As an inveterate doom fiend, I’m forever skulking the dank, darkened catacombs of Castle AMG, hunting for the next heartbreaking slab o’ crushing riffs and soul killing melodies. Thus far 2019 has offered up very little to slake my insatiable hunger for sadboi feelz and towering riff landfills. Because of this blight I had Isole brightly highlighted on my release calendar in red hot salmon, as they’ve been a highly reliable epic and regal doom outfit over the years. I greatly enjoyed their early releases like Throne of Void and Bliss of Solitude, and their last outing, 2014s The Calm Hunter was a highly satisfying dose of Candlemass-esque heft rounded out with the grim undertones of Katatonia. And since two member of Isole also do time in Ereb Altor, the music can be counted on to feature vague hints of black and Viking metal, thereby adding extra depth and Norse spice. I had fairly high expectations going into this review, and now that I’ve spent some serious alone time with the band’s seventh album Dystopia, I can safely say it’s the best piece of doom I’ve heard so far this year, maintaining the band’s high quality while upping the ante in key ways to craft a stately and memorable mood killer. You want epic compositions? They’re here. You want weighty riffs to crush your bones? They’ve got em’. You demand catchy hooks, big choruses and melancholic trilling? Check, double, triple check.
For an example of the entire wicked biscuit, look no further than mammoth opener “Beyond the Horizon.” At its core it bears all the expected nods to Candlemass and While Heaven Wept in its larger-than-life sound and weepy melodies, but there’s a glint of black metal bubbling ominously just bellow the surface if one listens carefully. The vocals are grandiose and epic, full of emotion as they sail above the heavy doom riffs. The guitars weave glorious tapestries around the meaty foundation, and things are at once simple but elegant, polished yet just a bit ominous. In short, it’s doom done right and exactly what I was longing for. “Written in the Sand” on the other hand, is like a long lost track from Candlemass‘ Ancient Dreams opus. It uses so many of the little tricks heard on that album that it’s a joyous slice of nostalgia, and due to a huge chorus and powerful riffs, a doom gem in its own right.
The darker Katatonia influence make an appearance on “You Went Away.” The classic doom riffs are there, just repackaged in a way that feels more depressive and bleak, even recalling the Peaceville Three at times as things trudge wearily along. There’s a greater vulnerability in the vocals that feels genuine and the guitar wept and moan beautifully throughout. The sudden appearance of guttural death vocals at the midpoint recalls Novembers Doom and everything gels perfectly, especially on the back-half. “Galenskapens Land” is a prodigiously sweeping ditty sung in Swedish and it flits between doom. Katatonia-esque mope-core and epic Viking fare, building slowly from soft, moody brooding to minimalist noodling before unleashing a soaring, doom slamming zenith. The vocals here are extremely well conceived and executed, dragging the listener up an emotional mountain even if you can’t understand the words. At its most epic it reminds me of While Heaven Wept‘s career high points as well as Atlantean Kodex, so good company is being kept.
At a surprisingly fast moving 48:29, the album has tremendous flow and no song feels incomplete or unnecessary. The vocals by Daniel Bryntse and Crister Olsson feel bigger and more emotive this time out, hitting that crestfallen, dejected sweet spot that doom thrives upon. Likewise, the pairing of clean and death vocals is handled very well and not overused. The guitar-work by Bryntse and Olsson also feels elevated, with powerhouse doom riffs carrying the day, accented by beautiful solo work that rises above the churn like a untethered soul finally escaping the burdens of this mortal coil. This is how doom should be done and the band is in high feather throughout the album’s runtime.
Dystopia finds the ever-reliable Isole stepping up every aspect of their already considerable doom game and crafting some of their best material yet. This is the kind of classic doom I’ve been missing of late, and the slick inclusion of other genres only adds to the final product’s impact. If you’ve been missing While Heaven Wept or pining for the salad days of Candlemass, you should be checking this out post-haste. There likely won’t be many doom albums this good in 2019.1