Sunday, January 25, 2009

Isengard - Vinterskugge (1994)

Isengard was a solo project of Fenriz, of Darkthrone. The band's name was inspired by Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The musical style varies throughout the album, as Vinterskugge is a compilation of three demos, recorded between 1989 and 1993. This project seemed to be a creative outlet for Fenriz, wishing not to be confined to any specific sound.

Chapter One is the 1993 Vandreren demo. The first song, "Vinterskugge", begins with with a powerful build up of vocals and guitar, immediately giving off a very strong folk / Viking Metal feel with a minimalist Black Metal approach to the recording. The lyrics are in Norwegian, and only serves to convey the pride Fenriz himself feels in his heritage. The riffs possess a strong doom element.

"Gjennom Skogen til Blåfjellene" is next, and creates a very mournful atmosphere with a couple simple guitar melodies. It is like walking the frozen forests, far from home, as funeral mist fills your lungs and it becomes difficult to breathe. The sorrowful sounds fade away, yet before relief can come it all fades back in. Cold hands reach for your throat, slowly wrapping around and applying gentle pressure. At first, you don't even bother to resist as it almost seems appealing. As the pressure becomes more intense and you are deprived of air, you realize that it is now too late. All hope washes away, leaving behind only the deepest despair. One almost expects to hear the anguished screams of Varg Vikernes here, as this could easily have been recorded on a Burzum album.

The next song is "Ut i Vannets dyp Hvor Morket Hviler". This song is the connection between Isengard and Darkthrone, as it sounds quite similar to something that would be found on Transilvanian Hunger, though it may be a bit less minimalist (if only by a slim margin), but still very primitive. Fenriz utilizes raspy Black Metal vocals to accompany the fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums. The melodies are haunting and trance-inducing.

"Dommedagssalme" sees Fenriz return to the clean vocals. This piece has a strong Doom Metal feel which is quite suffocating. Within the first few seconds, there is a distant moaning that sounds as if it is calling from the abyss. The vocals are somewhat similar to those of the band Pentagram. This is a very impressive, and miserable, song. As it slowly fades away, one feels their spirit being dragged down into the darkest depths.

"In the Halls and Chambers of Stardust - The Crystallic Heavens Open" shows a continuation of the dark and somber atmosphere. This synth track is very reminiscent of "Han Som Reiste" from Burzum's Det Som Engang Var album.

The dark clouds seem to dissipate as "Fanden Lokker til Stupet (Nytrad)" begins. The feeling is still somewhat somber, yet almost optimistic of an upcoming battle. This instrumental has a very Medieval / folk vibe.

The final song of the Vandreren demo is "Naglfar". This goes back to the atmosphere of the first song, reminiscent of Viking-era Bathory, musically. The vocals, of course, are much more powerful. This song tells of gathering the hordes of the North to sail through storms to attack Judeo-Christian scum.

Chapter Two is the Spectres Over Gorgoroth demo from 1989. This is more in line with what Darkthrone was doing at the time, so it is a bit odd that Fenriz even needed to make this separately. The vocals alternate between raspier Black Metal sounds and deeper Death Metal grunts. The music owes a lot to bands such as Celtic Frost and Autopsy. "Thy Gruesome Death" is not quite as evil sounding as the second song, "Deathcult". The recording is very primitive and raw, even featuring a brief (and wild) guitar solo. The songs on here are very short, as well. "Rise From Below" is the lengthiest song on here, at just over three minutes. It features several riff and pace changes. "Dark Lord of Gorgoroth" seems to display even some influence from the early Death albums. "Trollwandering" is a very doomy outro, possessing an evil feeling. This is a very interesting and enjoyable demo, though it is quite obvious that the only connection between this demo and Vandreren is the band name Fenriz chose to record under.

Chapter Three is the Horizons demo, from 1991. It opens with the slow and crushingly doom-filled song, "The Fog". It almost reminds one of what Beherit would do, a couple years later, on Drawing Down the Moon. Again, the feeling is utterly dark and you can feel the darkness coursing through your veins, like a poison, weakening you. Your limbs become too heavy to move, and you begin to sink down into the black pit.

"Storm of Evil" is a very strange song, sounding like some 80s Goth rock, such as Sisters of Mercy or something. Fenriz, here, utilizes more clean vocals. The sound is dark, yet upbeat in an odd way. Even more peculiar is that this is the longest song on the entire compilation.

"Bergtrollets Gravferd" is a synth piece, dragging you even deeper into the blackness of the abyss. What you hear is the sound of a solitary funeral, as none shall mourn your passing. At the fathomless depths, you continue to descend, and no one even knows that you are gone. You realize now that you are absolutely nothing. Your existence has been meaningless. Your torment is simply something for others to mock. Your body may enjoy the benefit of being tossed into a cold grave, but your journey through darkness and misery has only just begun.

"Our Lord Will Come" is a Doom Metal epic, very reminiscent of Pentagram, with both vocals and the raw guitar sound. This song could have been recorded in the 70s or early 80s. It has a very oldschool and primitive feeling to it. Now that you have descended into the black abyss, it is time to forget all that you were and to embrace the emptiness of the Hell in which you exist...