ISKANDR – Vergezicht (2021)REVIEW

Flying all heathen banners high for the sake of symbolizing enduring defiance on this third full-length album, the modern-handed yet old-souled black metal obscurae of Nijmegen, Netherlands-based duo Iskandr aims for their most ambitiously composed and defining work to date. Though ‘Vergezicht‘ is laced with countless finer details, such as sound recordings from parks and historic villages within Gelderland, and sporting greater implementation of acoustic/non-traditional instrumentation the whole of its emboldened ~64 minute experience stains the mind first with big and billowing folken statements, allowing for deep intimacy within concerted analytical listens and endearingly grand strokes of movement when approached as purely pleasurable and inspirational listening. Within these six meticulously crafted longform pieces we are presented with the work of a spiritual defender, a wall of blissful resilience under deep-black rainclouds rather than the usual glinting edge of a prideful warrior in sunlight and as such, the experience is beyond immersive, absorbent if nothing else.

‘Vergezicht’ is inarguably modern black metal music for the sake of the contemplative, history-aware musician conducting the event; We could easily suggest the level of composition and performance here is incomparable to the auld arcane masters for its smartly presented sentimentality, being decidedly professional and confident in its displays of skill but, either way, a result that could’ve only come from selectively learning the finest lessons of old. As we stride into opener “Gezag” references to the rhythmic and choral innovations of Bathory and the greater lineage continued beyond in the works of Hades, Borknagar and early Enslaved are familiarly conveyed through grand, sweeping folk-rhythmic movements. As the finger-picked acoustic guitar intro swings into chorale and eagerly jogging guitar progressions this introductory transition acts as a strong reminder of Iskandr‘s ability to take the listener outside of time beyond the typical atmospheric black metal experience, neither settling into the naked aggression of early 90’s extremism nor focusing too intently on the sleepy performative breadth of classic progressive rock implied by the greater dramatism of these events. Guided by the sophisticated hand of O. (Turia, Solar Temple, Nusquama) with the slow-revealing ease of Primordial‘s best, the elaborately presented long-form stride of “Gezag” certainly makes its core connection with the greater atmospheric naturalist black metal headspace but from an decidedly unique ethereal yet austere angle. This is the vital momentum that sustains the entirety of ‘Vergezicht’ in terms of movement but we’ve the whole album to glean the melodic language and varietal, expressive technique which helps Iskandr stand tall and away from the norm.

We’ve seen this progression coming as far back as one of my favorite works from the band, the ‘Zon‘ EP from 2016, where the guitar work strongly emphasized the type of “lost in the moment” progressions common to post-black/atmospheric black metal but without the maudlin college rock songwriting typical to those realms. This wasn’t yet the breakthrough that was ‘Eusoproson‘ (2018) an album which coincided with a true boon of fantastically creative efforts from O.‘s own projects and the greater tree of associated acts, offering the stylistic pre-cursor to ‘Vergezicht’ on a still huge but slightly smaller scaled vision. Going maximal with this third album surprisingly doesn’t create an issue of editing for my own taste, seeing each piece realized in extended stretches of phrase and never wandering entirely aimless. The best example of this is perhaps the ~13 minute ‘epic’ of “Gewesten der Tijd”; Though it is not the longest piece on ‘Vergezicht’ its placement squarely in the early-middle of the hour will likely speak to most listeners as the major statement of the full listen, which steps beyond the rhythmic flux of ‘Eusoproson’ and touches upon the dark folken sonority of the ‘Gelderse Poort‘ (2020) EP, integrating spoken-sung vocals alongside group chorale as we reach for the majesty of the middle section of the song. Though these semi-baritone vocals should give some listeners a hint of dour gothic rock to start, the escalating lead guitar work places the intent of this beauteous extended moment squarely upon ‘Hammerheart’-era Quorthon albeit with a much deeper timbre. Just beyond this piece the core of the album’s complimentary half, “Baken”, is arguably the sustained height of O.‘s exploration of choral vocal presentation and overall my personal favorite piece on the album for its acoustic guitar melodies and captivating listen. At this point immersion is likely at maximum for anyone earnestly invested in ‘Vergezicht’ and this song as a whole is the big payoff moment beyond the initial pace-setting of “Gezag” and arguably a defining piece intimating what Iskandr are capable of. Fair enough if the sole preview track, “Bloeddraad“, makes a similar reveal early on but for my own taste the whole of the album comes together with “Baken”.

And yet we’ve so far to go from here… One of the main reasons I’d stumbled away from ‘Eusoproson’ without managing much of an analysis stemmed from each piece bringing its own 8-10 minute sojourn and to be sure ‘Vergezicht’ is even more imposing as we transgress into its patient wall of sleep in the third act. If I could be convinced to eat my words that the central two pieces of the album are its most key statements it’d be just as easy to go to bat for these final ~23 minutes. Alas, “Verboed” is a traipse through Elysium from my point of view, groaning atmospheric black metal soars and largely choral vocals bearing the weight of its movement. This piece might not feel as necessary as any of the other songs on ‘Vergezicht’ but it is far from intrusive. “Het Slot” is inarguably the heaviest song on the album, delivering the suggestion of King Crimsonian spectacle, pagan/viking black metal stomp, and (if you can imagine) the suggested inspiration of ‘A Sun that Never Sets’-era Neurosis‘ feral, arena-sized drum circle — Which, I admittedly wouldn’t have naturally come to that conclusion but, I suppose it is worth mentioning for the sake of it being a personal favorite album.

Beyond this greater arc of the full listen I’ve no truly glaring notes in terms of production values, guitar tones, “cinematic” arrangements, and ‘riffs’ as it were. Folks who’d already fallen hard for Fluisteraars‘ latest record will find some similar chord-shaking extended pieces and sound design but these are largely coincidental aesthetics. This lines up with the one note I’ve no real place for in the meat of my thoughts, the stunning drum performances throughout which is surely the product of a great and long-standing working relationship between M.K. and O. within various projects, there is bound to be a bit of bleed together as they create with such inspiration. As with most of the black metal records I’ve chosen to stick with in 2021 the balance of time intensive and taxing experience with a rewarding result leaves me with my general recommendation. ‘Vergezicht’ is more than a step beyond Iskandr‘s previous album but the two experiences are threaded together by tone and vision, it just so happens that this vision is panoramic and set upon the biggest, grey-clouded vista. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
RELEASE DATE:September 24th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Black Metal,
Atmospheric Pagan Black Metal

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