ISKANDR – Gelderse Poort (2020)REVIEW

The sport of museum trawling and collection gazing inevitably lands the traveler in the state (or government) preserved home of some manner of great, culturally valuable person. What remains of their long-dead minds lie set in its natural state, things in place where grand inventions and theorem were inspired — Be it Darwin‘s garden or Edison‘s laboratory adjacent manor, the character of the mind and its place in time is readily available when dutifully preserved. The home itself can then be considered the health and the extant skeleton of the great men of any era, be it a summer house of great inspiration or (if we can take a bit more of a leap) the natural beauty of the nation itself. What matters is this feeling of “home” and the solace of place, not as protection or primal relief but what’d quiet the noise that’d allow a great mind to pour with its beloved insanity bet it contraption, idea, or compelling artistry. The heathen O. (Turia, Imperial Cult, Solar Temple, et al.) presents this sensation of place as a two-way door to his home, the Gelderland region of the Netherlands, to presage ‘Gelderse Poort‘ the latest EP from his solo black metal project Iskandr. The door itself has no importance but the sensation of crossing into (and away) from one’s own place and territory is the first notion presented on this stunningly atmospheric and reflective mini album.

The “wide open spaces” created by the modern black metal out of the Netherlands today cannot necessarily be a general, sweeping observation but a feeling exclusive to a certain sect of artists oft related to O.‘s own associations — No doubt his hand becomes more recognizable in this sea of related projects as well as those under the Haeresis Noviomagi sign. Their work could be likened in function to the spiritual side of Bergen in the mid-90’s, and some of the modern (at the time) rock influenced naturalists from the Ukraine in the early 2000’s. Seeing everything available via the last thirty years of black metal and yet retaining a sense of self, and place, has served these acts and the artist well. Iskandr is perhaps the most fitting of this description, a solo project tending towards the paganistic crawls of early Aeternus and Hades from a point of view that does not entirely discount all generations of acts like Enslaved. This influence is most obvious on this second album (‘Euprosopon‘, 2019) yet subtle all the same as no foreign idols are invoked by the “heathen black metal” project; The poetic lilt of each 10-12 minute song produced by the artist funnels seemingly from his own distinct mind palace, a place of meditation that isn’t always a hundred percent original but still feels as such.

Expression is everything as careful attention to rhythmic textures and differently spirited over-arching melodic statements separates ‘Gelderse Poort’ nicely from recent Turia and Fluisteraars (their drummer M. Koops provides himself for these sessions) records yet I believe they are all given a final warming touch via Greg Chandler‘s (Priory Recording Studios) well-shaped rendering. That said, if you were entirely in love with ‘Bloems’ earlier this year, some of the lucid, progressive-tinged wanderlust of that record allows for some exciting dynamic shift within the second half of the title track. It wouldn’t be entirely fair to suggest the title track is the main event but it’ll feel that way for folks enamored with O.‘s guitar work on past Iskandr and Turia records; The first piece examines the feeling of place, of crossing into ones own setting, and the second piece “Het Graf” helps to reinforce the suggestion of familial passage, a very euro-paganistic sensibility in examination of death and time shared between generations. This piece finds an acoustic guitar and quietly trilling piano beneath O.‘s father reading a portion of a didactic poem by 18th century Dutch writer Rhijnvis Feith, ‘Het Graf’ that, much like the first track, soon breaks away into a second act of folkish strumming and reprise beyond. The exit from this piece doesn’t pair well with the first two thirds, it feels a bit like a “dance off the stage” just short of a fade out, but it becomes less of an offense and more of natural point of release when the full EP is left to repeat. No real crime is committed within a continuum.

The greater effect of the full listen is enough to inspire a deeper swing through Iskandr‘s discography, the suggestion of “heathen” black metal rather than pagan ensures none of those tropes bring their expectations of style along but some classic influences do glimpse through the veil. That’d be my most important recommendation for listeners, pay close attention to the rhythmic ideas of the title track and check out the clever expanse of ‘Euprosopon’ from last year, it was a favorite that I’d never given its true dues. Secondly, the future is sought and the fate of Iskandr is not yet decided. This is to say that the project has remained malleable from this point via breakthroughs in technique and voice, if the future of O.‘s vision for the band is hinted at within these two pieces then we can surely look forward to enormous and even more expressive works in the future. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Gelderse Poort
RELEASE DATE:October 23rd, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Atmospheric Black Metal

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