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How black metal became what it became is pretty astonishing. This is considering that it originated 35 years ago as practically a joke. Of course when I say this, I am referring to Venom's ambitions of being the British version of KISS. They would be that and much more especially in the early 90s out in Norway. It was here that we would see bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, and more kickstart the second wave of black metal. And then there's Gorgoroth,
I was a young metalhead obsessed with the likes of AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest when I first saw the movie Metal: A Headbanger's Journey on Vh1 Classic. I really hadn't a clue what "black metal" even was, but I became curious. This was especially during the scene when they were interviewing Gaahl and when they ask him what the driving force behind his music was, he takes a sip of wine, remains silent, and then breaks his silence by saying, “Satan”. I looked up Gorgoroth on iTunes and the first result that popped up was the album Pentagram. I downloaded it and was blown away. “Something heavier than Slayer!!!” my little mind thought, “And much heavier at that!!!” I played it for my friends at the sports camp I was at that summer and they were scared shitless. I was only 11.
I eventually found out that it wasn't Gaahl who sang on this record, but original vocalist Hat. Black metal vocals have always been evil sounding, whether it be Cronos' grunts, King Diamond's shrieks, or Quorthon's possessed cries. On Pentagram, Hat does for black metal vocals what Chris Barnes did for death metal vocals: he takes them and intensifies it by 10. The result can best be described as sinister. One get goosebumps when hearing his soul ripping growl/scream/shriek/cry/what the hell is that.
The music is definitely influenced by early Bathory and Mayhem with crushing guitar riffs, low bass lines, and speeding drum rhythms. While the riffs are mainly thrashy throughout the release, on songs such as “Ritual”, “(Under) the Pagan Megalith”, and “Måneskyggens Slave”, we get Celtic Frost-esque riffs/breakdowns that are slow and sludgy, yet black and icy. When we add all of this with the absolutely lunatic fringe vocals of Hat, we are given a cold Norwegian aural assault. And I wouldn't have it another way..
Over 20 years later, Pentagram definitely holds up. It sounded better than most of the black metal releases of its time and sounds better than most of the black metal releases now. In the past 20 years, we've seen the second wave of black metal, the early 2000s symphonic black metal trend of groups such as Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, and most recently, this experimental USBM movement with bands such as Deafheaven and Liturgy. If this album is proof of anything, it is proof that we should stick to the classics.
Before I say any more, let me set one thing straight: this is the first black metal album I have ever listened to.
Now, with that premise set straight, let's discuss the album. I was hesitant to look into it at first, as I was with the black metal genre in general. I don't actually know anyone in real life who likes black metal, so everything I had ever heard about the genre was about the over-the-top anti-religious antics of the musicians, the blasphemy of the lyrical subject matter, and the elitism of the scene. None of this sounded pleasant. However, as human nature is, we often seek the things that are the least pleasant or the most threatening. One dreary evening on the archives, I stumbled my way onto this page and saw myself looking at what I thought to be an oddity. An album by Gorgoroth, one of the most notorious black metal acts, that looked plain and conservative from the exterior and had received rave reviews. I made a note to return to this album, and to cut the story very short, I am thrilled that I did.
It's difficult for me to pick out anything to not like about this album - within reason, of course. If you're the type of person who can't stand abrasive vocals, be it growling or screaming, then this is probably the wrong website for you anyway. I certainly was not expecting cleans when Begravelsesnatt began, but what I wasn't expecting was how vicious Hat sounds. I have never heard a comparable vocal performance. I've listened to more than my share of death metal with unintelligible vocals, but Hat's vocals are unintelligible for a reason I've never before encountered. In the realm of death metal you find vocalists gurgling into a pitch shifter, which produces predictable results. In the case of Hat, the sole purpose of his performance is to emulate possession by Satan. He succeeds phenomenally in this role. I have no adjectives to aptly describe it.
So, the rest of the band. The production sounds about right for what I've heard of black metal. It's rough around the edges and unrefined, which doesn't bother me one bit. In all honesty, the production for this album is perfect. It's an exact fit for what the band was trying to do. The bass is thin and difficult to hear, but it's not an instrument of serious emphasis in this style of metal. Infernus sounds solid on the guitar, and I'll give him credit for a great performance, but the real standout in the instrumental section of the band is Goat Pervertor on the drums. The man is a machine. We've all heard fast drumming and mind-boggling blast beats before, but the endurance displayed on tracks like Måneskyggens Slave is what catches my attention. To play blast beats at that tempo for that long a duration is extraordinary.
