Iskra - Bureval
Black Raven Records
Black Metal
10 songs (29:46)
Release year: 2009
Official Myspace
Reviewed by Charles
There can be few pleasanter surprises than learning of the existence of anarcho-socialist black metal, but one thing that might count is learning that when it does appear it sounds like Iskra’s blistering full-length debut. Of course, that has to be qualified by pointing out the extent of their roots in crust as well: it seems like their biggest initial influences were bands such as Amebix and Crass, but the drive of the project has been explicitly to fuse that with the music of bands such as Darkthrone and Immortal. Their sound was far closer to that canonical Scandinavian model than comparable “blackened crust” acts like Martyrdod (despite the latter being Swedish), and that is even more true of this album (more on that later, though). What’s more, I can’t help but notice bassist Ray Hawes’s leading role in Skagos, a "Cascadian Black Metal" project that embraces the pastoral sound of contemporary innovators such as their neighbours Wolves in the Throne Room and Ireland’s Altar of Plagues, as well as their apparent commitment to tree-hugging, eco-anticapitalism. Is it possible that we are seeing the beginnings of the righteous ideological outlook of the punk bands that inspired so much black metal seeping back into metal’s most reactionary subculture?

But there is a major change here in relation to their self-titled, and one about which I have mixed feelings. Musically, Bureval takes a huge leap closer still to black metal. Rather than the livid, growling delivery of previously, this opens with Hounds of Order, a three-minute flurry of precise and galloping tremolo blasting that is far, far more Immortal than Amebix. It’s relentlessly fast: gradually it dawns on you that what you are listening to is black metal’s musical elements wedded to a completely alien set of concepts. Frostbitten pretension is out, and in comes grindcore’s edgy preoccupation with lunatic extremity: the song is framed here not as a descriptive work of cold atmospherics, but as a short, sharp shock to the system (in more than one sense of that word). A related change is the vocals: here they are a focused yell, rather than the unrestrained hysterics of Iskra, which gave that record the feel of a Lovecraftian mental asylum.

As such, it is quite possible that many will miss the musical realms from which they’ve travelled, and indeed this does seem to be a complaint in some dark corners of the internet. I admit; it is one I can empathise with. Musically, this can feel a little dry at times, the mouthfoaming anarchy of previous outings no longer providing that much-valued sense of unbridled rage. On Bureval, you perhaps get the sense that this band are curious outsiders, contemptuous of black metal’s politics and capable of playing it styllistically, but never embracing it enough to fulfil those nebulous characteristics such as “atmosphere” that its best works require. Ironically, they probably came closer to the wild spirit of this music in 2004's Iskra, despite being idiomatically further away. Rather than anarchism, it makes sense that it’s the ecologists that break fertile new creative ground in black metal whilst carrying progressive ideas, because in rooting music so closely in nature they end up paradoxically in the same place as Burzum et. al., anyway. Bureval, on the other hand, is a violently curious album that inhabits an odd peripheral world, in which black metal’s ideas can be turned into edgy and radical art, whilst for better or worse keeping the culture’s horrendous ideological baggage at arm’s length.

Killing Songs :
Hounds of Order, Krondstadt
Charles quoted 75 / 100
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