Istapp – The Insidious Star (2019) REVIEW

To be so perfectly crystalline in arrangement and encased in ones own rigid perfection is the only state of matter that’d bring solace to those suffering under the oppression of the ‘sun’. Unimaginable frost it’d take to spear the heart and pike the head of the cursed nuclear lifegiver, yet we amass in defiance day by day. To spread dire and spontaneous entropic decrease, a true heat death across the vast and truly pointless abyss of our barely known universe, and willingly worship our frozen end was first prophesied by our great lord William Thomson (the First Baron Kelvin) who’d insist the end of all physical phenomena was inevitable when all stars and burning gaseous giants would fall. This great chain reaction and inevitability isn’t occurring  fast enough for those of us who would see the death of light, the death of Christianity, and the death of the very Sun that curses us from afar with its fiery whipping year after year. Feebled as I may seem under duress of the fire orb I am only a melting messenger of the gospel of True Blekingsk black metal, they who would (and are) truly obliterating the sun and all life it sustains. From 2005 the cultic shroud of Istapp was obscured by the radiation of fools and no great mountain of investment would solidify into a seemingly undying force until the right scouring of the death-musical talents within southeast Sweden birthed a frozen solid black metal reality in 2007. From there a tireless surge of ruin was conjured and that blast of ice upon the land, ‘Blekinge’ (2010), was born from such unrestrained power, a great collapse would follow in 2011. Sheets of ice built height and spread a damning shade ’til from a great cave mouth flowed an ocean-twisting spray of svenske frost with doubled power, that sorcery were the will of ‘Frostbiten’ (2015) and there Istapp could walk the fetid boiling Earth to savage the light, and behead the prophets, for the sake of their cause. A third eruption’d be mere air conditioning in 2019, instead we are clutched whole and cased into permanent stasis by a great wintry dragon that’d spike, breed, and shatter ‘The Insidious Star’ and free all from tyrannical light and life.

The frost bard Fjalar‘s (ex-Entrails) talents for melodious Scandinavian ebullience, a banner flying with the joy of a misanthropic conqueror, shone early on the demos that’d be succinctly collected on ‘Köldens Union’ in 2007. That initial collection first windowed a brazenly melodious side that is reborn in full darkness today on Istapp‘s third album, a less cryptically carved sculpture enshrouded in the black smoke of a cosmos unlit and immobile. Today we receive the band beyond several line-up changes with a sound that might not fully reach the corny self-fiddling of Wintersun or Catamenia but appears conjured from that same level of stone-faced artistry. For those expecting an ‘old school’ approach based on the gnashing heaviness of ‘Frostbiten’, know that today Istapp wouldn’t dare strike upon the old too-hot iron of the pre-1995 Swedish school of melodic black metal’s true ‘birth from death’, at least not on the level of a group like Thulcandra. Instead today we are provided an icewind hail of Vintersorg-era Borknagar, the occasionally folkish jaunt of pre-2008 Taake, and an overall effect akin to Thyrfing‘s ‘Farsotstider’ era as they moved beyond keyboard driven composition. Cringe-inducing as some of those references might be to some, to be sure you must be at least -that- interested in the last two decades of Scandinavian metal to receive ‘The Insidious Star’ with any joy.

Though there has been audible growth with each successive Istapp record produced ‘The Insidious Star’ doesn’t reach for complexity or any sort of progressive approach so much as it leans audaciously towards their melodic talents, shoving aside any pretense of classicist melodic black metal origins. The icicle that melts grows more dull as it drips but lengthens into a deeper-driven spear as it re-solidifies, such is the case with this third album and relatively stable performative line-up for the Mjövik based group. “Natten då Gud blundade (1888)” will absolutely be driven into the skull of the listener either as earworm or glaring commercially viable Nordic metal that soon gives way to the lead-driven melody of “Snowball Earth”, having conveyed a mythology and purpose that is both entertaining as theme and varied musical approach. Each track on this album serves its hook relatively quickly while those key melodic moments are both familiar and interrelated when possible, this is perhaps the most recognizable tradition within peak Scandinavian metal popularity that is kept separately alive without influence from ‘symphonic’ metal trends and Gothic rock/metal hybridization. I’d say few bands are capable of such a thing without losing sight of their main drive, though Hoth are about on par with Istapp in terms of successful revision minus undesirable ancient trends.

I sneer at this sort of thing most often because it is a souring addiction that’d persist as my own bad taste when ‘modern metal’ was such a morass back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. To scour through a hundred tirelessly shit bands to find one oddball record that’d sit in my CD player for a hundred days always felt like a sickness back then and today it only happens by my chance allowance. ‘The Insidious Star’ is unfortunately an incredibly infectious and memorable album full of bounding melodic drivers, charismatic gnashing, and gloriously orchestrated high-speed cheese. It is a species of cultic hypnosis that I do my best to resist and yet I’ve found myself spending an entire month with Istapp carving bloodied ice-sculptures in the back of my mind.

This sort of record is the sort of thing I’d simply need to disconnect from to place its value relative to a whole host of melodic black metal I’d love in the moment and then in hindsight years later. Thus it holds, and will likely retain, shelf value for the space it occupies only if it’d connect with your folkish-and-catchy melodic black metal sensibilities. If it helps justify any particular melodic addiction experienced, I’d at least suggest that each performance earns its resonance through impassioned delivery, particularly the nicely layered dual vocal approach that alternates ‘clean’ vocal work with fearsome rasps. Akin to the second half of ‘Frostbiten’, the effect is five percent ICS Vortex, seventy percent (early) Old Man’s Child, and the rest a Jens Rydén-era Thyrfing‘s worth of melodic value, all of which “Vita Doeden” and the aforementioned “Natten då Gud blundade (1888)” express.

The menacing bombast of ‘The Insidious Star’ should be inspiring to those attuned to this sort of black metal and I might only highly recommend it to those folks who’d not ducked away from Swedish and Norwegian black metallic legacies beyond 1998. Moderately high recommendation otherwise. For preview I’d suggest a few of my most ‘left on repeat’ tracks in addition to the previously mentioned songs, including “Muspelheim” for its moments of respite and “Eternal Winter” for the sheer energy of its opening salvo.  

Istapp_Cover

Artist Istapp
Type Album
Released April 26, 2019
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Genre Melodic Black Metal

An antidote for the Sun. 3.75/5.0

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