The songs themselves are phenomenal. Coming into the album as a complete novice in the realm of black metal, I can say without question that I now understand what black metal is. It's perfectly clear to me that this is a genre defining album. From the opening notes of Begravelsesnatt, I was hooked on this album. As an opener, Begravelsesnatt is about as effective as it can get. It's fast, it's got memorable riffs, and it does its thing and then moves along. It unambiguously states the direction of the remainder of the album's contents. Each individual song has its golden moments. There is no filler.
Ritual is the song which convinced me that I, in fact, like black metal. The slow "breakdown" that starts about half a minute in is probably the most malevolent and outright evil thing I've ever heard. Like much of the rest of the album, it sticks in your head. It's memorable, and for an album to be memorable is a very positive quality. The same goes for the case of Måneskyggens Slave. There have only been a few songs which have left me completely floored after the final notes were played, and Måneskyggens Slave is now one of them. The night I listened to the album the first time, I went to sleep tapping out the drum beat on my mattress with my fingers, the chord progression running through my head. For an album as bleak as this is, how could I feel so fulfilled from listening to it? The answer is simple. It's AWESOME.
It's obviously dark, it's obviously fast, it's obviously aggressive, etc... What matters is the delivery and quality of songwriting. It's expertly done. The album fails to receive a 100 by one small point because I feel that some of the tracks leading up to Måneskyggens Slave get somewhat uninteresting and because I would really like to see some lyrics, but Gorgoroth decided we aren't good enough to be allowed to see them and that's a really stupid and pretentious thing for a band to do. Outside of those *very* small remarks, this album is perfect and has no flaws. This has opened up an entirely new world of metal for me, and it can for many others, too.
Of all the "earlier" black metal I listened to, this little CD sticks in my mind as much as any. It was one of those blind purchases off the record store shelves, having only a vague suspicion of what might be contained within.
The purchase was quickly justified. Expecting a whirlwind of black metal speed and that classic wall of sound (I believe I was listening to Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse regularly), I was instead greeted with a variety of tempo, riffing, and most of all, groove. Delivered with a production that was undeniably black, and possessed of some of the most outlandish high-register screeching vocals I had ever heard, I was immediately hooked.
My copy of Pentagram is recorded in one track -- no breaks between songs at all. Oddly enough, this has proven useful in that I am forced to listen to the CD all the way through, as it was intended. As I mentioned before, there is a wide variety to be had here. The songs switch up from slow grinding fare, through mid tempo rolling riffage, all the way to high-intensity traditional black metal. True fans of the genre may note a lack of adherence to the traditional norms of black metal. I found it to be quite refreshing, as the band seems to focus more on plodding mid-paced rhythms than the swirling madness that can usually be found on high end black metal offerings. I often wonder if Gorgoroth may have started out as a different type of band, and adapted this material to black metal later on. As I tend to love punishing mid-paced power, this is right in my pocket of love. It makes me want to break things, and that's a great place to be!
Hat's vocals are exceptional. My best offhand description would be of a cat possessed by the worst demon you've ever imagined, and trapped in a cage expressing his dire hatred of his captor, wanting nothing more than to kill that person in the most unbelievably violent manner imaginable. I didn't think such sounds were possible from the human thorax, but I have been proven wrong. This guy is out there. Great performance, but someone please get Hat a glass of water because his vocal cords must be completely stripped after this.
If there is a criticism, I would say it lies with the drumming, which is quite in keeping with the rest of the music, but appears to offer little that could be considered spectacular. I do like how the drum kit is mixed, however, as I prefer to hear all the instruments of the band -- black metal or not. Pentagram has a nice isolated production, at least compared to other offerings in the genre. I can hear all the instruments perfectly well, and I for one think it adds to the effect, rather than taking away. I've never been a real big fan of black metal that goes for the wall of sound where the instruments can't be heard. I find myself forever fumbling with the equalizer on my rig, trying to draw out the drums or something else in the mix. Not a problem with Pentagram, as everything is in its proper place and perfectly audible, straight through the entire performance.
Overall this is more than a worthy first offering from the band, and well worth your time in tracking down if you haven't already. I did wind up purchasing several of the band's releases in the future, mostly based off this initial CD. Although I did find much to enjoy, this one remains my favorite for it's unique approach, and Hat's outstanding, freakish vocal performance. It's always nice to find a nice little CD sitting on the shelves that you feel like very few others know about. Of course, fans of the genre know about Gorgoroth's Pentagram, but it nevertheless remains a gem amongst the massive library of black metal offerings, and should be enjoyed by everyone who cares about this style of music.
