Other than the keyboard-driven Neptune Towers project, Isengard was the most fascinating side of Fenriz. It was still invested in black metal, with its low-fi production and emphasis of static over tunefulness. Fenriz put a bit of the jovial aspects of folk metal and the majestic trance of Viking metal in with all the black metal elements. Fenriz being the lone musician involved afforded him the chance to proceed without interference from any other band mates or outside producers.
Fenriz handles all the instrumental and vocal work, save for some help on a few parts from members of Dødheimsgard. The scale tips towards his forceful clean vocals that were used on Vinterskugge, Isengard’s debut album. Vinterskugge was mostly a collection of past demos, while Høstmørke was all-new material, and that development makes for some striking cuts. “Neslepaks” and “I Kamp Med Kvitekrist” nail down that stomping groove folk metal does so well, and Fenriz handles it with simplistic music and a proud, confident tone to his Norwegian banter.
Unlike the bloated, hour-long Vinterskugge, Høstmørke lands in at a sharp 32 minutes. The focus is honed in on these seven songs, going from the more traditional black metal format (“Thornspawn Chalice” and “Total Death”) to the experimental (“I Ei Gran Borti Nordre Åsen”). Even after all these years, the album still holds up, save for the obvious production shortcomings that black metal albums from the early-to-mid ‘90s got stuck in.
It could be argued that Fenriz was stretching himself thin with so many albums released in one year. It’s always difficult to be creative for five or six different bands at once. This could be reinforced by him departing or halting the majority of his other projects by the end of 1995 to focus on Darkthrone. At least Høstmørke doesn’t feel forced, save for “Thornspawn Chalice” and “Total Death.” With their uncompromising approach, they appear more like B-sides to previous Darkthrone recording sessions than something 100 percent made for Isengard.
Isengard was disbanded by Fenriz after the release of Høstmørke. The whole Isengard project, along with his ambient project Neptune Towers, was an outlet for Fenriz to be more than a prototypical black metal drummer. Høstmørke will be a surprise to those who only know Fenriz from his work in Darkthrone, but it’s worth digging around for. For providing Fenriz with a place to let his inner folk demon out, Høstmørke gets the nod for this week’s Retro Recommendation.