Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Isole - Born From Shadows (2011)

Two years after "Silent Ruins" was unleashed upon the Earth, Isole has returned, more focused and more powerful. For these Swedish doom masters, each release is a new journey. Their new album, "Born From Shadows," is no different. Hidden deep within these seven songs is a dark undercurrent, overflowing with emotional passages and musical prowess the likes of which we have waited for. This isn't another album of repackaged riffs and cliche lyrics. Doom metal needed a breath of dusty, smokey air. And Isole just exhaled.

The opening chords of 'The Lake" have an eerie resemblance to Marilyn Manson's cover of "Sweet Dreams" from so many years ago. But the similarities end there. The vocal power of frontman Daniel Bryntse has grown exponentially, with his solemn voice surrounding you from all sides. The depressive guitar work that you have come to expect still exists, but with a razor sharp sound that will both impress and scare you. Harsh vocals offset the gray beauty, as double kicks and cymbal crashes encompass all that comes near. The song represents an evolution of the band, taking all of the finest attributes and magnifying them in every possible way. A rich solo leads you into softer guitar work, backed by a triumphant bass line. Heavy, yet memorizing, this is the height of melancholy.

A wailing guitar introduces "Black Hours," with a bending strings commanding the opening stanzas. The low rumble of distortion echos through, the pounding of drums complimenting precisely timed chugging. Bryntse shatters the preconceptions of doom, with his vocals taking on a nearly operatic tone at times. There is an array of sound coming through your speakers, not just uncontrolled distortion. There is melody, there is emotion, and, most of all, there is a sense of despair. The chanting vocals that dominate the chorus section are as powerful as doom vocals can get, bringing chills down your spine with each note. And, oh, that lonesome church bell ringing. The synthesizer backed opening of "Born From Shadows," the title track, will start your horns into the air. You run head first into a wall of sound, from distorted guitars to pounding kicks and snares. One glorious fill after another, you are pulled deeper in the dark pit of doom. The inherent beauty of softly played guitars, albeit a haunting one, is shattered by the emergence of lightning fast drumming and a trembling bass. The return of the growling vocals is just enough to empty your bowels, feeling as if the Devil himself is speaking to you for his throne below. The pieces form a bigger whole, a bigger picture, something so often lost in the hopelessness.

The more traditional doom comes in the form of "Come To Me," with a slow, deliberate tempo. But the melody that steps forward is truly fascinating, igniting a fire in the music itself. A switch is flipped, and an entirely new track seems to burst forth. As if powerful vocals aren't enough, the more emotion-fueled lyrics cut to the heart of you, amidst the crashing cymbals. A bass line goes up and down the neck, with a doom groove unlike any I have found before. Dazzling guitar work punctuates a track that is sure to be lodged in your frontal lobe for days on end. Fans of doom, be ready. This is an instant classic. The epic "My Angel" sees a vocal harmony take center stage amongst the crushing guitar riffs. Wrapped up in a neat ten minute package is everything that an obsessed or casual doom fan could ever need in a single opus. It sways but does not fall, bends but does not break. It has elements of the death/doom subgenre, but does not follow that oft traveled path for long. Rather, it straddles it, hovers above it in a glorious piece of mastery. It is almost disheartening to think a band can construct a song this good, and make so many worthy bands look that much less worthy. This is a masterpiece that so many great bands wait a lifetime to write, and Isole may have done so so early in their career.

"Condemned" is a growlfest, with gritty, guttural vocals taking over the reigns. By now, your neck must be sore, but you must persevere. There are so many intricacies to be found in the guitar work, you simply cannot stop looking for more. From the crushing chords to the twirling hammer ons/pull offs, you will be hypnotized by all this has to offer. Again, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the melodic vocals are king, taking you to places that doom rarely goes. It isn't just his sense of melody and timing, but rather Bryntse's stunning range. This isn't the almost off-key crooning of My Dying Bride, of the deep bass of Type O Negative. This is something completely different, something stirring. But it all culminates with the closing track, aptly titled "When All Is Black," a sentiment that all in the metal community have uttered to themselves late at night. From the quiet whisper, to a more explosive burst, this is a fitting end to this journey. Short, by doom standards, but packed with one last assertion that this band, this album, this music is one for the ages.

Being a fan of the doom genre, it becomes difficult to separate the diamonds from the lumps of coal. By trying to remain true to the "traditional" style, many bands stunt their growth, simply churning out recycled riffs and vocals that are not only melancholy, but mediocre. Isole have written their own blueprint for success, and executed it to near perfection. "Born From Shadows" is not an album that will change the entire genre of doom metal, but it will change how we listen to it. We can expect more than the same old thing. Keep your ears open, and your search will be rewarded.


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