Ah, good old GORGOROTH...they keep on pluggin' along no matter the weather or musical climate, and won't adhere to anyone but themselves and their fans. You gotta respect that mentality; very few bands can do so and still sound competent and great. And now, with news of King ov Hell's trademark scenario thrown to the wolves, I felt the urge to give the "ROTH more of my reviewing prowess. So let's start from the beginning...
At this time in GORGOROTH's career, they were a seriously fledgling act who hadn't really established both themselves or their take on black metal (that would come later in their masterpiece "Under the Sign of Hell") So as it stands, this is really little more than a group of well-meaning kids blasting their blasphemous hearts out, with influences shown oh-so-clearly on their sleeves; a little MAYHEM here, a little old BATHORY there, and a big helping of old-to-mid-era DARKTHRONE topping it all off. The riff-work is top notch evilness, chaotic and with a touch of melody to keep it from being the static-y dissonence most BM bands at the time seemed to find awesome. The guitars are clear and sharp, the bass audible and thumping along nicely, and the drums powerful and tight. But then you get to the vocals...man oh man is this strange. They're not the worse vocals I've heard in either black metal or any other genre, they're just odd. Easily not the BM norm in terms of rasping, instead it comes off like an evil parrot from an old cartoon, rendering the lyrics completely indecipherable (nowadays a common practice for GORGOROTH), and the lack of lyrics printed (another practice) leaves you mainly focusing on the music, with songs ranging from killer to decent ("Crushing the Scepter", "Katharinas Bortgang", and "(Under) the Pagan Megalith" being prime cuts of musical evil).
So in the end this is a nice, decent release...but the band wouldn't start kicking serious ass until the next couple albums. Still, it's a worthy addition to anyone's black metal collection.
There had been many albums that had expressed vileness in quite concentrated doses for about 10 years beforehand, but few had gone to the point of actually manifesting the concept itself the way that Gorgoroth did on their explosive debut “Pentagram”. One could almost regard it as the wickeder black shadow of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, carrying a somewhat similarly crisp production, yet coming off even rawer and darker in spite of its heavily melodic overtones. In many ways it reaches back to pay homage to the first wave, particularly in its barebones approach to riff construction, and yet it also seems to challenge the founders as well in terms of its overall delivery.
Though this band does not take the epic/progressive road of Enslaved, or the theatrical and atmospheric character of Emperor, they exude the same general vibe of coldness with every passing second. Simplistic thrash riffs trade with somber tremolo picked melodies, covering over a tight, polished drumbeat like icicles at the mouth of a forest cave. The resulting instrumental backdrop, around which the twisted narratives are to be placed, can be described as both bizarre and beautiful at the same time. How these seemingly contradicting concepts coexist could be described by the analogy of winter itself, the scenery being aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, while the actuality of what is happening in nature a form of mass death and rebirth.
The most auspicious part of this grim whole is found in the vocal performance of Hat. The best way to articulate just what his morose ravings sound like is by a process of elimination, as they are well outside of what is considered standard even within black metal at this point and time. It lacks any of the guttural remnants of a former death metal style, as typified by Darkthrone and Beherit. Simultaneously, it differs with the standard sepulchral goblin speak of Bathory and most other adherents to the 2nd wave who didn’t carry any death metal trappings, coming off as an even more twisted and higher end shriek that could be dubbed darkened imp speak. But regardless to what one would call it, it’s something that may dissuade a listener from blasting this at full volume, if said person wishes to keep his hearing intact.
The bands distinctiveness doesn’t end with their eccentric vocalist, but also subsumes their entire approach to song creation. There is no effort to be either epic or progressive, but instead a resulting collection of shorter songs that emulate early Bathory, but with a riff set that is also fairly reminiscent of various Teutonic thrash bands, most of all Sodom. They also show some occasional inclinations towards a slower doom style, as a means of sectional contrast, particularly on “Crushing The Scepter” and “(Under) The Pagan Megalith”. The atmosphere around these songs remains uniform throughout, almost akin to the limited dynamic range heard on Baroque era period instruments like the harpsichord, making tempo and additional instrument entries much more vital in varying the sound, something underscored by the twisted sort of blackened gang chorus that concludes the latter of these two songs.
