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When I first heard of Iskra about two and a half years ago, I was blown away. At the time I was already familiar with Black Kronstadt and decided to check out Iskra as I learned that they had disbanded some time ago. So far nothing this band has done has failed to impress me. Even as live performers they are top-notch. Hell, the tiny venue they played in was packed full, complete with crowds outside and down the street trying to get in even though the headlining band Against Empire did not showing up. Cody and the guys are pretty stand up too and will help you out if you can’t afford merchandise or albums.
Their over-all sound varies as the band has progressed, but this is a review about their first and title album Iskra, which roughly translates in English as spark. The name itself comes from a series of documents which were published in the early 1900s as a means of Socialist propaganda. Fitting for a band such as Iskra whose members all share strong Communist and Anarchist beliefs; which are used frequently as lyric fodder.
As far as their music goes, it’s a perfect blend of early Black Metal and old-school Hardcore Punk. Think if bands like Darkthrone, Mayhem, Siege, Bad Brains, Discharge, Napalm Death, and Celtic Frost all had a bastard child together. Oh, and Motorhead fits in there somewhere as well. Without further ado, every single bit about this album is worth giving a 100%. Though the riffs tend to be somewhat repetitive, it doesn’t it flows well in this case. At the time of it’s release the vocals were one of a kind resembling screamed shouts resembling typical Punk styled vocals, but with (again) a strong Black Metal edge to them. Although that’s common today with bands like Hotbild and Order of the Vulture, Iskra were (probably) the first. Otherwise, the bass lines are godly, and they make good use of blast-bleats aplenty.
Recommended artists: Order of the Vulture, Hotbild, Martyrdod, Against Empire
Although I don’t place much importance on vocals in extreme metal, I cannot fathom how anyone could stand to listen to Iskra’s self-titled debut more than a handful of times due to the insanely awful vocal portrayal. Much has been made about the vocals. They definitely come under the category of “you either love them or hate them” and I most certainly agree with the latter of the two. The vocals are atrocious though they’re in keeping with the vast majority of the music which, in its uncompromising form, is generally quite bland. Iskra, my first real taste of blackened crust, haven’t given me the impression this is a sub-genre I’ll enjoy. Aside from songs like ‘Threat Inflation’, a track which deviates from the majority on the album, albeit only at the beginning, is perhaps the only song which creates a sense of atmosphere that I enjoy. Although I’m not opposed to fast, raw music, I definitely am opposed to that which doesn’t create a suitable atmosphere for that fast, raw brand of music and Iskra’s self-titled debut definitely doesn’t muster up any sort of atmosphere which moves me in any positive way, shape or form. Each song tends to melt into one as the atmosphere doesn’t deal well with change.
The atmosphere is, essentially, dead. The vocals are totally overbearing, which is some feat considering the unrelenting nature of the music. The atmosphere doesn’t induce any sort of powerful emotions within me and, instead, just gives me one massive headache to contend with for the rest of the day. As I said, I’m definitely not opposed to fast, primitive and raw brands of music but there most certainly needs to be a defining quality in the music which keeps me coming back for more, despite the fact that the unrelenting style beats the absolute shit out of me every time I hear it. Whatever qualities this album harbours are definitely hidden well below the awful vocal approach, a characteristic of the album which significantly hinders the occasionally catchy riff which sparks the album into life here and there. Songs like ‘Threat Inflation’ add a sense of creative spark to the album, one which is fairly monotonous throughout. The introduction to the song, although not the usual standard of material from Canada’s Iskra, is cleaner, slow and far more thoughtful than anything else that occurs on the album for the rest of its meaningless duration.
I find albums of this nature lacking in emotive power, despite how visceral they try to sound. Instead of coming across as a powerful beast, or an indestructible machine intent on causing global destruction and devastation, much of the music is bland and, in its unflinching form, very bland. Occasionally, despite the hindrance of the high-pitched, raspy vocals, the guitars which generate a catchy riff with which to hang on to for dear life, as shown on songs like ‘Culture of Cowardice’ but the songs are quite technical and adore shifting from one riff to another in quick succession without stopping to admire the one genuinely cool sounding riff for too long. Each song seems to contain at least one generally decent riff and a direction which appears to be setting the sound straight but the fast, cold nature of the record isn’t set on sticking around for too long and, not before long, each song moves on from the cool passage onto one that doesn’t inspire or offer any intrigue. A lot of the music is simply suffocated by the dense, sludge like atmosphere and the vocal approach. Had the vocals been a bit more relaxed and a lot less intent on being the center piece to the album, then this might have faired better. Areas like the bass might as well cease to exist.
Much like your standard grindcore album, Iskra’s self-titled album is far too obsessed with minor details when it should be focusing all its attention on the riffs and creating structures which, in their most basic form, get the listener up onto their feet and banging their heads furiously to the music. I find albums like this are only good for one thing - head banging and if there aren’t enough memorable riffs, which there most certainly isn’t, then that element of the album is lost and therefore the whole affair lacks drive and purpose. Albums like this aren’t emotionally stirring. They’re quick bursts of life which sit well alongside your feelings of anger and resentment. Personally, I find the whole approach rather juvenile and lacking in taste. This definitely isn’t an album I can come back to in any mood. I’ll need to be incredibly pissed off, so much so I don’t give a shit what I’m listening to as long as it’s violent, which this album most certainly is. In that case, the state of the material doesn’t necessarily have to be good, it just needs to be angry, which is a problem when my mood doesn’t pertain to any of the violent connotations or moods. Despite the occasional cool riff, this album is very mediocre and the vocals are a deterrent from the off.
Iskra was a Bolshevik paper which translates to "The Spark." Given the name, this band obviously has a bone to pick with society and all forms of authority. They are self-proclaimed anarchists and are angry as hell.
Iskra embodies the DIY approach and attitude of underground crust/punk scene and fuses it with blast beats and other aesthetics of black metal. Their overall sound is violent and explosive; but not without a sense of melody. The band does an excellent job of taking the aggression of crust/grindcore and is able to add in catchy riffs, melodies and attention grabbing structures that make each song very enjoyable. It's a great pleasure to notice that each song contains numerous riffs and does not recreate simple and boring structures over and over again.
The vocals are ridiculous on this album. They are high, raspy, shrieks that sound like they'll melt your speakers. The manner in which they are delivered also contributes to the doom of those speakers. The screams just jump out, layering over each other at times; almost like they're barking at each other. The capture your attention and add another layer upon the already solid music. They remind me of the high pitched vocals of Extreme Noise Terror.
As mentioned earlier, as the listener you are treated to riff, upon riff, upon riff. Never does a song let up and get boring. Iskra are fairly competent in their craft and are able to structure songs with new and interesting riffs in all the right places.
Overall the production is crusty as hell. The bass rumbles and chugs while the guitars wash over with a certain crack and churn out riff after riff. While the strings do their thing, the drums are mixed perfectly and do not over power any other instrument. This is a solid release, but for whatever reason I do not find myself playing it over and over as time goes on. It has a certain charm to it and allots that charm to a particular mood and time I suppose.
With the exception of the jazzy intro to "Threat Inflation" there is not much diversity amongst the songs; which is the album's only downfall. This album was a real find, black metal+crust=win. Highly recommended for fans of Skitsystem, Extreme Noise Terror, Marytrdod, and Gorgoroth.