[Review] Iskandr Remembers Their Roots with 'Gelderse Poort' EP

Since 2016, one-man black metal band Iskandr has put out their fair share of heathen hymns and accursed aural nightmares. Their second and breakout record Euprosopon garnered widespread acclaim within the metal community, with an oddly satisfying four tracks totalling 44:44. Now, two years after their breaking of the mold, the mastermind known only as O brings us Gelderse Poort, named for the region where the Rhine enters his native Netherlands by way of Germany. O explains this by saying, "I take this 'gate' as a more symbolic entity, a metaphorical entryway into or exit from one's home – that moment whenever you feel like 'Ah, I'm back again!' or the other way around, 'Damn, I feel very far removed from home right now.'"

The title track is first up, starting with a mid-tempo section with layers of guitars and a methodical drum part. By the two minute mark or so, we get the tried and true blast beats, bringing the force of the Northern light in case you forgot what it felt like. There’s a weight to the guitars and a skull-crushing precision to the rather simple drumming in the verses, punctuated by the switching to blast beats shortly after. Just beyond the seven minute mark, the rest of the band drops out, leaving a somewhat clean guitar to ring out some dread-filled arpeggios and licks, with a lone male voice vocalizing in between riffs. The last couple of minutes see a subtle lead over a new escalating octave riff, sending the track to its conclusion with all of the calculated coldness it came in with.

The second half of the EP is “Het graf,” Dutch for “the grave,” and features narration by O’s father, who reads the poem of the same name penned by Rhijnvis Feith. Opening with an acoustic lick, the instrumentation builds over several minutes, slowly adding in the bass and a clean guitar as the reading begins. My only real complaint is that at times, the guitars, restrained as they may be, overtake the reading of the titular poem, and while I may not know what the narrator is saying, I’d at least like to hear the dictation and delivery regardless. The poem deals in death and existential crises, and the music fits that mood well, building upon itself throughout, with the brief moment of eerie quiet overtaken by furious drumming and a more pronounced musical presence. It’s unsettling taken as a whole, but that jolt from quiet to loud, even as it doesn’t go full-on metal, is one that will stay with you, xylophone be damned.

While the EP only has two tracks, each one spans nearly twelve minutes in length, and the sections within each song range from chaotic to moody, brooding to contemplative, making these epic-length tracks a marathon as opposed to a sprint. Rather than going the warmongering, battle-inspiring route that many black metal fans are accustomed to, Gelderse Poort goes for a breadth of emotional beats, and takes its sweet time in doing so. This isn’t a quick, set it and forget it meal of an EP, no, this is a low and slow, all-day affair that still feels over before it began, and will leave you wanting more after the final notes ring out.

Gelderse Poort will be available on October 23rd via Eisenwald. Pre-order the 12” vinyl via the label’s online store.