Sistere: an epic debut of fusion post-rock / doom / sludge metal

Izah, Sistere, Sweden, Nordvis Produktion, digipak CD NVP028 (2015)

For a debut album, “Sistere” is a whopper at 72 minutes with the title track alone clocking in at 31 minutes. You’d expect Izah to have plenty to say to keep you all interested and for the most part they keep you busy and tuned in with their mix of dark urban blues ambient, sludge metal, hardcore and post-rock. Combined with a range of moods, mostly in the dark brooding end of the emotional spectrum which could spill into sudden anger and violence, this particular musical fusion makes for a recording of quite complicated soundscapes.

Opening track “Indefinite Instinct” is a gentle introduction into “Sistere” with post-rock melodies that steadily descend into a heavier, more monstrous sludge metal demon complete with distorted shouting voices and effects suggestive of mental and emotional fragmentation and breakdown. This leads into the aggressive death metal of “Duality” delving into passages of deep cavernous atmosphere and jangling guitars, or field recordings of multi-voiced speeches, and eventually turns into an epic post-rock sludge drama of despair and heartbreak. Yet threaded through this song is a tiny sliver of hope and light which keeps the whole track together and focused. “Finite Horizon” follows in a similar vein as the two preceding tracks: mixing melodic post-rock, hardcore and hard-driving, grinding sludge with clean vocals and spoken voice recordings into another anthem of giant proportions. While the music itself is very impressive as it builds towards its climax, the clean-toned choirboy-like singing is rather weak and its style is embarrassingly reminiscent of old 1970s hard rock US bands like Kansas and Styx. If there’s a song in the first half of the album that needs pruning, “Finite Horizon” most needs the secateurs.

At this point, most bands might consider that 41 minutes of music would be more than enough to introduce them to new audiences but Izah cruise ahead with a fourth song that’s three-quarters as long as the rest of the album.  The title piece is a melange of sorrowful post-rock, black metal, anguished rasping vocal, brooding atmospheres, spoken voice and other field recordings, epic doom rock, screechy noise and symphonic rock all united by a pessimistic vision and a relentless trudge towards what must be an apocalyptic climax. It could have been a long rambling mess but the song is very focused and concentrated and that along with the steady pace keeps it united if loose. There’s still scope to reduce some of the length of the song especially in the last five minutes without affecting its integrity.

While the album is long and has passages of heavy grinding music, it’s not exhausting and it’s less of an endurance test than would be expected for epic doom / sludge / post-rock fusion music. Izah do have some pop sensibility and know what will appeal and how much to dole out. The album easily lends itself to separate hearings – you could treat tracks 1 to 3 as a unit separate from the title track if you wish or if you feel brave, hear everything in one go. “Sistere” (the album) is actually consistent musically all the way through even though the temptation to range far and wide and eccentrically with the style and songs Izah have must have been strong. The result is an album that is well balanced between single-minded direction and experimentation that goes far enough without falling over completely into messy self-indulgence.