Of all the second-wave black metal bands, one that is among the most well-respected, yet infrequently listed by other bands as a direct inspiration (at least when compared to most other prominent second-wave acts), is Enslaved. There’s multiple potential reasons for this, from the band not being as caught-up in the stupidity of the mid-90’s (murder! Arson! Being a massive bigoted dickhead!) and hence being less tabloid-friendly than Mayhem etc., to the way that they’ve constantly shifted their sound across releases. Yet Isgherurd Morth clearly take huge inspiration from Enslaved, with Hellrduk having more than a passing similarity to Enslaved’s output from Isa onwards. That’s not to say that Isgherurd Morth are strictly copying Enslaved, or lack their own personality; rather, it’s that there’s a lot of musical similarities between Hellrduk and Enslaved’s work from the last 17 years.
As you might infer, this means that Hellrduk is an album heavy on prog-rock influences, whilst still possessing a black metal viciousness. The five songs on Hellrduk are complex, weaving beasts, taking left-turns at unexpected points but doing so without losing any of their edge. That’s perhaps the most notable thing about Hellrduk in the context of prog-influenced black metal. A lot of similar records – including those by Enslaved – are more prone to exploring calmer, more introspective textures. That’s not the case here; this is an album where the dominant mood is “attack!”
The mixture of outright violence and prog tendencies does mean Hellrduk can be a difficult album to get a grip on, though. There’s a lot going on here, and it will take several listens to begin appreciating what Isgherurd Morth are doing. The promo materials for the album may talk about it having a blackgaze influence, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it among all the violence and winding twists and turns. The closest is maybe the emotional tone during parts of closer ‘Beliath Todh Grimr’, but even then, the triumphant guitar solo and closing movement have more in common with the life-affirming power of Isa or Ruun that it does Sunbather. This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism, though, just a proper setting of expectations.
Where Hellrduk stands out from its inspirations though is in its atmosphere. This is an album that feels other-worldly, as if witnessed through a haze. It is an album of smoke-shrouded rituals and esoteric lore, tapping into that sense of The Beyond that so much of the best black metal does. It’s in this sense that Hellrduk truly stands out; if you want your black metal to draw you in deeper, both musically and in terms of philosophy, then this will surely appeal to you.
Hellrduk is out via Repose Records on 12th March and can be ordered here.
Words: Stuart Wain