Each and every one of these could be regarded as a classic song in relation to the entire scene of music they represent. Even the very brief “Huldrelokk”, which bears a little bit of similarity to the chaotic speed and harmonic melancholy of Immortal’s “Battles In The North” (which came out a little later), develops a frosty and biting sense of greatness within its short, wordless duration. “Katharinas Bortgang” puts forth a similarly chaotic atmosphere, but plays off it as if a wall of sound and after sufficiently building it up; bursts it like a giant metallic bubble, resulting in a jostling jolt that is further accentuated by the otherwise uniform nature of the production. This blast beat buildup section, which occupies the first minute or so of the song, is immediately followed by what sounds like mostly straight up thrash metal if you go by riffs and drum beats. Said song is only outclassed by the album’s closer “Måneskyggens Slave”, which is the closest thing on here to an epic song, has several lead passages which are catchy and idiomatic enough to invoke instant recall, and effectively recreates the experience of fading away through use of guitar effects during its concluding section.
Using words like essential or mandatory just don’t seem to cover what is being missed out on by everyone who hasn’t discovered this band, or the style and scene they represent. It’s not merely one of the best albums of the Norwegian 2nd wave, but one of the best of any album to ever carry the label of black metal. It’s a lasting testament to the violent yet ingenious revolution that went on during the year 1994, a year remembered by many as one of the most desolate for the metal world. To this day I can’t really pick a favorite between this, “In The Nightside Eclipse” and “Vikingligr Veldi”. I guess the 3 of them are sort of like 3 immortal Norse berserkers, fighting each other wildly until the closing third Fimbulvetr of Ragnarok. The difference is that you get this one in less than 30 minutes, with fewer tracks and instruments.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 11, 2009.
I always found this debut more menacing and ominous than the rest. The vocals, especially, were completely indecipherable from the boss, Hat, who displays very tortured and rather high-pitched screeches on all the tracks. It took me some time to really enjoy, but once they settled in, I knew they fit perfectly. “(Under) The Pagan Megalith” has some inconsistency in the vocals (they’re more demonic), but that isn’t a bad thing and it brings a little character out in the range.
This album is relentless – very little breathing room, as you’ll be caught in an all-out assault of terror-induced riffs, banshee-like vocals, and just damn vile drumming. Goat Pervertor sounding like he’s in a chilly room with a chilly drum set, which brings out this intriguing crash to the drums. He's intense on the battery, yet his style is very consistent and appropriate for the variously paced tunes. I can’t help but think of them as thrash songs with this guy’s style – very dark, intimidating thrash songs. The shortest tracks bring out the best in these qualities, as they offer no mercy. Not the thickest bass sound, which is always a letdown, but that can be overlooked sincethe album is built off of such vicious riffs?
However, the riffs are truly what bring this album to the forefront of second wave black metal. Don’t care much about the bass, since the production value, although very good for the time period, doesn’t give it much room nor power above the drums even to pluck its stuff. Infernus knew how to churn out any melodic, thrashy, crunchy, tremolo-infested riff and, better yet, knew how to make a song comprised of them. This album is built off of this guy’s playing. Whether the malevolently slow “Ritual” or the heavy metal-like “Crushing The Scepter,” and all the way to the folkish “Begravelsnatt” and “Katharinas Bortgang," everyone will find a track on here that'll appeal to them.
Lastly, "Måneskyggens Slave"... That’s all that could have been said. That song and its sinister riffs, treacherous rhythm, and cut-throat vocals by Hat tops anything this band has and will ever record. The true glory that was brought about by this track came at three minutes and three seconds, where the entire tempo completed took a nosedive into the ninth level. All the instruments became twice as hateful and catchy to the point where you realized that this track is the reason why Gorgoroth kicked so much ass. However, that kicking ass part no longer applies these days.
This is a masterpiece because it has some of the most beautiful melodies in all black metal. For a melody to be truly beautiful it must have a meaning of some sort, it must express something. The music of Gorgoroth has massive emotional power that speaks to the soul a poetic worldview.
Second wave black metal band, once the Norwegian foundational acts composed their definitive works for the genre, it was bands like Gorgoroth who took some black metal ideals to further articulation. Epic melodies of profound emotion that spoke of something larger than human boundaries. Dark, evil forces that awake imagination and fantasy and more importantly, a revelation that the world-nature is beyond human control and that its mechanisms of order are beyond any god or religion. This album is pure poetry in sound; it suggests a clearer worldview in mind, or a clearer mind to view the world.
