In terms of pure, outstanding black metal in the 2nd-wave tradition, Gorgoroth has produced some of the finest albums ever made. Though there is much to praise in the artistic risk-taking of later eras, the trilogy of Pentagram, Antichrist and In the Sign of Hell will always hold sway as the defining emblems of the band’s legacy (infamous performances in Poland notwithstanding). With Infernus at the helm, the band specializes with black metal that is raw and aggressive, yet melodic and engaging.
So it was with much confusion and disappointment that fans were treated in 2011 to a redo of that third album. After a strong showing with Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt, it felt like a waste of time to try and update such an indisputable classic. What lies at the heart of black metal is its ability to create an atmosphere, particularly with the characteristically raw production. This can be taken to an extreme of course (see: Mutiilation, Ildjarn), but when properly balanced it can create some truly compelling music.
So it’s in that spirit that I have to mention my main sticking point with Instinctus Bestialis. For the most part, the music here resides in the black metal realm. But the production is dry to the point where it sounds more like a Swedish death metal release from the late-90s/early 2000s. Sure, some good records came out of that time, but the production style fits some musical arrangements better than others. And with music like Gorgoroth, the guitars really do need that reverb cranked up, and the vocals need that terrifying distortion that evokes the infernal region. Otherwise it just ends up sounding flat and predictable. This is similar to the problem I run into with latter day Satyricon records, where the slight nods to hard rock slowly form protective film around the power of the music, where it feels trapped in a more digestible format.
But it is still Gorgoroth, so how bad can it be? The opener, “Radix Malorum” is a triumph and is undoubtedly the best song on the album. Follower “Dionysian Rite” is quite good as well. On the opener, the polished production actually acts as an asset, accentuating the open-E riffs riding the listener through the chaos. And the album ends rather well with “Awakening,” a song which shows Gorgoroth’s ability to make a point and not belabor the listener with pointlessly long passages of tremolo picking and dissonant not structures. Unfortunately, this is what plagues longer songs like “Ad Omnipotens Aeterne Diabolus” and “Kala Brahman.”
So while the album has its good bits, it doesn’t quite reach the levels of greatness the band is otherwise known for. There’s just not enough excitement generated by the compositions. Think of the riff structure for songs like “Funeral Procession” or the dramatic heights of “Måneskyggens Slave” to hear what I mean by excitement. Of course, it would be absurd for me to suggest the band should simply ape its past. But if they want to make great black metal for years to come, it’s important to keep the atmosphere in mind, and don’t just rely on chants of “hail satan” to create an air of extremity.
Regardless, I will still look forward to any Gorgoroth releases in the future. And there is nothing outright “bad” about this album, so I’m sure many of you will enjoy it. I'd be perfectly happy if the album came on, just not quite ecstatic. Love the artwork though.
Favorite songs: “Radix Malorum”, “Dionysian Rite” and “Awakening”