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it's a black metal album i like - 93%

Cheeses_Priced, December 27th, 2004

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.