I think the music of this album is art and my interpretation is that it mirrors how destructive and chaotic forces become organized systems of unraveling poetic beauty. It is like a metaphor for life: in Nature only organized chaos exists, thus all that is destructive and evil has a logical placement to maintain an equilibrium, including all that we might think is malevolent or dangerous. This music shows a passion to understand the world in poetic terms.
All musical elements are simple, from the percussion arrangements to the guitar riffs both in construction and execution however, the overall composition is very complex because it builds highly emotional melodies into a romantic narrative. There is a Classical influence in their songwriting; songs are like micro-symphonies phrases composed into motifs that become a narration of musical ideas without the verse-chorus structure. Tracks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8.
Instrumentation is basic. Drums blast beat their way more for time keeping than anything else and just occasionally pound for rhythm emphasis. High hat and snare technique is primal, and all percussion aims to become background noise which allows the guitars to unleash their majestic melodies, the best since Immortal - Pure Holocaust. The bass adds a severe thick feel to the mix. Some people say that the vocals sound like a duck being painfully castrated, a very evil bad duck that is. Overall the music is harsh, epic and theatrical, bearing the coldness of early Norwegian black metal in all its sonorous ardent grandeur.
This music opens the gate to something outside and within us, of something unknown that can be known through feeling and intuition. In that, Gorgoroth achieves perhaps the original goal of black metal, a sense of transcendence. This was the supreme art of black metal from Hell, before it died and went to Heaven.
In light of band founder Infernus’ recent backstab by his former bandmates Gaahl and King Ov Hell (nice stage name for a primary school teacher...) I’ve decided to review the band’s first album, done without any participation whatsoever from those two backstabbers, as is also the case for the two following albums (these first three albums being the band’s greatest).
The first thing one will probably notice is the cover. Now the original cover is the best, as it’s a simple black framed cover with the band’s name. Even the album name is absent from the cover and its simplicity really makes it excellent and perfectly suited to the dark grimness of this album.
Musically this is pure, grim and cold black metal. No compromise here. Pentagram is actually somewhat melodic but not in a way that would make it seem soft like what melodic black metal bands such as Dimmu Borgir are. This is indeed very raw yet it has an acceptable production level. Infernus’ riffs are classic black metal riffs that are among the best in the genre, being at the same time very cold and somewhat melodic, especially when comparing them to other pure black metal bands’ work. This is melodic in a similar way to Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger but obviously there is no real main long song in this album. They’re all 8 short tracks, each under four minutes, but that doesn’t weaken the album as it’s meant to be short and intense. Drumming is handled by Goat Pervertor, an amusing stage name if there ever was one, and most of the time it’s the usual repetitive drumming as heard on most similar black metal albums although with some variation. Again, this works perfectly with the rest of the music. Finally we have Samoth from Emperor on bass and Hat on vocals, who does some of the best high-pitched vocals I’ve ever heard. This sounds evil and is actually very enjoyable unlike the unbearably shitty screeches that constitute a good portion of the most famous practitioner of this vocal style, Dani Filth.
Pentagram is fast, intense, evil, cold, grim and most importantly very well done. It’s among Gorgoroth’s top three albums (the first three) and while I’m not sure which one I prefer Pentagram is excellent. It’s another essential black metal album, symbolizing the entire black metal scene very well. Hail to the True Gorgoroth!
The black metal band Gorgoroth is said to be one of the last bands of the Second wave, so it is hard for them to show what they could do without people thinking that they were just another copycat band. Technically they were, but that dosen't change the fact that they made excellent music that actually sounded convincing. The majority of black metal bands have similar image, sound, and theme; Gorgoroth had the same characteristics, but they were one of the few bands that made it look more than just a gimmick.
The album Pentagram has everything that is expected from a Black Metal release: screeching vocals, intense atmosphere, below average production, Satanic-themed lyrics, and simple guitar works and drum beats. This may sound a bit boring, especially since the album cover is simply a black cover with Gorgoroth on it, but Gorgoroth are in fact one of the few bands that pull off the 'Satanic' image. Their performance on this album seems very real and true, with the vocalist Hat having very strong vocals that gives off a hint of real, ginuine anger and hate. It is Hat that actually stands out from all the members on this album.
