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I dont get the hype of this release. - 50%

mz_412, September 19th, 2005

Essentially Isengard is a solo outlet for Fenriz (Darkthrone / Storm) giving him room to write music which is not limited by the restrictions of a band. As is to be expected from a member of Darkthrone there is very minimal production standards and a very basic and raw approach to instrumentation. If you are looking for Isengard's definitive release then 'Hostmorke' is what you are looking for, whilst 'Vinterskugge' is a collection of three demos leading up to the release of 'Hostmorke' from 1989, 1991 and 1993. The quality of these three demos are incredibly varied therefore it will be better to examine each one seperately. If you have yet to experience the 'Hostmorke' album then it is recommended to go there first before delving into the very primitave and raw history of Isengard. Upon a flick through the digipack you will see very darkened portraits of a cloaked figure grasping fire-lit torches and a staff in the middle of the woods and sprawling Norse landscapes. This is the perfect visuals for the music which you are about to hear once you press play on the cd player.

Chapter I is Isengard's 'Vandreren' demo from 1993. The songs are varied but is probably the most adequate point from which to compare earlier Isengard demos to 'Hostmorke'. From the beginning we hear folk tunes played on guitar with a very black metal tinge to it. Fenriz sings in a unique clean voice that is very deep, partly operatic. There is obviously a strong connection which Fenriz feels to his Viking heritage. He sings with such a sincere passion and pride as well. The next few songs are all very different to each other and is great to see such variation. 'Gjennom Skogen Til Blaafjellene' is basically two long guitars playing in unison with each other, later joined by keyboard. The connection from Isengard to Darkthrone could not be proved more than with the next song 'Ut I Vannets Dyp Hvor Morket Hviler' which could easily have been a lost track off 'Transilvanian Hunger' with the punishing force and feel of Von's 'Satanic Blood'. We return back into clean vocals next with 'Dommedagssalme', a much slower and doomier piece compared to the rest of his works. After this we hear a drastic shift into MIDI synths with 'In The Halls And Chambers Of Stardust The Crystallic Heavens Open', a very atmospheric and sad piece reminiscent of some of Burzum's ambient works. 'Fanden Lokker Til Stupet (Nytrad)' is another instrumental track with distorted chainsaw guitars playing in mid paced folk structures and the addition of medieval flutes and plenty of splash cymbals. 'Naglfar' closes this chapter with another clean voiced track with dense atmospheric keys and plenty of bass.

Chapter II is a demo from 1989 entitled 'Spectres Over Gorgoroth' and is probably the weakest point on this CD. There is much more of a thrashy death metal edge to it and none of the songs hold much longevity. This chapter is more in line with what Darkthrone were doing at this stage, but nothing which really hints at the future folky direction that Isengard will take. The songs are quite short, clocking in at an average of two minutes. There are basic riffs aplenty and the frequent Celtic Frost influence worming its way in, especially with the grunts coming from Fenriz's mouth during 'Trollwandering;. There is nothing too memorable to say about this demo. There are indeed flaws which are to be expected and no songs really standout, stick in your head or even warrant a second listen. The production on this demo is also incredibly muddy and primitave.

Chapter III is another demo entitled 'Horizons' from 1991 and opens with a slow, crushing and doomy song called 'The Fog' which brings to mind names like Beherit. The vocals are as brutal and intense as one would expect from Fenriz. 'Storm Of Evil' is a large shift in direction, an upbeat track with deep clean vocals and appropriately placed keyboards. At times I hear similarities to punk / deathrock when it comes to the upbeat yet gloomy melodies combined with Fenriz's voice. At times he reminds me of Ian Curtis, late of Joy Division (am I now going to be hung for that one!). 'Storm Of Evil' is intriguing as it shows similarities to later works of Isesngard but isnt instantly recognisable as an Isengard song. 'Bergtrollets Gravferd' is a synth interlude delving into dark dungeon like atmospheres alike early works of Mortiis. Finishing this collection of demos we have a song called 'Our Lord Will Come', another odd recording with vocals thatsound like Fenriz's clean voice sped up slightly. Production is incredibly weak here and sounds dubbed from an old cassette.

'Vinterskugge' is an interesting probe back into the history of such a respected name in Norwegian black metal history. Just look at the number of Darkthrone inspired bands that exist now. This compilation of demos falls very short of the grandeur of 'Hostmorke', however 'Vinterskugge' is more for sentimental value looking back on Fenriz's music career. There are a few brilliant songs on here, and also some second-rate songs. Buy at your own risk, however is a must for Darkthrone obsessee's or those who were spellbound by 'Hostmorke'. Hail Fenriz!