Released: 1994, Moonfog Productions
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
Please note: I speak no Scandinavian languages and all the song titles are in Gothic script, so if I misspell something, forgive me.
When I originally bought this album years ago it was before I had a lot of familiarity with black metal, and I knew nothing of Darkthrone, or of Fenriz’s politics or views on race relations, or grisly murders of black metallers or anything like that. A friend described this as “Norwegian drinking songs, metalized.” Many years on that still remains a pretty accurate description of HOSTMORKE, and why, as someone who generally doesn’t listen to a lot of black metal, this album does surface in my CD player every couple of months.
Isengard was a short-lived side project of Fenriz, the bad boy behind Darkthrone, one of black metal’s most classic acts, and a few other collaborators who remain nameless. Blasting to life with “Neslepaks,” which really does sound like a drinking song with heavy, grinding guitars, you know immediately you’re in for an interesting experience. Five of the seven tracks on HOSTMORKE have a very traditional Norse folk sound, while the last two are more standard black metal. Each track is quite unique in its own right and it’s difficult to pick a favorite, but I enjoy the dirgey, drunken-sounding melancholy of “I ei Gran Borti Nordre Usen,” which aside from its rhythm that makes you want to swing your drinking horn of mead to and fro seems kind of aimless, yet is darkly beautiful and compelling. I also like the guitar-driven, beer-swilling lament that is the fifth track, “Over de Syngende Ode Moer.” The two black metal tracks sound fairly standard to me, but I was never a tremendous fan of standard Darkthrone which is closer to what these tracks sound like than the folk-influenced tracks on the front of the album.
Be warned, this is an album made by die-hard black metallers in Norway in the early 1990s, and it sounds like it. The production is so dreadful it sounds like the tracks were called in from Norway on a telephone consisting of two tomato cans and a piece of string. As with the best of those primordial-sounding albums, however, it fits the material. These songs wouldn’t sound right if done up with crystal-clear production. Fenriz obviously knew exactly what he wanted, and he got it. To credit him with a stroke of brilliance I think is not overstating the case.
It’s difficult to explain why I enjoy this album, but I do. It’s definitely very different than anything else in my CD collection, and when I play it for people who are unfamiliar with black metal or folk metal, it’s usually quite surprising. This is a fun departure from the standard metal categories. HOSTMORKE is definitely worth buying, regardless of how well you may like black metal in general.