There had been many albums that had expressed vileness in quite concentrated doses for about 10 years beforehand, but few had gone to the point of actually manifesting the concept itself the way that GORGOROTH did on their explosive debut “Pentagram”. One could almost regard it as the wickeder black shadow of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, carrying a somewhat similarly crisp production, yet coming off even rawer and darker in spite of its heavily melodic overtones. In many ways it reaches back to pay homage to the first wave, particularly in its barebones approach to riff construction, and yet it also seems to challenge the founders as well in terms of its overall delivery.
Though this band does not take the Epic/Progressive road of ENSLAVED, nor the theatrical and atmospheric character of EMPEROR, they exude the same general vibe of coldness with every passing second. Simplistic Thrash riffs trade with somber tremolo picked melodies, covering over a tight, polished drumbeat like icicles at the mouth of a forest cave. The resulting instrumental backdrop, around which the twisted narratives are to be placed, can be described as both bizarre and beautiful at the same time. How these seemingly contradicting concepts coexist could be described by the analogy of winter itself, the scenery being aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, while the actuality of what is happening in nature a form of mass death and rebirth.
The most auspicious part of this grim whole is found in the vocal performance of Hat. The best way to articulate just what his morose ravings sound like is by a process of elimination, as they are well outside of what is considered standard even within Black Metal at this point and time. It lacks any of the guttural remnants of a former Death Metal style, as typified by DARKTHRONE and BEHERIT. Simultaneously, it differs with the standard sepulchral goblin speak of BATHORY and most other adherents to the 2nd wave who didn’t carry any Death Metal trappings, coming off as an even more twisted and higher end shriek that could be dubbed darkened imp speak. But regardless to what one would call it, it’s something that may dissuade a listener from blasting this at full volume, if said person wishes to keep his hearing intact.
The bands distinctiveness doesn’t end with their eccentric vocalist, but also subsumes their entire approach to song creation. There is no effort to be either Epic or Progressive, but instead a resulting collection of shorter songs that emulate early BATHORY, but with a riff set that is also fairly reminiscent of various Teutonic Thrash bands, most of all SODOM. They also show some occasional inclinations towards a slower Doom style, as a means of sectional contrast, particularly on “Crushing The Scepter” and “(Under) The Pagan Megalith”. The atmosphere around these songs remains uniform throughout, almost akin to the limited dynamic range heard on Baroque era period instruments like the harpsichord, making tempo and additional instrument entries much more vital in varying the sound, something underscored by the twisted sort of blackened gang chorus that concludes the latter of these two songs.
Each and every one of these could be regarded as a classic song in relation to the entire scene of music they represent. Even the very brief “Huldrelokk”, which bears a little bit of similarity to the chaotic speed and harmonic melancholy of IMMORTAL’S “Battles In The North” (which came out a little later), develops a frosty and biting sense of greatness within its short, wordless duration. “Katharinas Bortgang” puts forth a similarly chaotic atmosphere, but plays off it as if a wall of sound and after sufficiently building it up; bursts it like a giant metallic bubble, resulting in a jostling jolt that is further accentuated by the otherwise uniform nature of the production. This blast beat buildup section, which occupies the first minute or so of the song, is immediately followed by what sounds like mostly straight up Thrash Metal if you go by riffs and drum beats. Said song is only outclassed by the album’s closer “Måneskyggens Slave”, which is the closest thing on here to an epic song, has several lead passages which are catchy and idiomatic enough to invoke instant recall, and effectively recreates the experience of fading away through use of guitar effects during its concluding section.
Using words like essential or mandatory just don’t seem to cover what is being missed out on by everyone who hasn’t discovered this band, or the style and scene they represent. It’s not merely one of the best albums of the Norwegian 2nd wave, but one of the best of any album to ever carry the label of Black Metal. It’s a lasting testament to the violent yet ingenious revolution that went on during the year 1994, a year remembered by many as one of the most desolate for the Metal world. To this day I can’t really pick a favorite between this, “In The Nightside Eclipse” and “Vikingligr Veldi”. I guess the 3 of them are sort of like 3 immortal Norse berserkers, fighting each other wildly until the closing third Fimbulvetr of Ragnarok. The difference is that you get this one in less than 30 minutes, with fewer tracks and instruments.
(Online March 25, 2009)