Another day, another record
palmed off generously donated to me by Steel. In this case, I was convinced to give it a shot by the gorgeous cover art. Take a moment to admire it. It’s certainly not particularly brvtal1, but it is very pretty. Despite the Viking art, though, the music doesn’t particularly draw on the tropes of Viking metal. This is classic power metal in the vein of Hammerfall, Dream Evil, and the like. Yet, sole permanent band member Aron Biale describes it as an homage to golden age metal. Biale plays guitars and bass, with an assortment of guest musicians supplying all the other instruments and some guitar solos. Istor is Ty Morn‘s first album, and Ty Morn seems to be Biale’s first project, as well.
All the expected components of classic power metal are present and correct. The vocals are the focus (perhaps surprisingly for a one-man project where the one man in question isn’t a singer) and span from a gravelly mid-to-low register to testicle-clamping highs with a particular focus on big sing-along choruses accompanied by catchy melodic riffs. There are frequent symphonic intros and some synth-symphonic ornamentation in the songs proper. There’s even spoken word bits. A number of songs feature heavier, doomier guitar riffs, reminiscent of epic doom acts like Atlantean Kodex, which works well and provides a nice contrast. At this point, I’d like to start talking about whether the songwriting is any good, but unfortunately, we have a problem, and that problem is the production. It’s noticeable immediately upon listening to any of the tracks, and noticeable production is rarely a good thing.
Sure enough, it’s not a good thing for Istor. The vocals have a filtered, overprocessed edge to them that might be okay in electronic music, but is really jarring here. They also frequently sound weak, which I think is also an artifact of the production rather than anything wrong with the actual performance: he sounds fine at other times and when singing with other bands (none you’ve heard of). Other instruments, particularly the drums, are prone to sounding muffled, processed, or just buried in the mix. It’s all super brickwalled, with every track but one scoring a DR5 or below. The net result is the whole thing is robbed of impact and clarity. This makes it really hard to judge the songwriting — it’s tiring doing auditory archaeology to find the music under the production, and I’m sure many of the tracks here that don’t speak to me would do a lot better if they sounded punchier.
The really frustrating thing is that there’re definitely moments on the record that are good enough to shine despite the issues. “Fall on Your Sword” has an awesome main riff, some interesting varied vocals, and is all around a really good song despite a pointless symphonic outro. “Kings of Dishonour”23 is successful in a more introspective way, switching between quieter passages and downbeat doom riffs. While some of the tracks can outstay their welcome a little, shortest track “Bring Forth the Night” is a fun, driven NWOBHM piece. “Harvest of Souls” adopts some cool horror stylings.4 Closing track “Hunt Leviathan” sounds like an Alestorm outtake (whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your feelings about that band).
I have one final complaint: the string opening to the first track quotes a melody from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, and every time I hear it I get confused about what I’m listening to. Frankly, I’d rather be listening to LotR. There’s good music in here, and in particular, I get “Fall on Your Sword” stuck in my head quite a lot. I just can’t unhear how overproduced it all is, and it makes it an exhausting listen. This should be a positive review with a couple of pretty standard moans about whether Istor really needed that organ solo, quite that many intros and outros, or a couple of filler tracks, and yet here we are. Listen to the embed and decide whether you can handle the production or not.