Horror Films, Devil Worship and Riffs: The Infernal Death-Doom of Ilsa

It’s a testament to the way metal works that bands are given time to progress, as opposed to artists from the more mainstream end of the spectrum, who may be thrust into the limelight only to fade into obscurity after listeners get bored of their first few singles. DC’s Ilsa have been churning out a particularly stifling strain of sludge-laden death-doom for a decade, their weighty riffs spanning four (now five) LPs and splits with the likes of CoffinsHooded Menace and Seven Sisters Of Sleep. As recognition of the fantastic, blood-splattered extreme metal the band has been concocting in that time, this year’s Corpse Fortress, the band’s fifth full-length effort, was the first to be released by Relapse Records, a move that saw their music accepted by a larger audience.

As metal continues to spiral off into various experimental subsets, Ilsa favour a more direct approach, avoiding any lofty atmospherics in favour of a murky offering of death-doom that foregoes the latter genre’s proclivity for mechanical, repetitive rhythms and instead champions a particularly grimy approach. Their sound reconjures the pestilent racket of Autopsy, Bolt Thrower and Asphyx, but diverts it by way of crust punk in the vein of Antisect and Anti Cimex before dragging it into the tar-drenched realms of Eyehategod. As unique styles go, Ilsa’s isn’t afraid to pay homage to its precursors, but not without chucking them in a blender to emerge with a style that takes the most cursed elements of each and seamlessly merges them.

The guitars are warm but rotten, the low-end is pure tar-drenched filth and the vocals are strained, as if frontman Orion were coughing up blood with each infernal shriek; you couldn’t want for a more perfect encapsulation of the band’s thematic inspirations, which range from horror films to devil worship. Eager to find out more, Astral Noize’s latest interview saw us chat to Ilsa drummer Joshy about Relapse, horror films, innovation in music, and more.

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As your first LP on Relapse Records, does Corpse Fortress mark the beginning of a new era for Ilsa?

As a band that plays “extreme” music (for lack of a better term) we have no illusions that we are going to become a household name or become famous in any way, but hopefully being on Relapse will get our records into the hands of some people who otherwise would never have heard of us, and open some doors as far as touring goes. Mainly we like being on Relapse because they have the means and the willingness to let us basically do what we want artistically.

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You’ve always taken thematic inspiration from horror films, were there any particular ones that inspired the writing for Corpse Fortress?

There are different movies that will give different types of inspiration. For a hopeless, desperate feeling I’ll watch Threads or The Plague Dogs. For sleaze and depravity, I’ll watch Vampiros Lesbos or something like Alucarda. For sheer gore, I’ll watch Inside or Martyrs. For weird surreal trip-outs, I’ll watch Holy Mountain or Jacob’s Ladder. Other movies I’ve watched lately that I think helped inspire music would be Baskin, It Follows, Inside, Martyrs.

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What other themes can be found amongst the album’s lyrics?

The usual: Satan, death, pain, horror, sleaze, demonology, pornography, drugs, body odour, breakin’ the rules, impiety, contempt.

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Despite a retro tone that calls to mind the likes of Asphyx, your sound has a distinct style that blends death/doom with elements of sludge and crust punk. When entering the writing process, do you set out to create music that sounds new?

I don’t know if our music sounds new, but the whole point to me of being in a band is to write music that I’d like to listen to but can’t find anywhere else. While we tend to wear our influences on our sleeve, hopefully they are diffused through our warped lens enough that we have created our own thing.

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How do you think your sound has progressed since The Felon’s Claw?

I’ve been concentrating more on song arrangement. I’ve been studying the works of Jim Steinman a lot, I think he’s a genius and a real inspiration for my writing. I hate to say that I tried to make our music more accessible because we’re anything but that, but there are certain ways songs can be arranged that are more natural for the human brain to digest. I’ve tried to use that a little more than before.

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You’ve previously been referred to as an anti-fascist band, is there a political angle to any of your lyrics?

Our lyrics and imagery are fairly apolitical. We like to concentrate more on the themes listed above. That being said, there are members of our band that are directly and negatively affected by the tenets of fascism, and therefore we fight it when we encounter it.

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In light of the recent Taake news, how important do you think it is that metal bands stand up against the genre’s fascist fringes?

I don’t know much about Taake, I never listened to them. I think everyone has to make their own choice about how to handle things that they don’t agree with. I will say that Ilsa will never knowingly work with bands or organisations that have fascist connections.

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What can we expect from Ilsa in the future?

We’ll keep doing our thing, Ilsa as an entity doesn’t tend to change much. I want to do more touring, mostly. We’re in the middle of planning some shows for the West Coast of the United States, and a couple fests. We’d really like to try to get to Europe soon, we’ll see how that goes. Other than that, we’ll keep writing music, and collecting amplifiers!

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Corpse Fortress is out now on Relapse Records. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

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