Gehenna


Black Seared Heart
(Holycaust Records - 1993/1997)
A compilation of their (rare) cassette demo and various other early raw/rehearsal tracks that were never released (except as re-recorded extras). The demo is also included in the re-release of their First Spell EP, so I suppose this demo isn't so rare anymore. In any case, the sound is surprisingly clear. For such a short album there are three intros and outros, which is two too many, and the rehearsal tracks are very rough and muddy, so it's a grab-bag of tracks overall. The four proper compositions present prototypical Gehenna in its simplest rawest form, and they are not without their grim charm. It's mid-paced to slow black metal, grimly melodic, with the uniquely primal sound of Gehenna: Primitive melodies, almost ritualistic, simple drums, buzzing guitars, rarely-used keyboards, and deliciously guttural thick rasps as vocals. It's not quite early Burzum or Satyricon or Bathory even though it brings them to mind, and has a more primal relatively warm sound than the usual Norwegian black metal.
First Spell (EP)
(Head Not Found - 1994)
A debut EP, and also re-released with the demo (see above) to complement its short running time. This is one of those albums where they seem to have just discovered the power of synth keyboards but haven't yet mastered their use, over-using various orchestral, atmospheric and church-organ sounds, playing with eager sloppiness, and mixing it too loud into the music. I'd much rather hear Gehenna's unique vocals which shift from strong guttural rasps to beastly growls. Otherwise, this is a similar mid-to-slow tempo melodic black metal as with the demo, with its primitive edge, though it is very rough around the edges, and a bit sloppy, and sometimes it's so slow you can't help but imagine it being played by other bands at twice the speed. It's like a doom version of low-fi black metal. Then again, think Bathory. There are some nice touches, twanging wailing guitars that somehow sound medieval amidst the grimness, some good use of keyboards, and grim, nearly-ritualistic in their repetition, darkly melodic tunes on somber guitars. But this is just a warm-up. It hasn't matured yet.
Seen Through the Veils of Darkness (The Second Spell)
(Cacophonous - 1995)
After a rough couple of initial short releases, they settle for a much fuller and developed sound for the debut without losing some of what made them unique. Sure, there's a lot of Emperor and Satyricon here, but Gehenna has a slightly heavier, more primal sound thanks to the slower tempos and gargling raspy vocals that are gruffer than the usual Norwegian black metal rasp. Sometimes this results in a creepier, more ritualistic and primal sound than the above bands, sometimes also described by some as a 'misanthropic' sound, rather than just copying the same cold, grim, and harsh sound of other similar bands. But other times on this album they do sound like a lesser Emperor, which perhaps explains why they didn't become as popular. But connoisseurs of the genre should find something to like in this more raw-sounding symphonic black metal. The keyboards are well used this time and never cheesy, adding to the black-as-tar sound. Some background sounds such as whispers, screams and crying add to the creepiness. The production is pretty swampy and distant, but 'In the Nightside Eclipse' wasn't much better. Standouts include 'A Witch is Born', a primal and spooky track, 'The Eyes of the Sun' a track that starts as doom metal with death growls which morphs into blackness and screaming sounds, and the 9-minute 'A Myth' that takes its time in telling a dark story with atmosphere. It's not an absolute classic, the latter half plods somewhat, and the rough sound and playing are both a boon and a bane, but it has enough uniqueness to stand out nicely and most of the songs are solidly enjoyable slices of roaring heavy darkness. Probably their best album.
Malice (Our Third Spell)
(Cacophonous - 1996)
This is largely similar in sound to the previous release, except with several small changes that, unfortunately, reduce the enjoyment and quality of the music. Once again this is melodic but grim and harsh black metal with keyboards, atmospheric sounds, and a mix of tempos, most of them mid-paced, some blasting, and some so slow as to be doom metal, and there are some short glimpses of death metal sounds and vocals (a preview of things to come). Vocals are primarily a strong malicious-sounding gargling rasp as usual, but these are sometimes too low in the mix this time. Another minus is that keyboards are too loud or heavily used on some tracks this time around, as if they were trying to emulate other popular bands, except they aren't written as well as those bands (echoes of 'First Spell'). Which brings me to the primary problem: This album has lost much of the uniqueness of 'The Second Spell', which was the unique heavy primal/primitive sound with a nod towards early Satyricon. It's still here in some bits, but most of the time it sounds like weaker cloning of dark Emperor blackness, Immortal blasting, or symphonic Dimmu Borgir, with a couple of bland Gothenberg black-metal melodies. Except that the compositions aren't as good, and the cloned sounds end up being repeated weakly within the song rather than developing and soaring, or shifting between these various influences that tend to undermine each other. I.e. instead of picking an approach and developing a powerful song with it, the compositions tend to try a bit of this and that, and although some of the segments are good, no power is accumulated. It's a mixed bag, with some good tracks. The first two tracks as well as 'The Word Became Flesh' are all good blasting dark songs, with a nice dynamic structure and if the whole album were like this it would have been great. 'Touched and Left for Dead' is a plodding doom-metal song without enough development, 'Bleeding the Blue Flame' is just OK, and then the 14 minute dull 'Ad Arma Ad Arma' repeats itself for a ridiculous amount of time then switches to a lengthy noisy segment of dark ambient near-industrial sounds of a nuclear holocaust. Sticking a poor 14-minute song like that in the middle of an album really breaks it up, even ruins it. The rest of the tracks have the aforementioned problems. Overall, compared to the previous release this is a pretty large step down. As a stand-alone release, it's pretty good, but not too impressive either, and seeing as there are many other original releases that do much better with these sounds, it doesn't doesn't stand out or earn a recommendation.
