Ilsa’s long history of slowly mutating sludge metal has run the gamut of hardcore and Amebix influenced doom metal to Audiosieged sludgey death/doom over the last decade and their ever-evolving style shows a hard working and inspired band continually looking for a new sound. I bought heavily into the band’s hissed vocals and sludge/hardcore brutality on ‘The Maggots are Hungry’ upon it’s re-release in 2015 and have played catch up here and there since. I go nuts for sludge punk variations in general and that first album is a fine example of dark as hell tunnel-vision punk that I was sad they left behind beyond that point. Their follow up ‘Tutti il Colori del Buio’ suffers from what I call High on Fire-ification where a band thugs out their guitar tone so much that their down-tuned sludge metal aesthetics become a mudfest for everything else. They re-recorded a few tracks from the first LP on this and basically dropped the 90’s hardcore kick of them to better fit their extreme sludge-jogging sound. Still, I think an occult crust influenced sludge record was an awesome idea to work with.
Ilsa’s third album stopped doing the Motörhead jog a bit and instead wrestled their beefy sound to the floor for some slower, more effective songwriting. The big meaty guitar waves had far greater impact during those slower songs and while it wasn’t entirely doom metal in design, their sound had reached achieved greater bleakness. It also marked a slight change in vocal style, better matching the desperate howl of Integrity‘s ‘Humanity is the Devil’ era metalcore-ish shouts. ‘Intoxications’ barely hinted at the death/doom/sludge/crust beast lying in wait for ‘The Felon’s Claw’. For my taste that was the band’s most extreme, grating hellscape moment and their debut on Relapse ‘Corpse Fortress’ reels in that bristling depravity a bit by comparison.
Despite a few nitpicks here and there the core Ilsa experience is still that slow, snarling sludge experience they’ve developed over the years but the band haven’t yet found their Burning Witch ‘Crippled Lucifer’ or Noothgrush ‘Erode the Person’ moment that makes them stand out. Sure, songs like “Hikikomori” show the band’s new found ability to lean further into the death doom pit but those ultra-boggy riffs seem kinda frivolous when you hear the far more compelling slo-mo punkness of “Nasty, Brutish” with it’s hapless and satisfyingly numb groove. Likewise “Prosector” and it’s Bolt Thrower vibe pales a bit when followed by the d-beat weirdness of “Old Maid”. By the time I get to the B-side I’m not sure why they’re bothering with the blandness of their death/doom tracks at all.
‘Corpse Fortress’ is simultaneously Ilsa’s strongest sound and weakest songwriting. It’s edgeless, beastly thick guitar tone might thrill you for a few listens but the riffs are unimaginative and the vocals are crammed so far up the middle of the mix that it feels just claustrophobic enough to all mush together in a mess of sameness. Every band is this heavy and at some point I need more than a deluxe meatgrinder to spice up my hamburger metal. I still love the hardcore influences and occult themes of Ilsa but I’m not sure they make good use of their time with the Primitive Man style uber-slow stuff. I recommend listening to “Nasty, Brutish”, “Ruckenfigur” and “Prosector” for the best moments from the album.
|Released||March 2, 2018|
|BUY/LISTEN on their Bandcamp!||Follow Ilsa on Facebook|
Chained up to a wall. 3.25/5.0
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