There isn't much for me to say about this album except the atmosphere and performance that they have made from this album. It is filled with hate and anger that actually sounds real and you can't help but feel angry while listening to this album. This is what makes it a solid release. This album is simply a preview of what was to come on their furture releases. It is on Antichrist on which they began to shine and really show what they were capable of. This album simply shows promise and potential, which is what makes it a worthy black metal release.
Highlights: Crushing The Scepter, Ritual, Katharinas Bortgang, Guldrelokk
Rarely do bands release a debut album which overshadows all of their future work, even in a lengthy career. Gorgoroth are one of them - Pentagram is a raw, yet fairly melodic black metal album, featuring the best (the yet still quite unknown guy called "Hat") vocalist of the mid-90s Norwegian black metal scene. Hat's vocals are extremely high-pitched, but without the whiney edge that vocalists like Varg possess. He screams his lungs out, most notably in songs like "Ritual" and "Katharinas Bortgang", which are also two of my personal favourite songs on the album.
I know that Hat's vocal style is an aquired taste/love it or hate it type, but they were/still are highly original. The high-pitch takes a while to get used to, but it's definitely worth the effort. The album itself is raw and mostly rather fast, with some great atmospheric mid-paced parts thrown in for good measure. Infernus might not have been a fantastic musician at the time, but his riffs are, though simple, a treat for the ears. Goat Pervertor's drumming is nice and offers enough rhythmic variation to keep the listener's interest.
"Maaneskyggens Slave" is a song of epic proportions which could even be considered "melodic black metal" - a good amount of highly melodic tremolo-picked riffs replace most of the otherwise lengthy vocal lines and grant a tremendous trance-like experience, but without the typical repetitive nature. Definitely the best track on "Pentagram" and quite different to the aggressive beast that is the rest of this album, therefore it deserves its own paragraph.
"Huldrelokk" also needs a honorable mention, it's an instrumental track, slightly similar to Burzum's "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" but features more riffs in about two minutes than Varg on an entire track, which is highly enjoyable in Gorgoroth's case.
"Pentagram" is a great raw black metal album with enough melodic bits to keep the listener hooked throughout the (sadly rather brief) duration of the album.
Get this, Gorgoroth have never topped it - further albums proved to be more inconsistent, less inspired and overall far less enjoyable (the newer albums especially lack memorable riffs and hooklines).
Recommended to about every black metal fan.
Highlights: Katharinas Bortgang, Ritual, Maaneskyggens Slave, Huldrelokk
In the beginning, Black Metal was a purely underground music style that very few people were aware of. Death and thrash metal bloomed, and only those truly passionate about BM knew of the numerous outstanding releases that had seen the (un)light and heralded the development of this basically new genre. One of the most pivotal releases of that era and an album that surpasses the more renowned bands such as Darkthrone, Burzum and Immortal is GORGOROTH ‘s “PENTAGRAM”.
Go ahead, say that my previous statement is subjective! But if you have any pretense at being a Black Metaller, you must agree with me. Darkthrone have never been committed to what BM stands for, they‘ve always taken it all as a music style only. Immortal, likewise, distanced themselves even more from the values of the genre, and have admitted that “it’s only a show”. Their lyrics have had mostly very little to do with Black Metal. As for Burzum, I fail to see any connection with BM except for his early releases. Having the right sound does not include you automatically in a certain genre. I say all of this as a fanatic of True Black Metal, and this is exactly what “Pentagram” is.
Allow me to give you an overview of this soulreaping CD. The only thing that one sees on the cover of “PENTAGRAM” is the title and the name of the band. No colors, no drawings, just pure and simple blackness. All of this is rightfully placed inside an ornamented frame, so typical of the early BM releases. The backside, on the other hand, does include a picture of GORGOROTH, again devoid of colors. A black and white photo that suits the style, portraying really dark and hateful-looking individuals one could take seriously. The CD itself is black with the same basic info mentioned above. But let’s get to the point and talk about the music. What can I tell you? I’ll try to put it into one sentence: the music is cold, dark, evil and hateful, without any trace of compromise despite the regular melodic sections that characterize this album. Not enough for you? Ok, so let me add something. We’re talking about an album suited exclusively to the taste of those who really like pure Black Metal, which alternates all kinds of riffs you can imagine - fast ones, mid-paced ones, and even a few slow ones. It draws you into its atmosphere with its mercilessness and then rapes you with incredibly catchy melodies.
