Despite what the general public may think, extreme metal is rarely written by extreme people. For all the songs about devouring maggot-ridden brains and summoning Shub-Niggurath, we all know that Corpsegrinder is really just a huge World of Warcraft nerd, and Trey Azagthoth is actually a closet Sailor Moon fanboy (and occasional emulator of the late Steve Irwin). Canada’s Iskra, however, is different. The self-described “Anarchist Metal” quintet is committed to more than just delivering viciously crusty black metal, as exemplified on their 2004 self-titled debut and 2009 follow-up Bureval. Instead, as the liner notes to 2015’s Ruins reveal, Iskra possess a steadfast devotion to their sociopolitical stance, with essay-length song explanations, seemingly well-researched statistics, and numerous quotes from postmodern philosophers like Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard. But how does this translate to the music?
Well, in the first few seconds of cutthroat opener “Lawless,” one thing is clear: Iskra is angry, and they want you to know it. Imagine Young and in the Way or Infernal Stronghold distilled and ignited with the relentlessness of Absu, and you get an idea of what’s at work here. The riffs, especially those on “Ruins” and “Illegal,” are frantic and acerbic, less concerned with concocting a memorable string of notes than generating a sheer sense of driving force. Likewise, vocalist Danielle’s rasps teeter on the verge of unintelligible mania, and the battering drumbeats are nearly unwavering in their assault. In fact, despite the “black metal” tag, there’s little atmosphere or melodic relief to be found anywhere on Ruins’ 42-minute runtime, just a raw, all-engulfing shitstorm that hits with the finesse of a circular saw.
By this point, I think I know what’s going through the reader’s mind: ‘great – a noisy, raw, blackened crust record that I’ll listen to once and won’t be able to remember the name of a single song afterward. Pass.’ But don’t leave just yet. Like Black September, Iskra keep the performances tight instead of sloppy, and seem to know that being one-dimensional is the Achilles heel of this style. Take early highlight “Predator Drone MQ-1,” which finishes its blasting with a destructive chug worthy of Stormcrow, or the societal condemnation of “Nihil,” whose main whiplash-inducing riff is later broken by a steady beat that demands for heads to be banged. For further variety, “Ruins” kicks off with a riff that sounds like those aforementioned North Carolina Youngsters having playtime with the Sons of Northern Darkness, while first-half highlight “Traume” forgoes a fast pace altogether in favor of a moody, measured tempo that does wonders for the album’s overall flow.
With a DR of 7, the production is just right for this style: forceful and blatant, but with enough texture so that even the bassist’s occasional forays from the guitar – as heard on the intro of “Aegis of the Victor” – are captured with excellent clarity. But honestly, by the time the tremolos and slithering acid-slinging riffs of closer “Battle of One-Hundred Slain” waft over the carnage, I’m headbanging all too hard to even care about the sound quality, and I’m just grateful that Iskra’s anti-capitalist philosophy inspires them to offer their albums for free download on their website (with PayPal donations an option if you’re so inclined). Politics aside, this makes things easy: there simply is no reason not to check this album out.
Tracks to check: “Predator Drone MQ-1,” “Nihil,” “Battle of One Hundred Slain”