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Vinterskugge (1994)
 

Isengard was a solo project of Fenriz, of Darkthrone. The band's name was inspired by Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The musical style varies throughout the album, as Vinterskugge is a compilation of three demos, recorded between 1989 and 1993. This project seemed to be a creative outlet for Fenriz, wishing not to be confined to any specific sound.

Chapter One is the 1993 Vandreren demo. The first song, "Vinterskugge", begins with with a powerful build up of vocals and guitar, immediately giving off a very strong folk / Viking Metal feel with a minimalist Black Metal approach to the recording. The lyrics are in Norwegian, and only serves to convey the pride Fenriz himself feels in his heritage. The riffs possess a strong doom element.

"Gjennom Skogen til Blåfjellene" is next, and creates a very mournful atmosphere with a couple simple guitar melodies. It is like walking the frozen forests, far from home, as funeral mist fills your lungs and it becomes difficult to breathe. The sorrowful sounds fade away, yet before relief can come it all fades back in. Cold hands reach for your throat, slowly wrapping around and applying gentle pressure. At first, you don't even bother to resist as it almost seems appealing. As the pressure becomes more intense and you are deprived of air, you realize that it is now too late. All hope washes away, leaving behind only the deepest despair. One almost expects to hear the anguished screams of Varg Vikernes here, as this could easily have been recorded on a Burzum album.

The next song is "Ut i Vannets dyp Hvor Morket Hviler". This song is the connection between Isengard and Darkthrone, as it sounds quite similar to something that would be found on Transilvanian Hunger, though it may be a bit less minimalist (if only by a slim margin), but still very primitive. Fenriz utilizes raspy Black Metal vocals to accompany the fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums. The melodies are haunting and trance-inducing.

"Dommedagssalme" sees Fenriz return to the clean vocals. This piece has a strong Doom Metal feel which is quite suffocating. Within the first few seconds, there is a distant moaning that sounds as if it is calling from the abyss. The vocals are somewhat similar to those of the band Pentagram. This is a very impressive, and miserable, song. As it slowly fades away, one feels their spirit being dragged down into the darkest depths.

"In the Halls and Chambers of Stardust - The Crystallic Heavens Open" shows a continuation of the dark and somber atmosphere. This synth track is very reminiscent of "Han Som Reiste" from Burzum's Det Som Engang Var album.

The dark clouds seem to dissipate as "Fanden Lokker til Stupet (Nytrad)" begins. The feeling is still somewhat somber, yet almost optimistic of an upcoming battle. This instrumental has a very Medieval / folk vibe.

The final song of the Vandreren demo is "Naglfar". This goes back to the atmosphere of the first song, reminiscent of Viking-era Bathory, musically. The vocals, of course, are much more powerful. This song tells of gathering the hordes of the North to sail through storms to attack Judeo-Christian scum.

Chapter Two is the Spectres Over Gorgoroth demo from 1989. This is more in line with what Darkthrone was doing at the time, so it is a bit odd that Fenriz even needed to make this separately. The vocals alternate between raspier Black Metal sounds and deeper Death Metal grunts. The music owes a lot to bands such as Celtic Frost and Autopsy. "Thy Gruesome Death" is not quite as evil sounding as the second song, "Deathcult". The recording is very primitive and raw, even featuring a brief (and wild) guitar solo. The songs on here are very short, as well. "Rise From Below" is the lengthiest song on here, at just over three minutes. It features several riff and pace changes. "Dark Lord of Gorgoroth" seems to display even some influence from the early Death albums. "Trollwandering" is a very doomy outro, possessing an evil feeling. This is a very interesting and enjoyable demo, though it is quite obvious that the only connection between this demo and Vandreren is the band name Fenriz chose to record under.

Chapter Three is the Horizons demo, from 1991. It opens with the slow and crushingly doom-filled song, "The Fog". It almost reminds one of what Beherit would do, a couple years later, on Drawing Down the Moon. Again, the feeling is utterly dark and you can feel the darkness coursing through your veins, like a poison, weakening you. Your limbs become too heavy to move, and you begin to sink down into the black pit.

"Storm of Evil" is a very strange song, sounding like some 80s Goth rock, such as Sisters of Mercy or something. Fenriz, here, utilizes more clean vocals. The sound is dark, yet upbeat in an odd way. Even more peculiar is that this is the longest song on the entire compilation.

"Bergtrollets Gravferd" is a synth piece, dragging you even deeper into the blackness of the abyss. What you hear is the sound of a solitary funeral, as none shall mourn your passing. At the fathomless depths, you continue to descend, and no one even knows that you are gone. You realize now that you are absolutely nothing. Your existence has been meaningless. Your torment is simply something for others to mock. Your body may enjoy the benefit of being tossed into a cold grave, but your journey through darkness and misery has only just begun.

