As odd as it may seem for me to start a review with a comparison, for those with a short attention span I’ll get this out of the way now: ILSA are in many ways like a long lost American cousin of Japanese Neanderthals Coffins. Bar the obvious Winter/Bolt Thrower/Hellhammer influences both wear proudly on their sleeves and a shared sense of pacing, both bands revel in creating a dank and primal take on doomed out death metal. Both also underpin their metallic roar with an almost punk approach – using the simplest of tools to build a formidable haunted house of sound.
Named for the celluloid death vixen at the core of a series of 70s exploitation shockers (what, you haven’t seen “ILSA: She Wolf of the SS”?), these five Americans deal in a more sewer or perhaps dungeon level brand of filth aesthetically than their Eastern counterparts, the kind which is less about making you bang your head than it is just belting you over the head. Repeatedly. With a sledgehammer. That might already have a little bit of blood on it. And maybe even a little bit of wee too. And on this their third album, they have honed that malicious intent into a slightly more streamlined killing machine than previous.
While admittedly not quite as forehead-smashingly savage as the previous, excellent “Tutti Il Colori Del Buio” LP due to what seems like an unnecessary taming of the guitar tone, the sheer weight of this music is still very much evident. Nowhere more so than on the creepy crawling title track. Play it at the right volume and the steamroller riffing of this band at their heaviest will probably crack a rib or two, and when they kick into some double bass drumming under that swampy riffing, it’s an absolute joy to behold. The second half of the song drops the guitars briefly to let the bass guide things even further down the spiral, and by the end we’re at a full on funeral crawl.
Overall it’s still the slower, more pained moments like “The Scream”, or “Man Made Monsters” that do it for me. There’s a knack for deploying haunting lead guitar lines over the primal riffing at times that works beautifully, and adds a memorability instead of just mindless pummel. It’s actually kinda classy, which is not a word you get to use for this kind of music that often, and it’s a trick I think they may have absorbed from recent split-mates Hooded Menace. Unlike that band’s recent work though, it doesn’t get too melodic when they do it. You’ll still feel like you need a wash afterwards.
The more upbeat approach they employ on the likes of “Deadbeat’s Ballad” and “Say You Love Satan” (umm.. hey horror nerds, am I the only person spotting the Jim Van Bebber references here?) is still more downbeat by most bands’ standards, but you don’t come to ILSA for full throttle rocking out. Well, I don’t anyway. These guys have a grip on what they’re doing that many other bands would kill for, and that sense of identity is complimented perfectly by the eye-catching artwork too. Seriously, more tigers on metal records in 2013 please.
I’ve enjoyed ILSA’s music for a while. I suspect from this album I’ll be enjoying it for a long time to come if they can keep to this standard. All that stops this from hitting my end of the year list is the aforementioned overly tame production, which doesn’t really harness the dirt of these songs in the way I’d like. Crank those guitars up into the red next time and let’s get the filthiness to the fore, but for now, this is more than adequate when the need to be flattened by riffs comes over me.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes