Haeresis Noviomagi Pt 3: Iskandr – Euprosopon & Gelderse Poort
We weren’t quite done yet!
I’ve already taken a look at two releases from the Haeresis Noviomagi circle ealrier this year, Turia and Fluisteraars. Since then, a third project of theirs has dropped a new EP, and since I haven’t talked about Iskandr on here at all (and also because the EP didn’t give me a whole lot to work with), I took the opportunity to catch up on their 2018 album, as well.
The monochromatic cover art of Euprosopon is a good indicator of what awaits inside. After a slowly building intro part, opener “Vlakte” soon shifts into the mode that this album is most comfortable with: blast beats and repetitive riffs. Indeed, the music feels like a continuation of what first attracted me to Turia’s Dor and Dede Kondre (on which Iskandr’s sole member also played), and which I haven’t heard replicated in their sound in quite the same way since. The often minimalist undercarriage of the music effectively pulls the listener into a sort of meditative trance, creating a blank canvas onto which the finer details of the songwriting sprinkle just enough colour to save the result from simply fading into the background.
One of those details is the moaning, choir-like clean vocals that occur frequently. Evoking images either of rituals being performed by hooded men in circles or ghosts crying out in anguish, they can add to the trance-like effect on the one hand and the desolate atmosphere of the music on the other. Or, simply put, they add some nice vocal variation.
Repetition may be at the heart of the music, but this core is often dotted with accents in the form of notably catchy riffs and some variation in the drums that stand out from the drab tapestry. The section at 1:40 in “Regnum” [damn near killed ‘im! ~Roldy] is one of many examples of this. Furthermore, Iskandr surrounds the songs with plenty of garnish, creating intros and outros that add more colour by bringing in acoustic guitars, percussion, and other instruments (most consistently so on closer “Heriwald”), and also serve to link the songs together. The album just feels incredibly well put together, with a lot of thought given to details that successfully elevate what may initially come off as a “simple” style of black metal. I’m certainly glad I’ve taken time off from 2020 releases to explore this.
Coming back to the current year, we have Iskandr’s latest EP, Gelderse Poort, which consists of two lengthy tracks. Only the first of them has anything to do with the style we’ve heard on the album, and I can’t help but feel that it’s an altogether scaled back version of what I described above. The clean choral vocals are sadly used more subtly and sparsely; vocal variation comes instead more from occasional distant wails and some parts where multiple vocal tracks overlap. Musically, a lot less is done to break up the monotony, as well. The track sticks to a doom tempo for a lot of its running time, and the riffing is less versatile, relying far more on its repetitive qualities. A bridge part and a nice lead in the final part of the song are the only things breaking up the formula, but neither does much to give the monolithic track a memorable face, and I find myself struggling to keep paying attention.
Second track “Het Graf” goes off into entirely different territory. Sparse acoustic guitar and some subtle piano accompany a reading of the eponymous 18th-century poem from Dutch writer Rhijnvis Feith. Hunting this poem down to confirm that it’s the source material was probably the most fun I’ve had with this song; since I don’t speak Dutch, I get precious little out of the text, and the musical accompaniment in itself is nice but not particularly interesting. Things perk up for a couple of minutes later on when drums and a xylophone (?) come in and the still acoustic guitar strums more vigorously. This was certainly a surprise and sounds rather grand, but the song as a whole remains a rather forgettable experiment to me.
Bottom line: definitely check out Euprosopon if you’re into drab black metal that makes the most out of a minimal palette, but Gelderse Poort is entirely optional unless you understand the language (or really enjoy the sound of it, I guess).
Both releases are available via Eisenwald.