Izthmi – Leaving This World, Leaving it All Behind Review

Izthmi sure have a sense of timing. Their debut album, The Arrows of Our Ways, was released in mid-February 2020, right around the time a certain virus you may have heard of began entering the news…  Despite impressing a cantankerous Grymm with its progressive and melodic take on atmospheric black metal (as well as a frankly gorgeous cover), it kinda got lost in the craziness that followed. Even a heroic end-of-year Honorable Mention from the Sponge, and an album cover that earned a spot on Mr. GT’s illustrious art list, were unable to bring it the attention its careful melodies deserved. Now these Seattle natives are back with Leaving This World, Leaving it All Behind (LTWLiAB), and everyone is all “Oh yeah! I’d forgotten about them! Their first one was pretty good, wasn’t it?” It’s been quite the two years since The Arrows of Our Ways, and much has changed. Has Izthmi changed with it?

Some things, fortunately, are still the same. The album cover is stunning, and I will be writing a stern letter to management if it doesn’t feature on another year-end cover list. Both the title and the art suggest a journey, and perhaps a sense of renewal (just mind the impaled corpse), which feels apt after a long and fractious two years (for all of us). The good news is that there is no radical departure from Izthmi’s sound, established on The Arrows of Our Ways. This is atmospheric black metal, but with real narrative purpose, honest-to-god riffs, and just enough of a progressive leaning that it doesn’t sound overly derivative. Think Agalloch, but with yelped vocals instead of whispered growls, or perhaps even Panopticon with less inventive drumming. If that sort of thing is up your alley, you’ll feel right at home with Izthmi.

The biggest strength of LTWLiAB is the demonstrable growth the band demonstrates while remaining true to the core elements that impressed on their debut. We still have the long, but never predictable songs. We still have the icy vocals of Jacob Keizer as a counterpoint to the expansive melodies. But where The Arrows of Our Ways struggled with dynamics and had an awkward ebb and flow that occasionally left the listener stranded, LTWLiAB is far more integrated and consistent. Songs like “The Shadows of Our Disillusionment” and “Leaving it All Behind” cover a lot of ground, but the shifts are subtle and logical, combining black metal, prog and atmo-black seamlessly. The production, by Billy Anderson, is also a step up, emphasizing the melodies without shying away from the harshness that gives the songs bite.

On the downside, some of the issues that plagued The Arrows of Our Ways bedevil LTWLiAB. The debut was interrupted by superfluous and distracting interludes, and the latest collection falls into the same trap. There are four of them, ranging from the pretty-but-superfluous (“Leaving This World”) to the baffling-drone-outta-nowhere (“I Bleed with The Wind”). While I understand they are meant to separate the four meaty cuts, they become irritating quickly, and it would have been better if they had been incorporated into the existing material rather than standing alone. The actual songs themselves could also have been trimmed. While they are never dull, they occasionally strain to justify their lengths (“It’s As if it Were,” in particular, creaks towards the end), which gives the collection a shaggy feel.

Scoring LTWLiAB is difficult. On the one hand, there are elements that make it superior to its charming predecessor: the songs are more cohesive, the production is warmer, the band sounds more confident. On the other, it’s frustrating to see Izthmi repeating their mistakes. This is still a very worthwhile collection, and better than most atmospheric black metal out there. It’s also essential if you enjoyed their debut. But it’s not quite the slam dunk I was hoping it would be, and that’s because the band needs to tighten up its songwriting and jettison the dead-weight that drags the album down. I fully believe the band has a masterpiece within, but while very enjoyable, LTWLiAB isn’t quite it.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Satanik Royalty Records  |  facebook.com/Izthmi
Website: izthmiseattle.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: March 4th, 2022

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