It’s 1995 and every Friday night three close teenage friends gather in a typical suburban basement.  Each bring a homespun costume representing their character.  Old drapes for a cape, modified used cowboy boots, metal pans from Goodwill re-worked into armor, and sharp, real weapons bought from the big flee market last summer.  The two 30 year old, warm orange hanging lamps are turned on, and several candles placed about the area are lit.  One sets up the game map and the boys start organizing their notes and accessories of play. A horde of snacks wait unloaded on the giant wooden spool turned table. The dad even snuck the group a six-pack of Non-alcoholic beer to spice up the long night of enchantments, and strategic magical offensives.  Another perfect summer evening spent beneath reality in the Forgotten Realms.

That is precisely the scenario I imagined within minutes of my initial listen of introductory track “Potencee d’Or”.  The effect of Initiatio’s reality warping vapors was so strong that I instantly longed for this obsessive hobby of fantasy roll-play gaming and a group of like-minded friends that never existed.  Ysengrin is a project that explores the mystical, opium dens of an ancient time on an Earth not quite our own. Using black, occult metal to power the gate between them.  Very much the singular vision and most of the instrumentation, of one Guido Saint Roch.  In the course of the past twelve years, Guido has prepared more albums and releases than I expected existed.  Comprising four full-length albums and half-dozen splits with Sartegos, Stargazer, and others.  I had seen the name around but just didn’t pay much attention before a few weeks ago when the album’s cover demanded my attention; a lone cloaked figure, among ruins surrounded by mountain peaks, conjuring some evocative energy.  It looks like a painting torn right out of a tabletop game guidebook.

The overall production in fact sounds like instruments are reflecting off of the thinly coated, 18” deep fieldstone walls of a suburban basement, forming a very distinct, open room, shallow, reverb tuned to a frequency that functionally lowers the veil between our world and another. That other world being a 90’s cd-rom fantasy role-playing game.  The cover art may scream, “I am a great wizard and the realm is in dire trouble, follow me young apprentice into peril and mythical adventure”.  Which sounds exhaustingly saturated in gimmick.  Perhaps of something that has a few too many long passages of flute and hand drum, but it is in no way a cousin to hyper self-aware novelty like Alestorm.  Nor is it the stuffy, Oxford University English graduate fantasy metal of Caladan Brood.  No, musically it’s in in the same magic school with the likes of Mortuary Drape, Negative Plane, and Howls Of Ebb.  If largely in spirit.  The band’s self-proclaimed ‘hermetic’ occult metal is played with a sincerity that creates an engrossing, world building experience that has it’s own unique laws of physics pulling the listener out of ones existence for forty three minutes and eleven seconds. I liken it to the same effect that Dark Crystal had the first time I saw it as a child.  The type of art that can’t help but jump start the imagination of the experiencer.

A singular example that amplifies the bands save-the-realm vibe is track 5, “Ode a l’Escarboucle”.  The fuzzy, open, warm throb of the bass sound is enough to stoke memory of the low budget, yet whip smart and visually gauzy haze of cult classic film Time Bandits. According to an interview of Guido conducted by Bardo Mythology, since after the Sartegos split bass alone has become the main stringed instrument.  The riff of this song opens with an eerie caution.  The beginning of the song is entirely reminiscent of the Twin Peaks theme in vibe. Alternating between a fuzz + chorus effected riff and a golden warm, open, moody throb before reaching 2:30 where the sound transition to what you hear across most of the album: straight up classic European heavy metal riffing.  A steady whole note, no frills chugging and righteous guitar lead guides the players to keep you on the predestined path.  The vocals are a lower register, phlegmy, blackened cave growl.  Occasionally a higher rasp comes in for back up.  Hovering, ghoulish keys often appear like the apparitions of elders always monitoring from beyond.  The drums are open and natural.  The snare ring echoes off a nearby waterfall.  Tom fills sound like tumbling rocks down an embankment leading to the pool below.  Elsewhere the music actually breaks into a quick, more recognizably black metal clip signaling that perhaps the tabletop adventure our gang is on may not merely be an extension of their imagination.  Each part and chosen instrument is made with purpose like the long form strategy of RPG gaming. The song arrangements very much feel like they are written to match the moment to moment of an album length narrative arch.

There is so much to love about this Ysengrin record.  I believe the project has achieved a peak in writing and execution that is strong enough to create it’s own alternate dimension with which it alone exists.  The impressive part isn’t the 3D rendered hi-def graphics and non-stop action.  Like most successful and heralded works of creativity it’s the characters, attention to detail, and perfect ratio of a seemingly massive world to explore to the forever unknowable.  Hit start, or if you’re willing to pay exorbitant international shipping on vinyl, drop the needle.  Next thing you know it’s 6am, Initiatio has played 18 times over, and you’re about to battle a daemonmeister on a castle tower overlooking a purple magma lake. You thought you were wielding a powerful black magic bone keytar, standing before a gleaming fortress of blue obsidian glass.  However, it’s just your old food crumb jammed gaming keyboard and a blinding 32” flat screen monitor.  Initiatio has a hold on you.08/25/2020

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Mars Budziszewski
September 22nd, 2020


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