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Striborg - Embittered Darkness / Isle De Morts

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Artist: Striborg

Album: Embittered Darkness / Isle De Morts

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Aug. 6, 2006

Here is a real Tasmanian Devil. Not the Warner Bros. goofball seen tattooed on the calves and shoulder blades of the odd Pittsburgh suburbanite. Nor even the carnivorous marsupial with the strongest bite of any living mammal, known to devour up to an equivalent of 40 percent of its own body weight in carrion when given the opportunity (thanks, Wikipedia). The malevolence perpetrated on record by Australia's Sin Nanna under his Striborg project hints at something far, far murkier and atavistic than the early '90s black metal with which it seems to have a direct bloodline.

Sin Nanna (whose grease-painted countenance, incidentally, resembles Klaus Nomi more than any member of Immortal) has earned the praise of experimental guitarist Oren Ambarchi, as well as been the inspiration for a "tune" on Sunn 0)))'s Black One. That Southern Lord records has stepped up to release his latest album, paired with 1997's Isle De Morts, is fitting considering the label's somewhat recent focus on "true" black metal in addition to its meat and potatoes of sludge/doom.

If Darkthrone's seminally non-produced "Transilvanian Hunger" is your bag, then Striborg will definitely be your shroud. Embittered Darkness's introductory track, "Protagonist of Misanthropic Virtues" and "In the Eerie Pre-Dawn Silence of the Cold" ebb with repetitive figures played through dated synth patches. Get used to the subtle presence of tape hiss, which more or less accompanies the whole of the record. “Wrapped in a Cocoon Out of Harm’s Way” begins the assault with nearly free-form drumming, and a meandering, atonal guitar riff. There’s nothing recognizable as a bass guitar on this or any other track, either. The low-end throb that does bob up through the roiling brew now and then sounds more to be the result of equalization of the sprawling harmonic mess of a guitar tone, hanging like a depressive grey pall. When Sin does break out the acoustic guitar, as on "Race of Apathy," its terribly out-of-tune broken chords present anything but a calming interlude. Throughout, Sin's voice is a choke, a gag, and a crowbar being dragged on concrete, filtered through a Radio Shack reverb unit. He's at his sickroom-sounding best on the title track, in which a hive full of vertiginous, fuzzed-out guitar riffs seem to drag the drums straight downward into the muck, stumbling and kicking all the way.

Much of Isle De Morts sounds nearly indistinguishable from track to track, often as if it had been improvised as the tape rolled. Thankfully, it's just sustainability that counts here, best exemplified by the static jet-engine roar of the record's several closing tracks. Sin's clattering drums are recorded with even more of an ear toward practice-room dryness, and at unbelievable tempos (imagine Weasel Walter and the drummer from Marduk tumbling, kits and all, down the stairs of the Sears Tower). Sin's guitar amplifier is again tuned between stations, at times making it a struggle for the listener to determine any tonality outright (how's that for "interactive listening"?). And, we hear Sin's pure laryngeal decay at an early, less-advanced stage on "Through the Veils of Darkness" and "Descending from the Blackened Sky," wherein his fragmented croak is mixed at a level uncomfortably above the instruments.

While other metal acts on the "scene" these days are concerned with quasi-athletic concepts of power, heaviness, speed and precision, Sin Nanna trudges in the unwashed fringes, head hung downward balefully, in seeming defeat. But it's this unwavering approach to working creatively within self-imposed limitations that sets him apart. May he trudge long and well outside of the earshot of generation Ozzfest.

By Adam MacGregor

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