Isildurs Bane – MIND Vol. 1 (1997)
When I first heard this group live as a kid, I had never heard anything like it, and to this day I haven’t heard anything that comes close. At first, the album seemed to be filled with endless melodies and sections, and even now that I know almost every part, I still discover new details. The simplest way to describe the music would probably be symphony rock, but it has so many elements to it that it would not be fair to categorise it like that.
The album starts off with the first epic, beginning with an ambient intro, then transitioning to a weird rhythmic 5/8 vamp with violin, flute, ring modulated synths, and a fretless bass hinting the theme. At 2.30 the theme is played in its full by electric guitar and marimba. This theme reoccurs in the middle and towards the end, along with many other recurring themes, so the whole piece could almost be described as a sonata form. Even the melody from the intro returns in the middle. The main instruments are electric guitar, electric violin, trombone and flute; the latter being used almost as a percussion instrument at times. The whole thing concludes unexpectedly with a mighty guitar solo over a hammond organ theme only heard briefly before.
After this whirlwind, it’s nice to relax your ears a bit with #2, a short acoustic chamber music piece with some bluesy acoustic guitar. It transitions to #3 which is a smaller epic, starting with a DX piano pattern with fretless bass fills, before the piano and violin join the pattern, and then moving on to a mystical guitar solo over hammond organ pads building up to a crescendo. #4 is another small epic that takes us on a flight; you can almost see the clouds passing by in the first theme, played by guitar and flute over a half tempo percussion groove, before moving into a bluesy section with flute and guitar solos. The theme reoccurs in a crescendo towards the end before we’re going in for landing. #5 is another short one with an ambient feel, building on a piano pattern played in three different keys before going back to the initial one. The melody is first played by a violin and chromatic percussion, then together with a cello in a tight canon.
#6, the second epic, starts off slowly, then builds up a little bit and goes into a percussion jam. For the next bit, they’ve brought in a small chamber orchestra with brass, woodwinds, strings and grand piano, together with a half tempo drum beat and heavy bass and guitar. It calms down for a little bit, then moves into a section with symphony rock madness, building on themes from both this track and #1. Different themes interrupt each other in an almost comical way, until the direction suddenly changes with a distorted guitar solo over a heavy rock beat, altered with some percussion breaks. Themes from the beginning come back in reversed order, and the piece ends softly as it started.
#7 is the album’s ambient track, and probably the strangest one, building on recital of the moves of a chess game. The composition includes parts of chamber music pieces that reoccur on MIND Vol. 2; these combined with ambient and free jazz elements sound almost like a horror movie soundtrack. The drums are almost omitted, except for an electronic beat in the middle, with a wah-wah guitar solo over wordless choir and a bass line with trombone. Towards the end, the chess game escalates into a hard rock climax with octave pitched guitar and heavy drums, where you can also hear a theme from #1 on violin if you listen carefully. The chess players eventually resign, and the piece ends in a mystical mood.
The album concludes with the shortest cut; an emotional piece with both chamber music and ambient elements, and guitar solo and a percussion groove entering after a while. Again, it’s nice to relax your ears a bit after the epics #6 and #7, even if the album ends on a rather sad note. I don’t think Isildurs Bane ever made another album like this, and I haven’t found any other groups sounding like this either.