Washington D.C five-piece Ilsa are well versed in the art of doom-death, having cut their teeth on splits with the likes of Hooded Menace, Coffins and Seven Sisters of Sleep. However, the defining characteristics of the band’s previous albums are the overtones of crust punk throughout; doubtless an influence of drummer Joshy who also wields sticks for legendary hardcore act Integrity. Fifth album (Ilsa’s first with Relapse Records) is yet another murky exploration of the very depths of depravity.
What’s noticeable right from the opening bars of ‘Hikikomori’ is the clarity of the recording – doom-death hybrids are often guilty of allowing sub-par production quality to account for the gloom of their sound. Ilsa manage to harness this while still allowing every chord and beat of the percussion to shine through – this is in part due to the talents of Kevin Bernsten, who helped the band to record ‘Corpse Fortress’ (He has previously worked with Full of Hell, Code Orange, Magrudergrind and Integrity). Following on from the crawling, glacial pace of the opening track, the album explodes into ‘Nasty, Brutish’ which goes full throttle with unmistakable Swedish d-beat rhythms. The sudden change in tempo is matched with Orion’s banshee-like howls and Brendan’s insanely catchy riffs.
‘Old Maid’ features guest vocals from Baltimore documentary maker KC Oden – the piercing shrieks of KC juxtaposed with Orion’s Hammer Horror-esque vocal contortions further fortify the spirit of crust punk running prevalent through ‘Corpse Fortress’. KC’s vocals are not unlike those of Nu Pogodi!’s Villa and introduce an entirely new, yet welcome, energy to the record right when it’s at its midway point. Continuing with the guest contributions, Hooded Menace’s Lasse Pyykkö provides the lead guitar for ‘Long Lost Friend’. The song begins with what sounds to be a reading of anti-occult campaigner Patricia Pulling’s description of Dungeons and Dragons: “demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, blasphemy…” etc. before pulling the pace back to another funereal march – however, with Lasse in charge of guitars there are death metal squeals aplenty. It’s on this song in particular that Joshy’s drumming truly stands out – not being able to play at his usual breakneck pace, every beat becomes much more powerful.
‘Corpse Fortress’ is an album whose dynamic is one of pumping the gas only to repeatedly slam on the brakes – the continuous pendulum from doom to punk is one that would ordinarily sound messy, but Ilsa manage it seamlessly. This is an album that will capture and hold your attention from start to finish, doubtless seeing repeat plays on many a turntable.
(8/10 Angela Davey)