Istapp - _Blekinge_
(Metal Blade, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (9 out of 10)
Well, as I write this review it's a little chilly here in Southwestern Ontario, with the temperature hovering at -17 degrees Celcius, coupled with a -22 degree wind chill factor. Not bad, not bad at all -- although I prefer it a little colder. With weather like this, I find good old black metal to be the perfect accompaniment. Come to think of it, when it gets cold like this, I love to break out Vargavinter's _Frostfödd_ album from 1996. As one of my all-time favourite Swedish black metal bands, _Frostfödd_ (sadly, the band only produced one album, which is unfortunately very under-rated) showcases some amazing song-writing: hyper-fast songs subtended with some really catchy melody and folk-tinged bursts.

Before continuing, though, let me just say that Istapp translates to "icicle" in English; and "Blekinge" translates loosely to "dead clam". Interestingly enough, Istapp hails from the province of Blekinge in the south of Sweden, situated right on the coast of the Baltic Sea.

So, why am I talking about Vargavinter when this is a review of Istapp's _Blekinge_ album? Well, for starters, Istapp's debut is really reminiscent -- for me at least -- of Vargavinter's _Frostfödd_. It's not reminiscent, perforce, in direct sound or song-writing, but more so in spirit. Both albums feature super-fast blasts-beats, and really melodic fugues, characteristics of the distinctly Swedish interpretation of '90s black metal. Both albums have a rather thin production balanced out with a lot of treble; and both feature high-register black metal raspy croups. Now, where these aforesaid albums differ is in the instrumentation and the vocals. Where Vargavinter utilised an eight-string bass (could you really make this out through the production anyways?), and the unconventional employment of an oboe -- which, despite it being a wood-wind instrument, fit the songs in which it was used perfectly -- Istapp takes a more conventional approach, in that they don't make use of any instruments other than guitar, bass, and drums.

What really makes Istapp dinstictive compared to Vargavinter -- or any other band, for that matter -- are the vocals. Alongside the rather typical black metal vocals are some amazing clean vocals that sound fairly similar, though not as low, as good old Vintersorg (aka Andreas Hedlund). Make sure to listen to the track "I Väntan På Den Absoluta Nollpunkten", as an excellent example. Another distinctive quality of Istapp is the drumming. While fairly conventional, the drummer, Fjalar, maintains a certain, let's say, finesse and agility, throughout all of the songs on _Blekinge_. Here and there you'll hear some synths, though they're not overly relied upon. In terms of riffage, Istapp excel at writing those characteristically fast, Swedish-style black metal riffs, complete with a fair share of buzzing and blazing tremolo-picking; however, Istapp aren't afraid to add some tempo changes in a lot of their songs with some light, restrained chugging (see the titled track, "Blekinge", for an example), or make use of the measured gait of slower, more epic-sounding riffs, such as the main melody on the track oddly titled "-".

In terms of the production, _Blekinge_ sounds modern, only insofar as you can hear pretty much everything clearly: the drum kit sounds cohesive in that the snare, tom-toms, bass-drums and cymbals don't sound too distant or disjointed from one another (cf. black metal albums where the toms are way too loud in comparison to the bass-drums or vice-versa; or those instances, such as Summoning's debut _Lugburz_, where the cymbals are far too loud in the mix). The bass is very clear and audible in the mix, too, giving the album that extra bit of punch, which is pretty atypical of those bands reaching for that '90s nostalgic flare.

Coming round to my conclusion here, Istapp don't really offer anything fans of faster-paced Swedish black metal haven't heard before. To this end, then, I'll judge this album based on its amazing ability to conjure and evoke the coldness, desolation and awe of frozen winter landscapes -- what black metal in its rare purity was supposed to do (well, to me anyways). On another note, I really have to commend Ashuck, the bass-player, for the amazing and atmospheric cover artwork. Although it looks as if it was computer rendered, it really reminds me of monochromatic version of the painting called "Rasletasle" by Theodor Kittelsen, one of my all time favourite artists.


(article published 27/1/2011)

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