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Primitive genius - 93%

chaossphere, October 2nd, 2003

Compiling three demo's in reverse chronological order, the first Isengard album, despite it's disjointed nature, is one of the most excellent releases to ever emerge from Norway following the post-1991 black metal explosion. Of course, this is the solo project of Darkthrone percussionist/satanic poet Fenriz, so it's not surprising that it's so damn good.

First up, the title track "Vinterskugge" is a trudging, doom-laden epic based around a couple of chugging, morbid riffs and some serious minimalist drumwork, while Herr Nagell croons in his trademark monotone viking-chant in his native tongue. It's catchy as hell, and very reminiscent of classic 80's doom metal with an epic Nordic twist. Then "Gjennom Skogen til Blaafjellene" is a long, guitar-only instrumental (an idea which Judas Iscariot would later capitalize on to great effect), which maintains the killer atmosphere through serious manipulation of simplicity. There is absolutely no sign of technical wizardry here, just simple, effective instrumentation conveying an awe-inspiring atmosphere. The rest of the first 7 tracks follow a similar framework to the opener - slow, eerie guitar, simple rhythms and clean vocals, with the exception of "In The Halls And Chambers of Stardust The Crystalline Heavens Open", which is a synth instrumental, and the faster, pure black metal assault of "Ut i Vannetas dyp hvar Morket hviler", which starts out speedy before settling into a loping groove similar to the material from Under A Funeral Moon. The pick of the bunch here is definitely "Naglfar", a twisted, crushing epic which makes great use of Fenriz's vocals and carries an excellent melody. It concludes with the, er, amusing sound of a belch.

The next demo is from 1989 - Spectres Over Gorgoroth - and here we get 5 short, intense tracks of primitive old school death metal, similar to Darkthrone's efforts of the time but a lot more primal and gutteral. The songs are obviously copied from a cassette, since you can hear plenty of pitch-warble and hiss, but that merely adds to the old-school feel. Then we return to a more blackened pitch on "The Fog", before the bizarre, pure rock'n'roll "Storm Of Evil" - this is what The Misfits would've sounded like if they were Norwegian black metallers. That's followed by another instrumental, then a perplexing half-minute of silence before the crushing doom metal finale "Our Lord Will Come", which proceeds at the pace of a funeral dirge while Fenriz warbles in a bizarrely cheerful-sounding voice. It's a strange ending to a monumental classic, but it fits perfectly. This album is the sound of an artist who's not scared to use any form of expression necessary to get the point across. Not only is it easily the most varied album to emerge from Norge, but it's also one of the most consistently brilliant. Eclecticism without compromising quality or artistic integrity - a lesson many of the former black metal bands turned experimental wankers would do well to learn from.