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Black Metal History

Essential Black Metal Listening: GORGOROTH Antichrist / Under the Sign of Hell

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Gorgoroth. That’s it. That’s all you really need right? You know black metal, right? Has there ever been a single shred of doubt about this band? Throughout their merciless amount of line-up changes, the controversial sheep-heads-on-stakes performance, founding member Infernus’ ability to make half of the staff at Nuclear Assault uncomfortable, their absolute refusal to print any lyrics—which has always been real fucking confusing to me, if you wanna spread the word of el Diablo, then maybe we could consider a clearer, typed message, or is this one of those things some bands do to “test” the audience to ensure they listen?—the whole left hand path thing, and their straight up no-nonsense approach to black metal has made them a must hear. Their bit in Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey was quite possibly the defining moment of the documentary. Today we’ll be focusing on some earlier works; specifically, works with Pest and Hat on vocals; their Antichrist and Under the Sign of Hell full-lengths.

Antichrist (originally titled Død, or Dead) was Gorgoroth’s second career full length and released in 1996. This is a killer album but those that listened to Pentagram and then moved to this will notice some oddities. One of those being the vocal duties are actually split by Hat and Pest, with Hat taking on the lion’s share. Hat had already decided to leave Gorgoroth by the time this was underway, but agreed to complete vocal duties.

Antichrist is a mixture of moods. The album can spawn deadly blasts of rage and chaos but also has a sense of mood. The intro track “En Stram Lukt av Kristent Blod” or, “The Rank Smell of Christian Blood” serves to set a proper mood for the album and then quickly fires into “Bergtrollets Hevn” or, “Mountain Troll’s Revenge.” With this and the track “Gorgoroth,” Antichrist is spitting out some of its most raging, raw, insane songs. “Gorgoroth” is epic in both composition and length. These songs are stripped black metal in some of the purest terms. No bullshitting, no fillers.

Yet, Antichrist isn’t all about the absolute raw moments. Other tracks like “Sorg” or, “Sorrow,” layer levels of grimness and boiling mood. Beginning with a thunderstorm and church bells, then pushing into a state of bleakness, with strung out shrieks and even some singing that gives the piece a feeling delicacy. The instrumental “Heavens Fall” pushes a hard punch of excellent guitar work while not sticking solely to speed.

The one track that seems slightly out of place, but not bad, is “Possessed by Satan.” This is the only track that had Pest fully on vocals (though he did do all the backing vocals on Antichrist). It seems like he’s trying to mimic Hat in the way he shrieks. He’s still a great vocalist but his voice is an obvious change to the album. Nonetheless, “Possessed by Satan” is a great banger of a song.

Under the Sign of Hell is an entirely different beast altogether. Released originally in 1997, and then again several times after that (in 1999, twice in 2005, again in 2006, and on a variety of record labels) and remastered and released again in 2007 (which is the copy I have, and if a remaster isn’t raw enough for you, choke on my dick). Under the Sign of Hell is an excellent piece in the Gorgoroth library though.

Where Antichrist felt short for a full length (six songs in twenty-five minutes), yet showcased a perfect mix of raw rage and grim-drenched pieces, Under the Sign of Hell stays way more on the up and up, even though it’s only about five minutes longer (with nine songs). A lot of fans consider this to be Gorgoroth’s finest hour, this or Pentagram.  It’s true, Under the Sign of Hell is an album played at full throttle. Infernus plays both bass and guitar on this album in top form (except on “Revelation of Doom” which has Ares on bass). Grim (R.I.P. 1999) played drums and they, well, they sound like they were recorded in a pit. Pest’s vocals are perfectly fitting for the job and he sounds way better than he did on Antichrist. And with no one else on vocals aside from him this time, the album feels much more tuned and I think that largely has to do with how solid the line up was.

The opener, and blaster, “Revelation of Doom” certainly backs the solid musicianship this album is known for and sets a fine bar for the rest of the album. “Revelation of Doom” is an unrelenting slice of rawness that sounds like the end of creation. Pest’s vocals sound like they’ve been recorded in just the right layer of Hell, bringing out a true, ravishing, demonic nature. “Blood Stains the Circle” also follows in this fashion, bleeding a noisy intro and vocals that sound like they’re on the fritz.

The piece that seems to stand out the most to me is "Profetens Åpenbaring" (Prophet's Revelation),” a track that fuses a quiet, stark intro and then dives into a badass lead by Infernus. Pest’s operatic singing here really adds to the song, giving a traditional metal feel while still remaining black as sin at its core.

The flow of Under the Sign of Hell is pretty damn notable too. Not only is Gorgoroth in top for here, but everything falls into place. I’ve heard some people complain about “Postludium” but I can’t understand why. It’s one of the most evil sounding tracks on the entire album. It’s moody noise and guttural growl draw more into the album. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they got Satan to do guest vocals for that small bit.

Even when Under the Sign of Hell slows it still feels like its building to something really intense. "Ødeleggelse og Undergang" (Destruction and Doom)” is a track that melds grinding/thrashing leads with progressive elements.

I’ve avoided mentioning it up until this point but yes, Under the Sign of Hell was re-recorded in 2011 for whatever reason, I don’t know. It’s (not surprisingly) considered the worst rendition of the album and, I agree, entirely unnecessary. I’ve seen some real bitches about the Regain Records 2007 release too (the one I have). For whatever reason “The Rite of Infernal Invocation” is different between albums. Two minutes shorter on the 2007 re-release, which is a pretty significant cut if you ask me. What’s the difference between tracks? There’s a noise piece at the end of the original recording that’s about three minutes long. On the 2007 release, it’s only about a minute and it’s not really noise, more of a fade. In the six minute version it acts more as a build; the sound slowly pinching into a hum until coming to a stop. Will it bust your balls not to hear it? No, but if you fancy yourself a big fan of raw black metal then the original six-minute version is what you wanna go with.

When all’s said and done Gorgoroth is one of the best and most premier black metal bands ever to play the genre, and Antichrist and Under the Sign of Hell are two reasons why they’ve earned such a startling reputation (their beliefs and antics aside, though those do help). With the good news that a new album is on the horizon for them, entitled Instinctus Bestialis, now has never been a better time than to give yourself a refresher on this awesome band and two of their best works.

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