Strydegor – Isolacracy Review

As 2020 drags itself towards the finish line, dry-heaving and wheezing like the miserable fuck of a year it was, there are going to be bands trying to shine some light onto what’s been a horrific time in everyone’s lives. Few genres can inject much needed life into a shambling corpse quite like melodic death metal,1 and today, we’ve got the fourth full-length from German quartet, Strydegor. Sporting an album cover which could very much sum up me at work if I was permitted to wear headphones, Isolacracy, despite being a tongue-twister of a made-up word, could very well be the balm that every metalhead could use right about now. After all, no one can turn down a good riff, a tight melodic hook, or a masterpiece of a song, right?

Except, after repeated listens, I’m conflicted. After an introduction in the form of the bafflingly-titled “Beware the Beast Man,” Strydegor charge forth in earnest with “Innocence Corroded” with a sound not too far removed from mid-era Mors Principium Est. There are tight, staccato riffs from guitarists Florian Kunde and Daniel Hausschild, vice-tight drumming by Immanuel Promnitz, some tasty solos that, by the time the second chorus hits, you’re left satisfied with what transpired… except they keep going for another two minutes, and those two minutes drag things out a bit too much. Still, it could’ve have been much, much worse.

And that worse happens immediately after in “Lucid,” and from that moment forward, Isolacracy is a sharp slalom. Three problems come to mind when discussing the issues I have with the album, with the mix being the least egregious. The guitar tone sounds too overdriven and lacking in mids, with the exception of the leads and that cool acoustic “I wish In Flames still did this” moment in “Oceans.” The drums take a bit of a hit as well, as some of the cymbal work sounds dry. Worst of all, Kunde’s vocals are almost physically sitting on top of the music, taking all the attention front-and-center, so any cool melodic run or tight riff is overpowered by Kunde’s voice stealing the spotlight.

Which leads to the other two big problems. Kunde’s death growls, rasps, and screams, while not mindblowing, do the job just fine. His cleans, however, range from passable (the Mikael Stanne-like croon near the end of “Innocence Corroded”) to downright bad, and he utilizes his cleans on roughly half of the album. He sounds pitchy and scratchy, shouting instead of singing most of the time while barely keeping in tune, and it sounds like he’s going to do some serious damage to his voice, like on “Lucid” or “Still Alive.” His shouting also highlights the last major hurdle: the unfortunate nature of the ESL lyrics. Good lord, some of these are doozies. If you’re asking “Am I dreaming, am I dreaming/or is this… A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM?!” like Kunde does during “Lucid,” the answer is yes. Yes, you are dreaming, no question. Elsewhere, “Escape” opens with what sounds like “I see myself into these lonely streets/I hear the rope around my neck, it belongs to me,” which… huh? Finally, “Still Alive” possesses the chorus of “I’m still alive, I’m still alive/and I cannot apologize (no),” which leads me to wonder if there should ever be a moment in one’s life where one has to apologize for existing, because… wow.

And this is the first time in a while where I struggled to even think of a numerical grade for this. On one hand, musically speaking, this is mostly competent melodic death metal that, while not exactly setting the world aflame, has some pretty cool moments interspersed within its 46 minutes. On the other, the unfortunate mix, Kunde’s questionable clean vocal delivery, and the god-awful lyrics pull Isolacracy down violently. Which is most unfortunate, as we’ve already had a great Mors Principium Est album drop not too long ago, and Dark Tranquillity are dropping their new one very soon, but there’s always room for more. Sadly, if you need a riffy pick-me-up, there are better options available.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: MDD Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2020

Written By: Felagund

I’ve only known Strydegor for a few days, but I’ve seen enough to know that they’re one strange Teutonic beast. I hadn’t heard of this German quartet prior to this review, but if I had, their latest album would come as something of a surprise. From their debut in 2009 all the way up to 2014’s Enraged, their Viking-inspired, rougher-edged melodeath sound has remained relatively consistent. Then in swoops their latest Isolacracy, an album which trades longships for lament. While this album doesn’t mark a radical sea-change in Strydegor‘s sound, it does reveal a band eager to move past it’s roots and transition into a type of melodic death metal that cranks the angst while still aiming to wallop you with harmonious riffs and hooks galore. With new themes, a new logo, and a new album, does Strydegor pull it off?

I should say so, and it’s on display right at the outset. On 2014’s Enraged, Strydegor set the tone with a war-like instrumental, complete with ominous horns and strings. On Isolacracy, opening instrumental “Beware the Beast Man” instead surprises with chimes, synths and techno beats. Unless this is a concept album about Odin-worshippers shredding on keyboard, Strydegor are clearly headed in a new direction. This first track embodies that goal, and it definitely works. But where things really get going is on second track “Innocence Corroded,” which presents us with an effective (if not wholly original) template for the remainder of the album: death metal roars, earnest cleans, and earworm choruses that delve deeper into your brain than the Ceti Eel in Chekov’s ear. It’s clear that for all the personal growth Strydegor is aiming to accomplish, they have little interest in reinventing the melodeath wheel. Sure, there’s a hint of Idle Hands at the beginning of “Stars and Strife,” a chunky-riffed, double-bassed beast, and there are several groovy sojourns into Lamb of God territory, but the order of the day is classic melodeath, spiked with enough emotive, clean-sung choruses to make Barren Earth blush.

And I must admit, while I usually prefer my melodeath with more “death” and less “melo,” Strydegor‘s straightforward but competent approach makes for a fun listen that I’ve returned to outside of my reviewing duties. That’s not to say that Isolacracy isn’t without its flaws. By the album’s midpoint, the blueprint they’ve so firmly established loses some of its luster. “Into the Unknown,” an unnecessary mid-album instrumental, slows the pace and halts the album’s momentum. Penultimate track “Oceans” is a decent number, but when compared to some of the true bangers that come both before and after, I would have suggested leaving it as a salty afterthought on the cutting room floor. These are all minor quibbles, as none take away from the fact that Isolacracy is an undeniably enjoyable listen. Album closer “As April Slowly Fades,” with its dual piano/acoustic opener and Ghosty throughline, eases any remaining concerns, enveloping the listener in catchy, riffy goodness that borders on the sadboy. Isolacracy ends not with a bang, but with a whimper, and it’s all the stronger for it.

All four members of Strydegor turn in solid performances here, but their only constant member, Florian Kunde, is the MVP. His is the voice that we hear growling, rasping, screaming and crooning. And while his vocal approach may divide listeners, Kunde’s cleans make this album what it is and provide some of the most memorable sections on Isolacracy. Drummer Immanuel Promnitz also deserves a shout. While not bombastic or complex, it’s Promnitz’s drums that come to the rescue when things start to veer from the “melodic” and into the “mellow,” biting back with aggressive double bass and the odd blast beat that injects just the right amount of blackened edge.

Isolacracy is an engaging melodeath album, overflowing with enough hooks to break the bonds of any tackle box. Is it innovative? Nope. Will some listeners find all the clean-sung choruses a tad on the cheesy side? Probably. But none of that takes away from Strydegor‘s ability to successfully evolve as a band and construct a tight, catchy and memorable melodeath album in the process.

 Rating: 3.0/5.0

Show 1 footnote

  1. Okay, okay. Power metal, too. SHUSH.
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