Ysgaroth – Storm Over a Black Sea Review

While working on this review, I’m sipping on vanilla black tea and eating Boo Berry cereal by the handful. I’m a badass, and a badass needs a badass soundtrack. Spooky season is over, and its vestiges remain in the crisp autumn air with the promise of colder nights to come – perfect for the dread of black metal. In spite of my explorations into other genres, I find myself always returning to the frostbitten north for some icy Satanic thrills and soul-shredding tremolo. Today’s foray? Into Canada, the nicest icy north to ever north, but you wouldn’t know it listening to Ysgaroth.

Ysgaroth is a “progressive extreme metal” band from Vancouver, their self-released Storm Over a Black Sea being their debut. While I’ve never entirely understood the phrase “extreme metal,” these Canucks throw everything and the kitchen sink into their poutine platter: black metal shrieks and tremolo, thrashy riffs, hardcore drumming, technical noodling, and avant-garde post-metal/sludge strangeness for a multi-car pileup with multiple fatalities of Skeletonwitch, Mayhem, Psyopus, Warcrab, Pyrrhon, and Integrity. Truly living up to the self-proclaimed bio “extreme metal with annoying progressive tendencies,” Storm Over a Black Sea is chock full of huge ideas, but hindered by its lack of distinct identity, faulty mix, and hit-or-mostly-miss experimental flourishes.

There’s a lot going on in Storm Over a Black Sea, and I’m assuming Ysgaroth chose this title for that allegorical purpose. The only consistency throughout is that whatever is going on is definitely blackened, as indicated by the icy paper-thin production, flurry of tremolo, and reliance on blackened shrieks. Everything else is anyone’s guess, but when the stars align, their sound can be pretty lethal. Tracks like “Altar of Scars” and “Deluge” are the longest of the bunch by a wide margin (taking up thirty minutes combined of the album’s fifty-minute runtime), but the protraction forces them to stretch out their whackiness and use patience in their rabid explosions. “Altar of Scars” benefits from its hypnotic use of repetition in an effective sludgy Warcrab-esque chug while its technical wankery and wild melodies fly around it like a swarm of angry hornets. “Deluge” offers a similar palette, as the whacky plucking and bass noodling give a sense of Archspire’s tamer moments. Bassist Shawn Hillman’s performance is particularly of note, as his noodling provides a sturdy foundation for the weirdness that surrounds it. Ysgaroth’s riffs have the potential to be solid Skeletonwitch homage emphasized by Steve Cuddlington’s eager drum performance, in tracks like “Nam Gloria Satanas” and “Forward Unto Death,” and guitarist/vocalist Kurt Steigleder’s barks, shrieks, and howls aptly reflect the annoying boundless energy.

There’s a lot going on in Storm Over a Black Sea, and a lot of that is a miss, however. “Nam Gloria Satanas” and “Sacred” are the aural equivalents of Jackson Pollock paintings, splattering their black metal canvas with enough tech-death wankery that would make Psyopus blush, complete with painfully off-key solos and directionless riffs. Although featuring solid passages, “Altar of Scars” and “Deluge” are doomed by their jarring lack of transitions and direction, abruptly shifting gears from one tempo or time signature to another like badly written Frontierer B-side tracks. “Forward Unto Death” features attempted power metal vocals that nosedive horrifically and have no business in my good Satanic neighborhood. While I can appreciate songwriter Steigleder’s imagination in the amount of “progressive” elements he tries to shove in, the album never settles on a distinct identity. Crudely summarized, Ysgaroth tries to cram wild tech-death through an black metal meat grinder, but nowhere near justifies the clusterfuck that ensues. This makes Storm Over a Black Sea a mind-frying experience that, contrary to its proclaimed genre, never progresses anywhere.

Have you ever tried making a tech death album with thrash, hardcore, sludge, and a black metal production and vocalist? Well, boy howdy, has Ysgaroth got a deal for you. While Storm Over a Black Sea channels some of the giddiest and most boundless metal energy this side of the Mississippi and never takes itself too seriously, it nonetheless epitomizes “clusterfuck” at its most violent. Instead of being the perfect soundtrack for autumn freezing over into winter, it’s the mix for a road trip full of screaming, passive aggressive jabs, and not enough snacks. It’s a road-trip that squeezes thrash, death, tech-death, and insanity into a black metal clown car, plowing subtlety down in the driveway then gleefully backing up over it – a road trip best avoided.

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: facebook.com/Ysgaroth | ysgaroth.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2020

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