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Judging from my title, you might be wondering why I've rated it so highly. Well, whether it was the mood I was in when I first listened to the album, or the multiple chances I've given it since then, it seems to have grown on me. While every song isn't a winner and the album as a whole is far from perfect, quite a few are listenable, and the tone of the album is very well done. It's kind of warm, which is a tad odd and pretty different for Norwegian black metal. It isn't too warm, though, which is a good thing, as that could make things muddy or less aggressive.
To compare for just a moment, I think Destroyer [the Gorgoroth album, not the Ezrin produced Kiss album] is very cold, in your face, and noisy. For Destroyer and most if not all black metal in general, I think it works very well. Cold environments and evil themes kind of go hand in hand with a cold sounding production. This album, however, is slightly more subdued and a touch warmer. Tonally as well as production wise, it is closer to Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam. In relation to other Gorgoroth albums, Incipit Satan is much more diverse and dynamic.
The drumming is pretty par for the course as far as black metal drumming goes, but there are parts where it definitely a stand out part of the song. For the most part, the drumming doesn't get in the way of the songs, but also doesn't piss you off because it isn't double kicking and blast beating like it should. There are nice fills here and there, and the cymbal work about half way through on the title track is very nice. I especially like the way the cymbals punctuate the song at about 2:15 in the song and it continues to be intriguing throughout the rest of the song.
The guitars are pretty nice and I catch a few things here and there that hint that Infernus and Tormentor can really play, whereas some black metal guitarists seem like they can barely execute what they are trying to get across to the listener. Another nice aspect is that the riffs aren't just constant tremolo picked riff after tremolo picked riff. Some of the riffs are kind of thrash-y, and I'm quite a fan of thrash-y punk riffs. There is also a decent amount of melody in a few of the tracks, which is not only well done, but a nice addition, as most -- though certainly not all -- black metal seems to prefer aggression over melody.
As for the bass, there is nothing to write home about, so to speak. It's almost non-existent and ...And Justice For All'd for the most part. You can hear a little thump added by the bass, but it mainly follows the root notes of the guitars and is usually lost in the chaos. This is pretty prevalent of most black metal, though. And I'm not sure if black metal as a whole or this album in general would be better served by more prominent bass or more proficient bass players.
Incipit Satan, as already mentioned, is pretty different from the rest of Gorgoroth's catalog, while still keeping very many elements of what makes them Gorgoroth. They aren't pulling a Cold Lake here. Industrial elements and sound effects are quite entertaining. Unchain my Heart has a very interesting piano intro. I can't describe it perfectly, but it's kinda gothic and I think it'd fit in perfect with a Castlevania game. Will to Power is pretty ambient, with reverse vocals here and there, sound effects, echoes and an electronic drum pattern similar to a heartbeat.
The vocals on Incipit Satan are also moderately "experimental", but nothing too annoying or distracting. I think all of Gaahl's chokes, raspy screams, gutteral howls and other vocal acrobats are well represented here. He even does a few clean parts in the form of a rather interesting and moody low tone, particularly an incantation during Litani til Satan and a similar vocal technique used on An Excerpt of X. The use of this vocal technique is quite enjoyable while fitting the mood and pacing of these songs very well. That said, it can be tedious and boring if you aren't in the right mood, as they're mid tempo affairs as opposed to the faster stuff Gorgoroth is known for. In regards to Litani til Satan, if you find this song boring, repetitious or tedious, well... that's because it's supposed to be. Litany is defined as "a tedious recital or repetitive series" which describes this song to a T. Depending on the person and the mood they are in, this can be a good thing, lulling you into a semi-dreamlike hypnotic state, or a bad thing, and boring you to the point of skipping these songs.
Some of the songs could be arranged a little better on this album, but then again, even the Mona Lisa is kind of ugly in a way, yet people accept it and even view it as a masterpiece. That's not to say that this album is a masterpiece, especially not on the level of the Mona Lisa, but it's blemishes are acceptable. I think that the title track in particular could have been arranged much better. The stop/start parts punctuated by the snare drum with the guitars in lock step with them are not very powerful and in my opinion, it is because it is overused. It also seems to be done just because they can. That said, the order of the tracks is almost perfect, those it might have been beneficial to record another song or two and/or swap A World to Win and Litani til Satan, as well as have Will to Power as an intro to the album.
Last, but not least... When Love Rages in my Heart is strange. There is some melodic playing from Infernus or Tormentor and strange singing from Gaahl, though I could be wrong, as I seem to remember reading that one of the other members of the band sang on this song. There is enough "Gorgoroth" here to make it listenable, but it's a rather interesting song nonetheless.
All in all, a great album, but you might not like it or "get it" the first time around. I suggest giving it a few listens with a few days between each listen to really determine if you like it or not. Detractors of Gorgoroth and those dissatisfied with Incipit Satan could argue that Gorgoroth had an EP worth of ideas and stretched it out to have a full length release. I think one or two more songs with the ambient track Will to Power as an album intro would've made this album almost perfect.
Stand out tracks:
Incipit Satan [yes, even despite all the criticism I gave it]
A World to Win
Fin Eim av Blod Og Helvetesild