Thursday, September 3, 2009

Isengard - Høstmørke (1995)

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 Viking / 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.

Musically, there are a few different styles on here, but they all work together to form a rather cohesive whole. Tracks like "Neslepaks", "I Kamp med Hvitekrist" and the mighty "Over de Syngende Øde Moer" show a strong influence from Bathory's Viking era, though some people call Isengard a 'Folk Metal' project. The two little interludes, "Landet og Havet" and "I ei Gran Borti Nordre Åsen" seem to possess more of a folkish feel, due to the sort of vocals Fenriz utilizes. But the majority of this record would be best described as Viking or Black Metal. The latter is exemplified by the incredible "Thornspawn Chalice", which might be the final masterpiece from the mind of Fenriz.

Høstmørke was recorded on Necrohell Studio around the same time as Panzerfaust, entirely by Fenriz. Only in a couple spots did the guys from Dødheimsgard add a scream here or there. With the Viking Metal tracks, Fenriz utilizes the same sort of clean vocals as on the first chapter of Vinterskugge. Much like Quorthon, his voice is somewhat unconventional, yet filled with authentic and true feeling. The manner in which he sings really suits the rawness of the production as well. There is a real sense of conviction in his voice, especially prevalent on "Over De Syngende Øde Moer", which is probably the very best song that he ever made in this style. There is a melancholic feeling conveyed here, like a weary war march for the condemned. It is easy to get swept away by this song, lost in its haunting atmosphere. 

This atmosphere is also found on the preceding track, "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.

With so much Bathory influence throughout this album, one has to wonder how it would have sounded if Fenriz had used this material for a Darkthrone album. Surely, Nocturno Culto's voice would have sounded good over some of these songs. Some of this material definitely would not have been too out of place on Panzerfaust. However, Høstmørke peaks with "Thornspawn Chalice", which is an epic and intense Black Metal song wherein Fenriz utilizes extremely harsh vocals. Perhaps possessed by the same evil entity that once took hold of the likes of Quorthon and Dead, his voice sounds utterly tortured and inhuman. 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 mid-paced riffs are pure Bathory worship, but the song suddenly shifts to a faster pace with brilliant tremolo melodies that are among the finest that Fenriz ever created. The overall sound is as ugly and raw as that found on Panzerfaust. As the song continues, the feeling of intensity increases to a near fever-pitch. 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"

The final song on the album, "Total Death", is a mix of Black and Thrash Metal, somewhat reminiscent of Aura Noir. It's placement at the end of the album makes sense in a way, as it really wouldn't fit in anywhere else, and yet it is almost a bit of a letdown, coming after two monumental classics in a row. This one really could have been saved for the following Darkthrone album (also titled Total Death). 

Høstmørke is a great little album on which Fenriz managed to perfect his Viking Metal sound, while still unleashing his final Black Metal masterpiece as well. Fans of Bathory (particularly the Viking-era stuff) and Darkthrone should certainly give this a listen. While owing quite a bit to Quorthon, at times, Isengard still manages to have a fairly unique style and I would be hard-pressed to come up with anything else that sounds remotely like this. This is highly recommended and "Over De Syngende Øde Moer", in particular, would make a nice soundtrack for the combined forces of Europa to fight back the Saracen scum and to rid our lands of this filth once and for all!