Album (re-release with bonus commentary cd)

When I first heard the music of Isengard, the solo project of Darkthrone’s Fenriz, it was like enlightenment. I guess it was about 10 years ago. I was into Black Metal and had heard a lot of Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, Dimmu Borgir and co. I had read “Lords of Chaos”, the book which explains the background to the events in Norway which made Black Metal so real/prominent/important/unacceptable, depending on your point of view. What I didn’t know was where this music came from, until one day I picked up an oddball Moonfog compilation called “Crusaders from the North” and came across Isengard. This re-release from Peaceville Records brings back many memories.

“Vinterskugge” contains three separate works: “Vanderen” (1993), the 1989 “Spectres over Gorgoroth” demo and “Horizon”, some tracks from 1991. In addition to the lyrics and an interesting but small collection of photos, there’s a gem of a bonus cd where Fenriz, always a fascinating, funny and articulate spokesperson, gives great insight into the detail of the tracks, their origin and musical history.

“Vinterskugge” looks everywhere in its direction and influences. Most of the “Spectres over Gorgoroth” demo is inspired by the Death Metal of Necrophagia, Immolation and Morbid Angel while funereal Doom can be found on “Dommesdagsalme” and” “Our Lord Will Come”, a “homage to Pentagram”, as the man puts it. There’s the familiar sound of Black and Viking Metal but it has to be remembered that these innovative works were recorded at the beginning of these movements. Fenriz looks back and recognises “bona fide Black Metal” on “Ut I Vannets Dyp Hvor Mørket Hviler” but what I found most interesting were the examples of Viking Folk Metal. Fenriz looks back and realises that he started something catchy and which he didn’t necessarily like, as he describes “Vinterskugge” and “Fanden Lokket Til Stupet”. Well yes, he did start something and here’s the evidence of it but what I remember getting from hearing “Vinterskugge” was enlightenment. Of course it is utterly different with the vision in my head being conjured up of the lone Viking warrior epicly battling against the forces of nature. A belligerent drum and guitar line supplement the Folk song, creating Folk Metal. When I first heard this, the distinctive and heroic Norwegian Folk strains gave me a point of reference for Black Metal, which seemed to come out of nowhere.

Fenriz is more pragmatic in his view, not looking so much at his own contribution other than in respect of the seemingly unwanted Folk Metal, but he does recognise a good note combination, killer riffs on “Storm of Evil”, drum skills, a rare use of an echo effect and an even rarer deliberate track ending. He is very proud of his lyric “We drink from the chalice of broken screams”. He admits that Norwegians don’t do a chaotic style, resulting in insanity coming out “systematised”. The evidence is here in the music. What is also evident is the pure rawness of production. Proof is here that musical perfection can wash away inspiration, ideas and culture. “Vanderen” was recorded in Fenriz’s living room and there may be the odd mistake but this is cold and yet full of feeling. If it isn’t enough to have this mixture of Death, Doom, Black and the new-found Viking Folk Metal, we are also able to listen in as Fenriz has a love-hate relationship with his synthesiser. The spine-chilling and minimalistic “In the Halls and Chambers of Stardust The Crystallic Heavens Open” proves that Fenriz is an expert at creating a sense of isolation, like a certain Burzum. He is less complimentary while listening to “Bergtrollets Gravferd”, which he describes as “dreary” and “like looking at a horse which has broken its leg”. It may not be Fenriz’s favourite but it’s still atmospheric and another side of this utterly amazing collection of original pearls from the 1989 – 1993 period.

“Vinterskugge” is like an encyclopaedia of Dark Metal. It is totally what Metal music is all about. To have someone like Fenriz explaining it is the icing on the cake. But you can also listen to this varied collection without commentary. What a great concept. I wish it could happen more often where a musician listens to and comments on his own work. But then it has to be remembered that Fenriz is particularly perceptive and intelligent as he looks back at the musical thought process behind these recordings. The whole work is original and integrally associated with the Black and Viking Metal movements and other historical Metal types to which Fenriz has great affinity. “Vinterskugge” is a very special work indeed.

(9.5 / 10 Andrew Doherty)