With one of the coolest album titles of the year so far, horror sludge metal outfit ILSA are back with Corpse Fortress. This is the band’s fifth full-length record and their first on Relapse.. It will be released on March 2. Being a fan of the band’s previous work, I was quite enthralled with the lead tracks from Corpse Fortress, each one building my anticipation for the entire record. After spending a week with the album, I’m ready to spill my guts on the whole thing.
The first track is the doom-influenced “Hikikomori.” It’s a slow and thunderous trudge through the mind of the socially withdrawn that makes great use of the space between riffs. The vocals are 100% pure sludge, bringing a real dirt and grime to the track, making me want to shower after every listen. The guitar tone is great here, and the bass has plenty of fuzziness. I would have liked a little more punch from the drums, but they do their job well overall. What’s important with any record like this is that the atmosphere is right, and ILSA nail it in this respect.
“Nasty, Brutish” is up next and this one changes up the pace quite a bit. The main riff here is quite simple, sounding like a thrash riff that’s played at ¼ speed. The groove is fantastic and will no doubt get your head moving and toes tapping. With irony at full tilt, the lyrics and the vocals are angry, bile-drenched verses that spew disdain on the supposed need to live up to expectation. It’s fun. This fun is actually a theme I detected throughout the album: playfulness. Sure it’s horror sludge, but this is all done with a slight nod and knowing twinkle in the eye, so-to-speak. While this isn’t necessary to make this kind of music work, there’s certainly a charm to this, and the band excels at it.
As the record progresses, we get some additional standout songs with massive riffs like “Prosecutor” and the erratic “OId Maid”, with guest vocals from KC Oden. When “Long Lost Friend” begins, there’s a nice shift in tone. With a narrator listing off what many consider ‘sins’, the low riffs start punching in and the vocals begin pleading with Satan for a blessing on the art the singer is creating. This is the point on the album where the horror and creepiness reach their pinnacle. It’s a magnificent moment. ILSA shows that they know how to put together a song that you’ll feel safer listening to in broad daylight.
There are few bands that put together the elements found in Corpse Fortress the way that this band does. With a tone that remains consistent throughout the runtime of the album, ILSA manages to allow what’s special about their brand of music to remain the star. While the more up-tempo tracks break up the pacing a bit, they play a key role in the progression of the record. What I did find is that even though most tracks fall around the five-minute range, some seem to take longer than others to pass. This is only a criticism that’s valid if you are bored of what’s going on. I never was. While not every song is a standout, the album as a whole works together to make one of most sinister sludge records that you’ll get to hear.
Notable Tracks: “Nasty, Brutish”; “Hikikomori”; “Long Lost Friend”
FFO: Iron Monkey, Dragged Into Sunlight, Eyehategod