"Our Lord Will Come" is a Doom Metal epic, very reminiscent of Pentagram, with both vocals and the raw guitar sound. This song could have been recorded in the 70s or early 80s. It has a very oldschool and primitive feeling to it. Now that you have descended into the black abyss, it is time to forget all that you were and to embrace the emptiness of the Hell in which you exist...
 
(25 Jan. 2009)

 
 

1995 was a very busy time for Fenriz. In a very short span of time, albums were released from Darkthrone, Storm, Neptune Towers, Dødheimsgard and his Viking / Black Metal side-project, Isengard. Some would say that he was spreading himself a bit too thin, but the effects of this would not be seen until the following year. As for Høstmørke, Fenriz managed to deliver exactly what fans of the Vandreren demo were looking for.

Musically, there are a few different styles on here, but they all work together to form a rather cohesive whole. Tracks like "Neslepaks", "I Kamp med Hvitekrist" and the mighty "Over de Syngende Øde Moer" show a strong influence from Bathory's Viking era, though some people call Isengard a 'Folk Metal' project. The two little interludes, "Landet og Havet" and "I ei Gran Borti Nordre Åsen" seem to possess more of a folkish feel, due to the sort of vocals Fenriz utilizes. But the majority of this record would be best described as Viking or Black Metal. The latter is exemplified by the incredible "Thornspawn Chalice", which might be the final masterpiece from the mind of Fenriz.

Høstmørke was recorded on Necrohell Studio around the same time as Panzerfaust, entirely by Fenriz. Only in a couple spots did the guys from Dødheimsgard add a scream here or there. With the Viking Metal tracks, Fenriz utilizes the same sort of clean vocals as on the first chapter of Vinterskugge. Much like Quorthon, his voice is somewhat unconventional, yet filled with authentic and true feeling. The manner in which he sings really suits the rawness of the production as well. There is a real sense of conviction in his voice, especially prevalent on "Over De Syngende Øde Moer", which is probably the very best song that he ever made in this style. There is a melancholic feeling conveyed here, like a weary war march for the condemned. It is easy to get swept away by this song, lost in its haunting atmosphere.

This atmosphere is also found on the preceding track, "I Ei Gran Borti Nordre Åsen". There are vocals, but they seem to be utilized as merely another instrument, as I don't think there are any actual lyrics. The feeling is kind of dark and dismal. One almost gets the impression of people marching into a battle that they know they will lose. Certain death looms on the horizon, yet they must face it anyway. They are not afraid as they continue on toward their grim fate. The women and children weep as the men go off to war. They know that they'll never see them again, but fate cannot be denied.

With so much Bathory influence throughout this album, one has to wonder how it would have sounded if Fenriz had used this material for a Darkthrone album. Surely, Nocturno Culto's voice would have sounded good over some of these songs. Some of this material definitely would not have been too out of place on Panzerfaust. However, Høstmørke peaks with "Thornspawn Chalice", which is an epic and intense Black Metal song wherein Fenriz utilizes extremely harsh vocals. Perhaps possessed by the same evil entity that once took hold of the likes of Quorthon and Dead, his voice sounds utterly tortured and inhuman. The lyrics seem to have been written long before this album was recorded, as they bear many similarities to those from the early period of Darkthrone. The mid-paced riffs are pure Bathory worship, but the song suddenly shifts to a faster pace with brilliant tremolo melodies that are among the finest that Fenriz ever created. The overall sound is as ugly and raw as that found on Panzerfaust. As the song continues, the feeling of intensity increases to a near fever-pitch. This is the longest track on Høstmørke, as well as one of only two with English lyrics. The clean vocals mixed with the harsh ones, near the end of the song, creates a brilliant effect that one must simply experience to understand.

"Who fills their chalice with Thornspawn visions
Embrace symbols of That Night without end"

The final song on the album, "Total Death", is a mix of Black and Thrash Metal, somewhat reminiscent of Aura Noir. Its placement at the end of the album makes sense in a way, as it really wouldn't fit in anywhere else, and yet it is almost a bit of a letdown, coming after two monumental classics in a row. This one really could have been saved for the following Darkthrone album (also titled Total Death).

Høstmørke is a great little album on which Fenriz managed to perfect his Viking Metal sound, while still unleashing his final Black Metal masterpiece as well. Fans of Bathory (particularly the Viking-era stuff) and Darkthrone should certainly give this a listen. While owing quite a bit to Quorthon, at times, Isengard still manages to have a fairly unique style and I would be hard-pressed to come up with anything else that sounds remotely like this. This is highly recommended and "Over De Syngende Øde Moer", in particular, would make a nice soundtrack for the combined forces of Europa to fight back the Saracen scum and to rid our lands of this filth once and for all!
 
(3 Sept. 2009)

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