Review Summary: An acquired taste to be sure, and much like black metal as a whole, this alienating release is intoxicating for seemingly all the wrong reasons. A treat for those inclined.
Striborg may be among the most misunderstood of today's underground black metal projects. With a sound that mixes sloppy, off-time drumming, paper thin buzzsaw guitars, and vocals that sound like Satyr doing his best Donald Duck impression, it's not difficult to ascertain why. As an added barrier, sole member Sin Nanna obscures the production in a 'necro' aesthetic that can at times make Transilvanian Hunger sound like a high fidelity recording. Combined, Embittered Darkness and Isle de Morts comprise a range of disparate elements, the former being Striborg's fifth proper LP and the latter a '97 demo serving primarily as an added 'bonus.'
Beginning with "Protagonist of Misanthropic Virtues" (a repetitive acoustic riff that is gradually smothered by stark, simplistic synth keys), Embittered Darkness opens in way reminiscent of a dream as portrayed by a cult horror flick from the 1970's, leading to the album's first formal black metal number, "Wrapped in a Cocoon out of Harms Way." Here, white-noise-injected tremolo riffing gives way almost immediately to Sin Nanna's distinctively off-kilter shriek. The effect is distinctive enough to leave a lasting impression, and gracefully borders on realms both surreal and comical. Meanwhile, the drumming eschews traditional blast-beats in favor of irregular, lumbering strikes with the odd triplet-happy fill thrown in for good measure. Say what you will about Sin Nanna's technical limitations, the man demonstrates a keen aptitude for rhythmic structures that perfectly compliment the endless, droning fields of guitar noise.
The rest of Embittered Darkness follows suit, with two more instrumentals followed by two final 'epic' black metal dirges. The riffs become distinctive after multiple listens, and reveal that not only are the tracks compositionally sound, but most importantly offer a singular atmosphere that is uncommonly ethereal. Whereas most ambient black metal (this style's closest relative) may conjure images of pagan rites or black spruce forests, Embittered Darkness offers an experience usually reserved for the subconscious mind, despite the unassuming cover art. It's black metal meets Eraserhead.
Isle de Morts
After the last hazy notes of Embittered Darkness fizzle from existence, the added demo, Isle de Morts begins with what is simply titled "Intro." Even after the heady production of the previous tracks, the stripped-down, unpolished sound of the remaining tracks may make you appreciate the calculated, intentional distortion from before. Here, the barely audible guitars occasionally produce a memorable riff or two, but they are sadly overshadowed by the vocals which hover over the entire mix, drowning them out mercilessly, and crippling listeners' enjoyment. As this is merely a demo (a Darkthrone-worshipping one at that), it's certainly forgivable, but it does not belong on the same disc as its more mature, aesthetically cogent sibling. Still, it should serve as a curiosity for fans (all two of you!), and is at the very least an ode to Sin Nanna's musical progression.
Jaded black metal fans in search of something decidedly quirky may find a revelatory listening experience in Striborg, and Embittered Darkness is a strong starting point. At just under forty minutes, the LP ends before it can become truly redundant, and offers a dreamlike miasma that is distinctive within the black metal pantheon. It's not for everyone, but Embittered Darkness deserves attention for its unique delivery. In this light, it's really no wonder why fellow experimenters Sunn O))) added Striborg to their label, and dedicated a track to artist Sin Nanna in Black One. That being said, approach with caution, and an open mind.