Do you like post-metal? Do you like sludge? What about Rosetta? Soundclips of men with Scottish accents? Finally, do you have 72 minutes to kill? If, dear reader, you answered yes to three out of those five questions, then you would be obliged to take my hand as I journey through Izah‘s gargantuan debut Sistere. This young Dutch band is ambitious, out for blood and has no semantic understanding of the ‘single.’ In the paragraphs below, the following will be evaluated; four songs, the longest clocking in at just over half an hour; six men, three of them playing guitars; and one music critic, whose finite attention span may be in lethal danger.
Imagine that The Ocean and Rosetta had been asked to collaborate on Altar of Plagues‘ Mammal and you’ll begin to understand the scope of this album. It’s as atmospheric as Saturn and about as long as a photon’s trip from there to the sun – post-metal’s War and Peace and Heart of Darkness wrapped into one. There are insects whose entire adult life is shorter and less brutal than this album. Sistere is the first album of 2015 that I don’t want to forget about by June.
“Indefinite Instinct” begins as a slow burn, but ignites into a rolling brush fire as the guitarists fire out massive, sludgy Rosetta riffs until they run out of oxygen. Mournful arpeggios, smoky synths and soaring, wailing guitar lines gradually build up again under the sampled monologue of an anguished Scotsman, and the song comes to an intense peak as synth player / vocalist Sierk Entius screams and roars with more angst than a man whose thousands of tulips suddenly became worthless. The song finally breaks down into a noisy, blackened sludge dirge, and almost a quarter hour has passed without you noticing.
Next up is “Duality,” which makes no attempt at a subtle entrance, cracking out a mammoth death metal riff right off the bat, but takes a surprising turn into Amorphis territory a few minutes in. Izah excels at transitioning between styles and moods, not only because of the tightly executed riff and tempo changes, but because the songs are written in such a way that each new section seems to follow logically from the last one. “Duality” goes from atmospherics and unabomber news clips to sludge doom almost effortlessly, speeding up the tempo and slowly introducing distortion as the sound clips become more layered, panicked and frenetic. Atop the meaty growls and shrieks, Sierk Entius belts out some very tasteful cleans, comparable to Amorphis‘s Tomi Joutsen (or, for the plebs out there, that Zoltan dude from Five Finger Death Punch). “Finite Horizon” utilizes these very effectively, especially during its melodic emotional peak at around the eight minute mark. His performance overall is something of a standout, especially since Izah‘s music isn’t in the least bit technical or showy; the band is very reserved and cohesive, and Izah‘s stage has no spotlights.
Worryingly, after Sistere‘s third song, when most listeners would be content calling it quits, there’s still the 800-pound gorilla of a title track lurking in the shadows. The end of “Finite Horizon” is an excellent time to take a mid-album intermission and go squeeze kittens or whatever it is you do to relieve tension, because there’s a whole lot headed your way. “Sistere” is certainly epic in length, but doesn’t end up offering much that the other three songs didn’t have, despite its use of horns and choral vocals. While it’s pleasing to hear the band transition so fluidly through so many riffs and atmospheric passages, “Sistere” won’t change your mind if you’ve written Izah off as needlessly ponderous.
Overall, Sistere sounds very good and is mixed well, resulting in a constant sense of atmosphere. It might not be instantly catchy, but the songs do have some staying power and are remarkably not that boring. The band is restrained, but active enough and clever enough in their writing that these very long songs don’t start feeling stale after the first few ideas. If you’re looking for some atmosphere, Sistere is the source for the seven-hundred-odd millimeters of mercury you crave. While this album won’t be on daily rotation for me, it’s clear that Izah have created a pretty substantial mountain of music and done so without being plagued by the boredom that sets in during similarly long and atmospheric albums. Yes, it is too long, but it’s worth your hour and some change, especially given how disappointing the release schedule for 2015 has been so far.