Though it’d take Gävle, Sweden based epic doom metal band Forlorn nearly fifteen years and seven demos to land a full-length deal with a record label (I Hate Records) the wait was primarily due to personnel shifts and group dynamics rather than the quality of their music. ‘Waves of Sorrow’ (1994) and ‘Autumn Leaves’ (2001) were undoubtedly the strongest demos from that era and they’ve sustained as the general blueprint for their sound as Isole post-2004. Though the epic viking spirituals of Quorthon would serve as primal inspiration it was clear that the Candlemass influenced sect of epic doom was where that project had naturally developed.– At this point the two founding members, Daniel Bryntse (guitar, vocals) and Crister Olsson (guitars), had already concieved a viking metal focused project (Ereb Altor) around this time and Isole was then more free to roam melodic, vocally driven pastures. The general consensus among doom metal fandom is that ‘Throne of Void’ (2006) was where Isole first struck gold and from that point they would begin to focus on softer atmosphere that’d eventually trail off towards somewhat generic progressive/doom metal. The Napalm Records years of the band were effective, polished and had probably strayed too far from the sorrow-filled epic doom of their past for many hard-headed fans, myself included. Call me a blind idiotic purist but, I’d had difficulty looking beyond ‘Throne of Void’ in their discography up until the release of ‘Dystopia’, Isole‘s seventh full-length and a step towards darker more direct subject matter alongside an appropriately dour sound.
There is great respect due to any band that reconsiders their approach as personal and personnel relationships change in the course of their history and it’d seem Isole is highly sensitive to not only their chemistry as performers but surely considers the strengths of each member when composing. In this sense the exit of bassist and ‘harsh’ vocalist Henrik Lindenmo (Hellsingland, Jotun, Morannon) saw things come a bit unleashed for Isole on ‘The Silent Hunter’ (2014), perhaps their most ‘different’ release to date and surely their most accessible. In the five years since it’d seem they’d gone back to their roots, recharged the old batteries, and looked upon the dying, desperate world around them in resignation. If the title ‘Dystopia’ hadn’t clued you in, it is a dark and wrenching bout of disillusionment, depression, and cathartic yearning for our old, habitable Earth. The line-up since 2014 appears mended and consistent, practiced and well, the songwriting duo of Bryntse and Olsson hasn’t been idle with four full-lengths from Ereb Altor since, including one this next month.
So, why are they back and what’re they doing so different? There is the sense going into ‘Dystopia’ that Isole have something to say and are driven to express this side of themselves regardless. Plus, Bryntse‘s vocals have hit a truly beautiful stride between sensitivity and pure heavy metal soaring that manages an earnest appeal this time around. The melodies aren’t too forced or readily apparent from song to song, certainly more relaxed in spirit than a record like ‘Nightfall’, but when the bigger hooks do come they are enormous in their impact; The build-up to the chorus of “You Went Away”, the Peaceville three-esque embroilment of opener “Beyond the Horizon”, and one of several sure crowns of the full listen: “Galenskapens Land” each provide emotional coloring for the warmly atmospheric austerity of ‘Dystopia’. Emotional resignation pours heated out of Isole like a pub door flung open in the middle of winter and perhaps for the first time since ‘Throne of Void’ these Swedes hit upon a unanimously profound experience. Consider this effort as remarkable a shift as if Solstice had dialed their sound back to the early Simon Matravers days and achieved a certain ‘modern’ heaviness all the same.
The early ‘sell’ on my end was the vocal performance on “Written in the Sand”, a melodious song that sunk in deeper with each listen and saw long bouts on repeat. I doubt present day Candlemass could have done it better themselves in this case, not now at least and surely with a more fantastical bent back in the day. Compounding the stature of ‘Dystopia’ is “Forged by Fear”, a more crisp lyrical illustration of theme and a darkest turn among the socio-political examinations of the endtyme that that define this record; Harsh vocals are fittingly employed within an early Warning-esque progression that moves in and out of faster pace. This is the most clear link to the previous album but Isole focus more on the statement they’re conveying than what flourish or compositional flair they’d brought on the last few releases. Though it sunk in quick and the value was evident by virtue of knowing the past discography of the band ‘Dystopia’ should be considered notable as a standout in the seven album run Isole have enjoyed since 1990. It drags here and there, a couple of the songs are an inch too similar, but the transgressions within are minimal and inconsequential in terms of impacting the full listen. Very high recommendation, particularly if you are attuned to epic doom metal. For preview purposes I’d suggest starting with “You Went Away” for its easily clung-to chorus, my personal favorite track “Written in Sand”, and then the impressive performances within “Glenskapens Land”.
A cold desert full of storms. 4.25/5.0
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