Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
Published 02 April, 2011
No boundary pushing but solid all the same
With a name whose literal English translation is “ice-cold” it could be easy to dismiss Norway’s melodic black metal outfit, Iskald, as little more than a parody; an embodiment of the often unintentional tongue-in-cheek nature of the black metal scene as a whole and, for all I know, these guys might actually be the pompous twats that their moniker suggests but, even if this is the case, it takes nothing away from the generally high quality of the material they’ve brought to the table with The Sun I Carried Alone, their third full length release since forming in 2005.
For a genre that has been looking back at its best days for quite some time and is rife with plagiarism and an unhealthy lack of genuine creativity it’s funny then that Iskald, even with their clear tapping of an inspirational well that is mostly filled a substance closely resembling that of modern day Dimmu Borgir, have been able to create an album that doesn’t really push any boundaries or break any rules but still manages to make an impact in spite of its flaws.
It seems that one of the tricks to succeeding in the melodic black metal genre, or any genre for that matter, isn’t necessarily to assert dominance though complete originality (though that’s never a bad thing) but rather to take the building blocks of your genre and pay attention to the way that others before you have put them to good use. Now I know this sounds like I’m skirting close to advocating plagiarism but that’s not quite what I’m getting at. Each genre and subgenre has its own characteristics and idiosyncrasies that make it what it is and when bands ignore these attributes or don’t pay them the attention they deserve they are potentially playing with fire. This isn’t to suggest that it isn’t possible to flout the rules and still come up with something fantastic, but rather that this is a path fraught with peril and is best attempted only by those with the skill to do so.
So what is it about The Sun I Carried Alone that allows it to succeed where many others have failed? There are two things really. The first is related to my observations above in that the album doesn’t really step outside of the constructs of its given genre - in fact it stays extremely faithful to them - and the second is the emphasis on the melodic side of the melodic black metal equation while still keeping an eye towards the genre’s nastier side as well. The album is a veritable riff soup with a heavy hand lent towards an atmosphere befitting both the band’s name and the region from which they both hail and sonically project with their music.
Each track is primarily centred around a core riff or two whose purpose, aside from actually sounding good, is to evoke mental images of the Norwegian landscape. Sure, this is hardly an original agenda (see paragraph three) but for what Iskald may lack in originality of concept they make up for in presentation. There’s an atmosphere and a feel to this album that is as unmistakable as it is effective and it is actually pretty refreshing to these tired and jaded ears. When you take the evocative material and add to it a production job that favours a strong bottom end with a very effective drum mix you end up with an album that both sounds and feels fantastic.
While I found a hell of a lot to like about The Sun I Carried Alone and I view the release favourably it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement and, in spite of my leading comments, some genuine originality from the material would have been nice and could very well have elevated the release from good to great or even excellent. There are hints of what the band is capable of creatively in the latter section of the album with the slower, doom-tinged Rigor Mortis or album closer, Burning Bridges, with its nods to the progressive but these are only two tracks out of nine. Next time around I’d like to see the traditional melodic black metal elements and the band’s slightly more diverse side come into a better balance but for now, if melodic black metal is your thing, you’re sure to dig this.