Adimiron Black
(Moonfog - 1998)
Perhaps they felt a lack of inspiration in the last release, which is why they changed their sound here and tried something else: The keyboards go back to the background, and the sound takes a sharp turn towards the direction of death metal. It's still black metal, but blackened death metal, or black metal with aggressive death metal elements. Think Marduk war metal, but with an extra edge. The compositions are much much more focused, and the aggression is through the roof. Some tracks are mid-paced but full of intense atmosphere and malice, and often the keyboards go for atmospheric/industrial sounds rather than symphonic dark melody. The result is miles above Malice, and possibly their best release. Vocals are also a mix of black and death elements, such as harsh growls, or guttural black screams, and the drummer has been replaced, the new drumming obviously a big upgrade in energy and competence. This one has great energy, a great raw sound, and in some ways goes back to their rawer roots but without the primal folk elements. There isn't much variety, but the album is a good length of 37 minutes. A recommended slab of dark energetic malice and a superb black-death hybrid.
Murder
(Moonfog - 2000)
And suddenly, it's 90% pure death metal. Except that Gehenna's rawer approach to song-writing and sound doesn't seem suitable to death metal which requires a more razor-sharp type of brutality, unless you like your death metal rough, raw, unkempt and unrestrained. And the surprisingly muddy production and stifled vocals don't help this. They basically approach death metal riffing with a black metal attitude, i.e. going for blasting power and unrestrained evil rather than for brutal sharp energy and technical memorable riffing. This release actually is very interesting in the way it delineates the difference between black and death metal and how it affects the sound and the approach to playing instruments and vocals. There are still some black metal sounds, atmosphere and faint keyboards, making this a hybrid release with the emphasis strongly on death/thrash metal. With several songs it sounds like they listened to Slayer for a few hours and decided they can also do that, only with more energy and brutality, then let it rip and slapped it onto the album after the first raw take. The vocals wander from Slayer-esque barks with a harsh rasp, to pure mid-range death growls. In any case, the riffs are mostly generic and forgettable, the delivery is simple raw and undeveloped, like a band first discovering early 90s death metal, and the production is bad enough to remove a few more points. I did not enjoy this one.
WW
(Moonfog - 2005)
After a hiatus, they return to black metal, only without keyboards, demonstrating once again their trend to go back to raw basics. It is not a move back to their roots however, as that sound contained more primitive ritual/folk sounds as well as keyboards, and this one attempts to create blackness through dissonant guitars and buzzing malice, Mayhem or Immortal style. Drums can go slow while the the buzzing guitars drone out a cold harsh soundscape, then it shifts to blast-beats while the pitch-black blackened sound continues, generating atmosphere. Frost from Satyricon replaces the drummer, and the vocals are once again good gargling, guttural, strong rasps. This is a good approach for them, since they always excelled in creating mood with more primitive and raw sounds. Unfortunately it's also a bit too simple and generic, often lacking energy even when it blasts, or often droning atmospherically instead of generating evil. Maybe this is due to a lack of energetic screaming in the croaking vocals, or perhaps it's the number of generic-sounding slow parts. It lacks power in general relative to other pure black metal releases. But there is some good here which works if you're in the right mood, and if you like this style (early Mayhem, more atmospheric, not-quite-Burzum) you may get into it.
Unravel
(Indie Recordings - 2013)
After an even longer hiatus (8 years) and more basic line-up changes, they return with this slab of... exactly the same only much more somber, moody, and doomy. The pace is further decreased in this one relative to 'WW', and the vocals have deteriorated to a harsh throaty sound without the guttural power of yesteryear. The result is practically blackened doom-metal. Unfortunately the primitive raw and basic approach to song-writing combined with doom is simply way too plodding of a sound to work. There is still drum blasting (but it's very low in the mix), as well as lots of black-metal tremolo picking, but it meanders moodily rather than doing anything interesting. Some dissonance adds to the mood, and pipe-organ keyboards make a surprise appearance on one track, but it's somber and depressed throughout rather than powerful. It doesn't even have the harshness of a slow Burzum track. So there you have it: After viking, black, symphonic, death and thrash, we get doom metal. But it's a tired and aging sound by now. A heavy, atmospheric but tired and moody album.



The Last Exit 1996-

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