I’ve already mentioned on a couple of occasions what a sucker I am for violin in metal. The same is true for cello. The blame/credit for that goes to the amazing Jackie Perez Gratz, particularly her work with the late, great Giant Squid (a band that I absolutely miss the fuck out of). Seattle’s Isenordal don’t necessarily sound all that much like Giant Squid—their take on doom is much blacker, and their mellower moments tend more towards folk than prog—but they certainly scratch many of the same itches on their debut full-length Shores of Mourning, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of both a cellist and a violinist in their ranks. I have to admit that Isenordal wasn’t even peripherally on my radar before this record arrived in my inbox, but they completely floored me. In some ways, I feel the same way listening to this as I did the first time I heard SubRosa’s No Help for the Mighty Ones (which is still my favorite album of theirs). Shores of Mourning is an absolute monster of a record – it’s complex, it’s nuanced, and it deftly balances the aggressiveness of black metal with more pastoral acoustic passages. It’s also one of those rare albums that’s both immediately engaging and reveals itself slowly over the course of multiple listens.
The album opens with “Shores of Mourning,” which begins with the gentle sound of waves and a melancholy piano line; shortly thereafter an acoustic guitar and drums come in, then the strings and an ethereal female voice singing wordlessly come in, and then finally a black metal rasp joins the mix. It’s a remarkable mix of sounds and textures, and it continues for a good four minutes before finally the first distorted guitar comes in, at which point the song takes a turn toward glacial funeral doom. Later in the song, a mournful violin soars over a blackened double-bass section while a clean female vocal and a harsher male voice play off of each other in a very natural way, and never encroaches on the slightly cheesy ‘beauty and the beast’ style vocals of a band like Draconian. The track eventually runs north of eleven minutes, and you will be rapt the entire time.
The rest of the record engages in similar experiments in texture, and the results are just as enthralling. They pair raspy black metal vocals and acoustic guitars a couple more times to greatly dramatic effect, particularly on the lovely closing track “Cleansing Rites.” The piano returns again on the elegiac “A Gallows Prayer,” which pairs a gorgeous, slow-building intro with some of the most furious black metal riffing on the entire album. “To Tear the Veil of Dreams” might be the record’s most overtly gothic track, but it also has an almost martial quality to it that makes it seem more like a funereal march than a somber procession before taking an unexpectedly triumphant-sounding turn with the atmospheric riff that drives the song’s final third.
From first note to last, this record is fucking breathtaking in terms of its scope, its ambition, and its execution. Here’s hoping they play somewhere close to Indiana, because I really want to see how these songs translate live.