This CD is a must for anyone who considers himself to be a fanatic of the genre. It shows GORGOROTH in their original line-up and musical abilities, long before the band changed into what they are today. There was no “rock star” attitude, no attempt at attracting kids and those only marginally/partially interested in BM. All you can find here is what most people flee, and very few seek: darkness eternal…
Before instrumental skill, before experimentation, before rape and torture charges and the incident at Krakow, before "...Satan." and a thousand other things that turned Gorgoroth into a household name not only among metalheads but among the world at large, there was 'Pentagram'. In 1994, the year of 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' and 'Transilvanian Hunger', four Norwegian teenagers decided to get in on this 'black metal' thing and record an LP. Well, sort of an LP; it's less than a half hour long, nasty, brutish, and short, just like life, and 'record' is probably a bit too generous for this band, as it's more of a well-done banging of instruments than actual music, but hey, it's an album. Thirteen years later, everyone has a copy of it and it's apparently a work of incredible brilliance. What?
Rewind briefly to when I first got this album. 'Pentagram' was the first black metal release I ever owned, oddly enough, and I decided to purchase it after hearing an MP3 of 'Ritual'. I was weirdly entranced by that song, and although I'd heard other black metal before, none of it had stayed on my hard drive for long until Gorgoroth rolled around. But that song, apparently, with its super-slow verses sandwiched between frantic blasting, totally ensnared me like nothing else. I think I liked it because it was the first BM I'd heard that sounded occult in a genuine way; not just posturing for kids to feel impressed with themselves that they were listening to such 'dark' music. It was probably aided by how no-nonsense the music here is. There are no nine-minute epics or keyboards here, just simple power chord and tremolo riffs, completely primitive drumming, but a genuine sense of intensity and devotion.
Really, just listen to 'Begravelsesnatt'. It's two and a half minutes long, like three riffs, lots of screeching, and lots of blasting. It gets its point across and leaves. Such pragmatism in construction is rarely found today, and I have my doubts that the members of this band could even write stuff with any sort of musical 'flair', provided they could play it at all. It's clumsy as hell, with the instruments speeding up and slowing down accidentally before abruptly falling back into cadence with the rest of the band. It wouldn't surprise me if it was recorded live; the whole sound is rather organic and like something you would hear in some dingy Norwegian bar in the mid-90s.
But despite the simplicity of everything on this record, it's incredibly good for what it offers. Each riff is significant and important to the song, all the performances are deeply convincing (particularly on the part of vocalist Hat, who sounds ready to set your house on fire at any moment), and the atmosphere is completely dark and somehow not comical at all. A song like 'Crushing The Scepter (Regaining A Lost Dominion)' would seem silly in the hands of anyone else, but here seems incredible and intense.
You know, all the elements here would typically scream 'generic black metal', and yet it really isn't. The riffing and structures here are deeply unique, and were never really replicated by anyone else in quality or usage. It's obviously raw black metal, but there's also a sense of championing grandiosity, very knightly, though that knight would clearly be a black one and less intent on saving the damsel than sacrificing her to Satan. With every listen of this CD, I find it to be more and more fantastic. It's dark, twisted, convincing, atmospheric, everything that a black metal album should be. The writing is just flawless, and conveys such a sense of evil that most bands could only hope to achieve.
So I guess it's legendary for a reason, despite offering no stereotypically 'legendary' qualities. If you don't have it, get it, because despite how every single idea has been done to death, 'Pentagram' still manages to be stunningly unique. Simply awesome.
The sticker on the front of my copy of this album assures the reader that Gorgoroth play “true Norwegian black metal”. As if there were any doubt.
There are no keyboards. There are no flutes. There are no abrupt digressions into other styles of music. There’s no fusion with folk or trip-hop or other non-metal. There aren’t any operatic vocals, or angelic female vocals – no sung vocals at all, in fact. Listening to this album will not flatter your sense of open-mindedness.
There’s no ideological manifesto printed in the liner notes, no references to a political platform in the song titles. There’s no message on the back entreating listeners either to kill the Jews or kill themselves, or telling us to support the war against anything. Lyrics do not appear to be available anywhere – the band has apparently requested for them to be deleted from various online databases – but the song titles appear to be fairly nondescript (“Ritual”, “(Under) the Pagan Megalith”). Buying this album will not allow you to align yourself with any particular movement within the underground.
