This may be considered blasphemy by some, but I’ve managed to avoid taking a single hit of marijuana for all of my twenty-six years. Not once have I ever blasted the roach or taken a toke. I’ve never smoked the bowl, nor have I mowed the grass. I puffed a magic dragon once, but I’m pretty sure that was in kindergarten and isn’t relevant to the discussion at hand. Yet, for some reason, I’ve always been drawn to stoner rock and metal. Is being stoned a prerequisite to proper enjoyment of the genre? Recently I was introduced to a band named Istvan. This trio of Italian psychedelic rockers attribute their sound to the likes of Earth, Om, and Black Sabbath. They offer slow-tempo, stoner rock that captivates its listeners through the use of powerful doom-slathered riffs and hypnotizing drones. After listening to their self-titled debut for the past week and a half, I can say with confidence that opiates are not necessary to the enjoyment of this record.
Istvan opens with “Bohor,” a dreamy and meandering track that immediately establishes Istvan’s mission statement – to relax, captivate and tranquilize with the sounds and atmosphere of their music. Claims that Istvan draws inspiration from spiritual and metaphysical philosophy and teachings become apparent after but a short exposure to their music. Indeed, this isn’t the hard-hitting, down-tuned stoner metal you might find on a release from Sleep or Electric Wizard. There is no violence or aggression here. To those who find such a description boring, I offer an analogy. Would you enjoy taking a trip through the countryside on a quiet and misty morning? If so, you will probably enjoy listening to Istvan.
Being a peaceful listen is not equivalent to being single-tonal, and Istvan fits a lot of ideas and experimentation within its runtime. “Mire” picks up the tempo somewhat while also including some of the only vocals on the album. “Stonemill” is a short but sweet acoustic interlude that I honestly found more enticing than anything off of The Sword’s recent Low Country. Each track has its own identity, and the material is concisely packed into 32 minutes. Such a run time is perfect for a largely instrumental release like this. It manages to keep the listener’s focus throughout without overstaying its welcome.
Befitting the atmospheric nature of the record, Istvan is mastered with clarity and dynamism in mind. The album sports an impressive DR 10 rating. This really helps songs like “Rundweg” shine, where the tone and tempo shift at regular intervals. The down-tuned, distorted guitars are balanced perfectly with the higher pitched, clean tones. The bass is prominent and the drums are punchy, giving me no qualms with the mix. Any complaints I do have generally come down to the nature of the music itself. This is definitely mood music, and if you’re not in the correct state of mind you’ll find your enjoyment of this record diminished. Istvan is not reinventing the wheel here, and as with many instrumental releases, I sometimes find it difficult to form a strong emotional attachment to the music. These criticisms don’t keep Istvan from being a very good record, however, and by and large Istvan earned themselves a highly coveted stamp of approval from yours truly.
Istvan is a very enjoyable release that manages to zone me out and zen me in whenever I spin it. It’s not going to appeal to those looking for something more ferocious, but its dreamy, stoner rock sensibilities and varied songs and structure make Istvan a satisfying platter, regardless of the contents of your bloodstream.