Trilogies can make things a lot of fun. When it comes to black metal, and how we think about the so-called “second wave” sound, most people think of Darkthrone’s classic trilogy (A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Under a Funeral Moon, and Transilvanian Hunger). And though they would be correct, we should not overlook the contributions of Bergen, Norway’s Gorgoroth. If one wanted a perfect distillation of pure black metal, the band’s first three records are almost unrivalled in their purity and ferocity.
In last year’s edition of BMHM, my colleague Chris Luedtke covered Antichrist and Under the Sign of Hell, the second and third (respectively) installments of the trilogy. But it’s worth reeling the tape back even further to October, 1994 to Gorgoroth’s brilliant debut: Pentagram.
Dayal Patterson, in Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult, describes the debut as such:
the half-hour recording proves a consistently ferocious listen thanks to memorable riffs, an almost constant percussive bombardment, an unfussy yet effective production, and Hat’s utterly possessed, almost bird-like screeching
One thing that stands out immediately are Hat’s vocals. Horrendously abrasive, the man certainly knew how to capture a listener’s attention. When I first listened to the album, I couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer ferocity, and had trouble getting used to it. But upon returning to the record, I found myself hooked on the style. I feel like that’s how these things usually work out.
But there’s also the cadence he uses on songs like "Begravelsesnatt" and "Katharinas Bortgang," one which resembles a war cry or rabble-rouser (if said rouser was an angry parrot). I don’t know how to transcribe it in a technical fashion, but imagine this “Duuun-duun-dun-dun-dun-duuuun-dun-dun.” Listen to either of the aforementioned tracks and you’ll know what I’m referring to. But don’t ask me (or Infernus for that matter) what the lyrics are about, as the band is famously secretive about the specific, line-by-line substance of their songs. But when considering this, one is left with Euronymous’ famous admission, “I love Satanic bands, but I don’t care if they sing about eating carrots, if the music is great.”
And with a man like Infernus at the helm, there is no need to worry about the quality of the riffs and song structure. It’s incredible just how flawlessly this album flows when you consider this is Gorgoroth’s first album (and that Infernus was only 22 at the time).
The album’s brevity is another point of interest, as well as one of it’s chief strengths. There is no filler, no useless ambient tracks. And yet, Gorgoroth is still able to fill the time with brilliantly brutal and dramatic music that is consistent, but manages to explore. There’s the almost perfect example of black metal instrumental in "Huldrelokk," and the more melodic "Måneskyggens slave," a song which seemingly prophesied later works by Enslaved, Agalloch and the “post-black metal” set.
This nod toward experimentation is one the band would continue through the rest of the trilogy and beyond. And while the band may have improved creatively on the following two albums, there is nothing to match the foundational perfection of Pentagram. It’s an album which contains the essential nutrients that would spring forth and blossom into the deadly carnivorous Gorgoroth we know today. It’s because those early stirrings were so strong that makes the album worth listening to, and re-listening to, and so on.