ILSA “One Corpse At A Time” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

East Coast sludge/death band Ilsa have been treading a steady path of increasing destruction for over 10 years now. They are not on some superstar rush to become big and then burn out into nothingness, but instead they increase their assault one step at a time, without compromising their horror-soaked odes of brutality They remain essentially dark and primitive and about as technical as a chainsaw to the gullet.

Their latest step is making the big move to underground behemoth label Relapse, which will put them in a lot more ears. Their first release for them is “Corpse Fortress”, a title that leaves nothing to the imagination as far as what they plan to achieve. It was my fearful pleasure to speak to band member JOSHY (who also has an hand in their minimalist but effective cover art) recently and he divulged more of Ilsa’s plans of conquest…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings to ILSA! Being that “Corpse Fortress” is your first work for Relapse, what was your mindset going into recording the album?

JOSHY: It’s safe to say we've always held the same loose understanding to try and create a cohesive record that unfolds for the listener but wherein each track holds its own. The ongoing desire to write simple, heavy songs that leave an impression. 

WC:  It seems Ilsa is a band that is “anti-progressive”…that is, you are working at being more “nasty and brutish” instead of refining the sound. Is that correct or do I have it wrong?

J: Yes, but not through some dogmatic orthodoxy. We are nothing if not naturalists in our approach. 

WC: Is there a certain point where you kind of reach the end of being raw and primitive and you have to tweak the formula a bit? Or can you ride things all the way into the total abyss?

J: You can only draw from the same bag of tricks so long, but I guess in ten years we've managed to avoid dwelling too long on the moment. 

WC:  You do have some female vocals on “Old Maid”. How did this come about and is it something you will continue in the future?

J:The dual vocals were a nod to the great crust bands, and fit the song perfectly. KC is an old friend from DC who has sung in a couple bands but currently lays down bass in Homosuperior. She's also a great filmmaker, best known for her documentary "From the Back of the Room". I could see it continuing, she has been performing the song live with us and it’s been a lot of fun. 

WC:  Horror is a big part of Ilsa’s appeal. What are some of your big influences when it comes to horror? Are they strictly from film or do they come from literature as well?

J: We love everything from pulp horror paperbacks like Brian Keene to crime novels like DC's own George Pelecanos. Thinkers from Foucault to Bakunin. Art movements like Vienna Actionism, and the writings of the Decadent poets. I know that personally, even as an adult, I continue to be drawn to the dark, but most horror movies these days are garbage. Luckily there’s a lot of "new old stock" of films that were never (or barely) released on vhs or dvd, that are much more easily viewable. 

WC: What’s the writing process like for the band? Is it a collaboration or is there one “general” that calls the shots?

J: It’s always been collaborative, but we make a lot of practice tracks to listen to and work from. I live away from the band in New York, so I get sent riffs or parts of songs to build from. As the main lyricist, I write independent of the music and then see what works with the spirit of the piece. 

WC: Has there ever been consideration of adding sounds like eerie church organ or synth to add another layer of sound to your music?

J: We did, on a bonus track for the album, "Nitrogen Narcosis". Joshy and Brendan are in another band, Dagger Moon, with a full-fledged synth player. We're open to whatever feels right, and I know there’s been talk of expanding our scope, so we'll see! 

WC:  I looked up information of “Polly Vaughn” and found out it was an Irish folk song. What led to you choosing to use this and are the lyrics directly taken from the old song?

J: Yes, we've used lyrics of old ballads on all our records, starting with "Barby Allen". They all have a feeling of relevance and modernity still that is rewarding to adapt to our own grim means. 

WC:  What is “Hikikokomori”? Does it refer to the “corpse fortress” of the title?

J: Hikikomori, to my understanding, is a Japanese mental health phenomenon where individuals voluntarily confine themselves to rooms, sometimes refusing to emerge for years at a time. The idea of a hermitage in the midst of millions of people is interesting to me as an illustration of the alienation so many feel. I learned about the issue from a South Korean horror movie called "APT". 

WC: Another song that intrigues me is “Ruckenfigur”. What is this one about and what does that title refer to?

J: You've seen Ruckenfigur used in hundreds of death metal album covers. Its the little silhouette of a person against a grand landscape. The painter Caspar David Friedrich was its originator, but I learned the term through the work of Glenn Ligon, who has a great neon piece that shares the title. The song is about a lot of things, but overall, misinterpretation or misreading. 

WC: That song and “Old Maid” have an awesome groove to them that reminds me of the Japanese band Coffins. Is Coffins a band you draw some influence from?

J: Yes, we see ourselves on a similar path. We were lucky enough to play some shows together, which lead to our split on Relapse. The first I ever heard of Coffins was their incredible EP with Otesanek, which was the heaviest thing I'd laid ears on up to that point. It still is! 

WC: What other bands and projects are you guys involved in, if any?

J: Aside from Dagger Moon, ILSA is the sole focus. 

WC: What touring plans do you have for “Corpse Fortress”?

J: We do not really tour, but in November we have a little run planned for the West Coast. I know we are all dying to travel more, we're just old and poor.

WC: What show stands out as your most memorable or favorite?

J: Too many to list! We played a great barn show in rural Maryland one Halloween, followed by a Wickerman-type bonfire that will always stand out. Definitely some great Corpse Fortress shows, maybe the last, where I got arrested at the end of the night!

WC: If you could ask any 3 people from history to dinner, who would they be? 

J: Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman

WC: What was the last release you picked up just because you wanted to hear it?

J: Saw Throat- Inde$troy. Picked this up at a record store in my neighborhood and was not disappointed. Its much slower and heavier than they are known for, but full of atmosphere and edge.  

WC:   Has there ever been a “Spinal Tap” incident in Ilsa’s history that you could share with us?

J: Hmm, well we just added a third guitar player.. 

WC: Any last words or messages?

J: Hail Satan, do crimes!