Review: Pia Isa ‘Distorted Chants’

When she isn’t fronting one of Norway’s premier heavy doom bands, Superlynx, Pia Isaksen can be found, busy, working on her own creative ideas. It should come as no surprise that it was only a matter of time before she took some time away from the cult band, and set to work on a solo project, the aptly named Pia Isa.

Pia Isa 'Distorted Chants'

Distorted Chants is the debut as a solo performer, and with the accompaniment of fellow Superlynx member Ole Teigan on drums, Yawning Man’s Gary Arce adds additional guitar on select tracks, while Pia assumes all other duties, including a truly captivating vocal performance throughout. Recorded in early 2021, it’s now finally emerging after it’s slumber, ready to be unleashed on the world.

Over the course of the ten tracks, the recurring theme here is darkness and doom. Each track piles on the pressure, and by the time the album is finished, the sense of impending despair is overwhelming. That being said, this in no way makes for a depressing ride, it’s just so richly drudge-y, that at times you do feel like it could easily just roll over and die completely.

As the album opener, Follow The Sun, sets the scene, heading towards the light is definitely not a course we are set on. A slow drudge-y start escalates with Pia’s swooping vocal, which is somewhat chanted. As it lurches on, the layers of dark monotony pile on, and this slow doom ride never picks up or drops off either. This is the first time I draw a comparison with Windhand. It won’t be the last. The pained, slow, sludge, accompanied with the ethereal vocal makes it easy to draw a parallel.

Statistics really solidifies this feeling, and with the wailing guitar riding over rumbling bass, and a subdued drum section, it’s hard to get away from that Windhand feeling. This isn’t to say it’s a copy, but its definitely in the same ballpark. Obviously, if you like the stylings of Windhand, this will be very good news.

Quiet Beach, which was premiered on these hallowed pages the other week, hints towards a more shoegaze theme, interlaced with a drudge-y soundtrack. It’s dark, but there’s a glimmer of light, courtesy of the singing. By the time track four, Trauma, hits, it’s obvious which way things are going. The dark, dank, despair in the tone really hits home. Again, the dreamy shoegaze vocal, over the doom background, lifts the mood somewhat, but it never gives you a reason to be smiling at the world.

the dreamy shoegaze vocal, over the doom background, lifts the mood somewhat, but it never gives you a reason to be smiling at the world…

Track six, A Hopeful Reminder, actually breaks from the formula, and introduces another sound into the mix, which elevates it beyond everything up to this point. It’s a shame this doesn’t last a bit longer, and as it’s the shortest track on the album, it’s over as soon as it’s begun. Hopefully something to build on for the future perhaps?

No Straight Line really brings into play some other external elements, and this track really stands out for me. As much as I love my doom and sludge music, there are times when it all becomes a little too samey, so shaking it up really reignites my experience, and here is one of those times. This isn’t to say that by comparison, everything else isn’t as good, just that the highs and lows on this track really do set it apart from the remainder of the album.

By the time the penultimate track, Every Tree kicks in, I can see the recurring theme. If you wanted a real ‘up’ feeling experience, then you aren’t getting it here, this is literally death march music for the soon departed. I find it’s the heaviest and darkest track on the whole album, and with it’s slow lurching drum, and low fuzzy guitar, it crawls its way through the quagmire. It’s Pia’s vocal which pulls the track along, and this is the track where there are times when it feels like it is just about to roll over and give up on life.

Velvet Dreams, the album closer, starts in a more understated way, and could easily have been lifted from the soundtrack of some apocalyptic western movie. This time there is an absence of vocal, and so the instrumentation does the talking. It’s probably the most subdued track on the album and is equal parts dark and interesting. By the time it’s done, I feel like I’ve had some sort of darkly cathartic experience, the likes of which is a pretty new experience to me.

If dark a moody doom, coupled with some ethereal shoegaze goodness sounds like a bit of you, then I can assure you that Distorted Chants by Pia Isa will hit all the right spots for sure. It’s not an easy listen, but it is a compelling one. Enter at your own risk, and carry a torch, because this one gets real dark.

Label: Argonauta Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Lee Beamish