Gran Borti Nordre Åsen"