Gorgoroth were not even on the first line of the Norse legion of black metal in the early nineties – not quite. The band’s first demo was released in 1993; the same year that “Under a Funeral Moon”, “Det Som Engang Var” and “Pure Holocaust” were released – to say nothing of the fact that this is the year Burzum killed Mayhem. A year later, when this album, their first full-length, was released, the scene was well on its way. Not only was the band too late to be first, they were far too early to be attempting to revive, pay tribute to, or somehow outdo the old days. Not until long after this album was released (and their music had declined) did they even manage to attract any real controversy that I’m aware of.
In short, this band, and specifically this album, appears to have no symbolic distinction whatsoever. The only thing it has going for it is that the music is much better than nearly anything else out there, which is not necessarily a point that attracts attention in the black metal scene. And so, poor Gorgoroth has been consigned to second-tier status in the popular mind, behind a number of less worthy bands that have come down the pike...
It’s tough to point out exactly how this album succeeds any better than countless other, similar releases. How many raw black metal bands in the Norwegian vein have there been over the years? A billion or so, by a conservative estimate? It might be argued that the development of black metal over the past years has been a process of refinement or purification (no one would argue that it’s been a process of brilliant innovation!), perhaps eventually offering us a final, condensed form of what’s great about black metal after the imperfections have been sifted away. Frankly, I don’t buy it. That’s a good process for developing a better toothbrush, but probably not such a sharp way to make better art.
Of course it would be silly to suggest that Gorgoroth are better than more recent bands simply because they came earlier. It’s possible, though, that they came earlier because they were better. Gratefully adopting a style of music of another zeitgeist, long after the fact, isn’t so much a problem as a symptom. Starting a little after the first gunshot has rung out is one thing, but when a band starts off by marking themselves as followers or revivalists, well, how much dare we expect of them?
Anyhow, on this album, atmosphere comes first, and to generate it the band seems to draw from every aesthetic resource available within their chosen discipline, rapidly shifting between mid-paced guitar churning, blasting tremolo and a few slower segments as the situation demands. Given the rigidity of the style, the level of variation on display is actually rather impressive. The songwriting is excellent – memorable but never formulaic – and the expressive melodies on display here deserve special mention. Other bands can “sound dark” and are content with that, using short, feeble, underdeveloped melodies that play off of one another predictably, but few are this articulate… there are so many individual riffs that are utterly beyond what so many other similar bands will ever be able to come up with, and some of the dual-guitar segments are the height of the style. They’re masters of raw black metal’s real strength, which is a kind of innate, instinctive artistry – as opposed to the thoroughly manufactured academic variety. Factor in the vocals, which sound like what you'd hear if you shoved some variety of waterfowl into a wood chipper, and it’s clear we have a classic on our hands. Buy this instead of throwing your money away on Nargaroth vinyl.
The thing with early Gorgoroth is that, although it's far from original, it is kind of like a summary of everything about the second wave Norse scene. Over the years so many people have come and gone in Gorgoroth's lineup, all notables for one other reason or another, and they have links to a score of bands, some newer and a few better than Gorgoroth themselves. Yet, if someone wanted an encapsulation of what Norway was really about from say, 1993 to 1996, and not necessarily the best band or albums of the genre, I might very well say that Gorgoroth is a good reference point. They don't really kick your arse on this album, and the vocals are very much on the goofy side, yet this release manages to put forward the atmospheric bite of early Emperor, the dirge and triumphant gloom (yes, I know it's an oxymoron) of Darkthrone circa "A Blaze in the Northern Sky", and occasionally the trance qualities of Burzum…and it's all rolled up into one, rather short package.
The slower tracks here ("The Ritual" in particular) are awesomely brooding, and the faster majority, while not really distinguishing themselves that much (except maybe for the rather nifty short black metal instrumental), run along at a good clip, like a wolfpack chasing down its prey, you might say. I think the production bares a lot of similarities to Emperor's eponymous EP, though perhaps it's a bit meatier…and therefore the sound is excellent and not at all thin and reedy, though maintaining a certain abrasive quality that is, after all, part of what makes this type of metal enjoyable. as mentioned previously, the vocals are pretty damn strange…Haat reminds me of a baby making cute duck noises…I don't really know why they let him in the band, but thankfully, he didn't stick around till the next release.
So, this is hardly essential, and maybe not as satisfying as the following two Gorgoroth releases. But at the same time, one can't really go wrong with it if Norwegian black metal is what's desired, unless bizarrely incomprehensible and naff vocals really turn you off. The latter point though is easy for me to ignore. This is definitely the most atmospheric of the Gorgoroth releases, and is a nice amalgamation of what made the second wave so good, at least for a time.