An entirely DIY effort from these Canadian miscreants, "Ischemic" is the kind of stripped down and seething sludge record that people seldom seek to make anymore. It probably helps that the whole thing absolutely reeks of claustrophobia and a sense of being helplessly hemmed in: the last year in a grim and violent nutshell, basically.
Brutish opener "Scabs" is enjoyable enough; it's a vicious, hulking slab of lurching blackened metal, whipping through several adjacent genres before settling on a barbaric strain of death doom that was only intermittently present on ISCHEMIC's "Stagnation & Woe" debut from two years ago. What follows takes that formula and stretches it to a euphoric breaking point. "Crawl out of Hell" takes excruciating languor as its starting point, allowing for occasional flurries of frenzied black metal blasting, but it's primarily concerned with the bleak, slow burn of doom, as seen through a prism of desperate, lysergic indulgence.
"Illusion of Humanity" is even more harrowing. Thanks in part to the raw and intimate production, it's an 11-minute nightmare made sound, lumbering from one downward spiral of discord to another, like the lobotomized mutant lovechild of MY DYING BRIDE and BURNING WITCH, but somehow even less cheerful. The death metal muscle that underpins this album's heavier parts is obviously one that ISCHEMIC are instinctively drawn to flex, but it's the brittle scree of the frozen north that informs these songs' most affecting, unsettling moments, not least the mad-eyed, wasp-buzz sprint that erupts before "Illusion of Humanity" ends with another giant, steroidal sludge riff.
Reverb drenched and melancholy, a solitary guitar ushers in the 22-minute closing extravaganza of "Scattering Garden". This is where it becomes more than apparent that ISCHEMIC are a bit special, as their cross-pollinated horror show is allowed to freewheel, albeit still at the same crushing, snail's pace. Where most funeral doom bands embellish their misery with shades of melancholy and romance, ISCHEMIC are, musically speaking, on their knees in the gutter and spitting at the stars. Morphing from deathly, syncopated churn to another, even more haunting guitar interlude, "Scattering Garden" then plunges even further into the despondency abyss, vexed melodic patterns raining down across grandiose riffing and a stark but absorbing sense that this is the sound of a band losing their collective minds in the shadowy hell of some airless rehearsal room. Not without precedent, it's still one of the most righteously riveting sounds available. Just don't expect any light relief.