When reviewing albums, I find they usually fall into one of three categories. “Instant Winners” that stick with you and get plenty of praise, “Growers” that may take anything from a couple of listens to a couple of years to finally sink in and then “Duds” that just seem to evaporate as soon as the album finishes. The last category is the hardest to give an honest opinion on simply because there is very little to hook in to and unfortunately, I find Iskald‘s latest offering, The Sun I Carried Alone, to be treading down this path.
Don’t get me wrong, The Sun I Carried Alone is far from a bad album. It’s technically accomplished, melodic, solidly presented and well produced, but there is a very definite x-factor missing. As soon as the guitars burst in after the obligatory symphonic intro track, there is no doubt that Iskald are from Norway. This combination of blast beats, tremelo-picked guitar riffs, near constant double kick drums and harsh vocals reminiscent of Dimmu Borgir‘s apex (Enthrone Darkness Triumphant to Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia) can only come from the birthplace of black metal, and that is possibly why the album feels so weak. It’s all been done before. There is little here to really stand out and set Iskald apart from the pack.
The melodic aspect of the black metal is worth mentioning, since it is very apparent that Simon Larsen knows what he is doing musically. The guitars trade off each other very well and there is often much more nuance to the tracks upon repeated listens, especially on the title track and the interlude-esque “Rigor Mortis”. The guitar tone is thick and well layered, and everything breathes quite comfortably in the mix. Special mention should also be made for the album closer, “Burning Bridges”; an eleven minute blackened Opeth-a-thon which will be sure to please the more progressively minded.
The vocals are strong and consistent, but are far from unique. I mentioned the similarities to Shagrath’s earlier vocal efforts with Dimmu Borgir and there are more than a few Abbath-like black metal burps (or blurps) punctuating the tracks. It doesn’t detract from the music, but it certainly isn’t anything worth writing home about. As stated before, much of the album feels very derivative and while Iskald fill the boots of the Norwegian forefathers of black metal admirably, the fit just isn’t the same.
For a scene that I feel has fallen victim to consuming itself and become stale, it is refreshing to know that bands like Iskald are still producing identifiably Norwegian black metal, albeit with a modern, “not-relentless-Burzum/Darkthrone/Mayhem-worship” twist. In fact, I would hazard to say that The Sun I Carried Alone is a quintessential modern Norwegian black metal record in that it condenses that distinctive sound into a single entity. What it lacks in originality it makes up for by encompassing everything that was right about the Norwegian scene in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, a good few years later the black metal bar has very clearly been raised which causes Iskald to fall by the wayside. However, if you are a die hard fan of Norwegian melodic black metal, you won’t find a thing to dislike about this album.