THE DEMO CORNER
Issfenn’s initial offering by way of its self-titled record issued last September caught be a bit off guard. I didn’t expect some seriously heavy riffs and very Venom-like ‘black’ metal without ‘thrashing’ it out; with the recent gang rapes of the black metal movement over the last 15-years who knows what to expect anymore? That said Canada seems to be one of the ‘cold’ beds for some really encapsulating black art these days.
Vitrid and Xost are the duo that make up Issfenn, and between the two of them there is a defining mode of transport here; the solid chord structure lends itself more to the ancient sounds of the aforementioned Newcastle trio and some of the contemporaries of the period like Germany’s Poison, Hellhammer, Bathory or even a mid-paced Darkthrone. The music on this debut relies more on its thick delivery and potent assembly than an overabundance of speed and atmosphere, a welcome and rare shifting of priorities for any black metal band; maybe more bands are realizing that a return to the home base is usually the best avenue when the field of battle is razed and left barren. “Plague Bringer” is one of those tracks that feels a bit like Norway but doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the formulaic derivatives associated with that particular era. What Issfenn produces is a concentrated sound that is guitar-heavy and primitive without selling short the overall sound that usually winds up emaciated so much that the bones are bleached white in vain attempt to retain some archaic sound long lost to over-saturation. The simplicity of the blueprint here is the charm of the band, as it takes the basest form of black metal and keeps it true to the medium.
The generalized precept for black metal is fast, loose and low-fi, and while those particulars were staunchly upheld at the behest of the originators many bands now are taking their own style from the forefathers and creating some fine music with more attention to, dare I say, melody? “Helm of Hell” is a slower, even arduous meandering through some dark and ugly place, especially when the vocals kick in and hiss about the gates of Hell - you know precisely where you’re going and how tempestuous the journey might be by track’s end. There’s a bit of Burzum within the chords, but mostly there is a constructed chaos that carries its own merits through some dismalness, real or imagined. I’m a bigger fan of the palm-muted crunching as opposed to the speedy note assaults that Marduk is famous for in its career. The vocals are a very standard black metal tone, raspy, almost croaky deliveries that fits the schematic overall, so it all falls into place.
As for the production it’s quite good, void of polish and bells and whistles, with just the right amount of guitar tone to keep your foot tapping or your bloody head slamming off the table - whichever mode of enjoyment you choose when engaging such a band. Some mid-era Darkthrone is certainly prevalent here as well, even calling on a causal punk sound in spots, but make no mistake - this is as black as it gets in the modern day.
For not putting out a demo to test the waters this is a giant leap into an overcrowded pond that won’t set records for imagination or style, but will absolutely entertain you in the long run. You get the best of both eras in this record, so swallow it whole like silly communion cookies.
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1. The Betrayal
2. Plague Bringer
4. Helm Of Hell
5. Mindless March
7. Light's Last Sigh On The Equinox
Total playing time: 36:48
Release Date: September 7, 2011
Label: Hvergelmir Records
Issfenn - Issfenn
April 3, 2012