Sweden’s Istapp (translation: icicle) was a big surprise for this Angry Metal Guy. A Swedish melodic black metal from Blekinge LÃ¤n (which is basically the far south of Sweden) I had never heard of them. They’ve been around in the scene for a while, apparently, having released several demos and then a demo compilation (with practically the same track list as Blekinge). More surprisingly, the band’s vocalist is reported to have been in Spawn of Possession until 2009, which is a strange connection given that the band is at almost the opposite side of the spectrum from the well known and worshiped tech-death band. But while Istapp isn’t going to win any awards with the hardcore fans of black metal with their clean vocals, their pristine production and their melody, they are certainly going to win a lot of fans who like their metal fast, melodic and, more importantly, awesome.
Blekinge, as I stated earlier, is the combination of old demo tracks that the band has recorded over the years. Presumably re-recorded, these demos make the spine of one of the finest Metal Blade records that I’ve heard all year. Istapp‘s sound is similar to that of Taake, in my book, particularly nearing to Nattestid vid Porten and Over BjÃ¸rgvin Graater Himmerik (two of my personal favorite records of all time), but also nears Borknagar and Vintersorg (particularly on tracks like “KÃ¶ldens Union” with the clean vocals). This sound is at the same time heavy and fast, but ridiculously melodic and (sorry guys) happy. Sure, it’s not the world’s happiest sound and the powerful black metal vocals remind you of that. But like Galar, Windir, Wintersun, Ensiferum and Equilibrium, there is almost an upbeat feeling about the album.
One could see how this could cause a bit of cognitive dissonance. See, as this Angry Metal Guy listens to the band sing about the cold (which is pretty much what they sing about in case you don’t speak Swedish), these happy melodies creep in and give me conflicting images. Like, for example, the song “I vÃ¤ntan pÃ¥ den absoluta nollpunkten” (which roughly translated means “Waiting for absolute zero” but could also be interpreted as like “the absolute lowpoint” or the shittiest that anything has ever been). Now this is great black metal imagery, worthy of Shining in its beautifully depressive simplicity. But when I hear the music, all I can see is a Swedish guy sitting in the snow with a grin on his face waiting to be buried in snow and swinging his mug in time to the music. It’s a little bit weird.
Having said that, this record is totally awesome. For people who like this feel, these guys have nailed and, in my humble opinion (hahahahahaha), they’re better than Wintersun or Ensiferum or most of the other bands who have wandered into this territory of melodic black metal. Now, who knows, I might get bored with this in 6 months and not feel that wayâ€”but this material is really, really strong and it grips you immediately and won’t let go. Songs like the aforementioned “I vÃ¤ntan pÃ¥ den absoluta nollpunkten”, “FjÃ¤llhÃ¶ga nord”, “KÃ¶ldens union” and “BortgÃ¥ng af alvrÃ¶dul – Ljusets fÃ¶rfall” make it fun to listen to and an engaging record. Do not expect Watain, Ofermod or Shining, that ain’t this kind of black metal. But do expect some of the best melodic black metal/folk metal released since Till FjÃ¤lls.