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With their third full-length, Gorgoroth took a significantly different apporach to their music, as well as another step forward in terms of songwriting. "Under The Sign Of Hell" is a very adapt title for an album whose sound seems to indeed have been forged in the darkest depths of the underworld, as well as its mysterious cover foreshadows that everything here is strictly in black and white (with a strong predominance of the former, of course).
The songs are still fairly short, and the riffs can still be described as trademark Gorgoroth, but the rendition is a lot more aggressive and the sound (so clear and full on the previous albums, in contrast with so many other Blacm Metal releases) is very abrasive and much more raw. This time the guitars and bass are also tuned one step down, at leats on most of the songs, which is another new feature for the band's sound.
This result definitely owes something to the new line-up that partecipated on this album. Apart from Infernus, still handling the guitars and some bass parts, this album features the likes of Grim (R.I.P.) of Immortal and Borknagar fame, whose barbaric beats fit the new character of the music (more aggression, less groove) very well, as well as Pest (of Obtained Enslavement, who had already partecipated on "Antichrist) on vocals and Ares (of Aeternus) as a guest on bass.
As the album begins, "Revelation of Doom" wastes no time in assaulting the listener with razor sharp riffs and merciless beats, soon paired by Pest's trademark shrill, acid screams. The sound differences between this album and the previous ones are brutally obvious, as everything in here (including the vocals, which in contrast to "Pentagram" and "Antichrist" are kept way loud in the mix) sounds distorted and overloud. The drums have a rather bad quality (the snare almost sounds like someone knowcking on a door), but they will becomes better on the rest of the album. The song itself is a very fast attack backed by fast and powerful drumming, and despite its short length has enough room for some tempo changes (including a kind of "marching" interlude which oddly reminds of "Child in Time"). Enough to describe the characteristics of the album, and to scare most listeners away for good.
"Krig" is next, and is basically more of the same although the guitars and bass built a more melodic background which creates a nice conrast with Grim's relentless blastbeats and Pest's inhuman screams. His aggressive banshee-like voice fits the band's new sound very well.
"Funeral Procession" slows down the pace and lets Infernus unleash some highly melodic and sorrowful guitar parts. Grim is impressive with his double bass drumming, while Pest tries a falsetto chanting in one point. The song has an unpredictable ceeleration at the end, and closes on yet another sad riff.
the sound of blowing wind precedes the barely audible guitar introduction of "Profetens Åpenbaring", and goes on for about a minute before the proper song starts. The feeling of this one is similar to "Funeral Procession", but this time the mid-tempo goes on from the beginning to the end, with the variation relying solely on the riffs and their dynamics. Pest thrpws in his clean vocals, which have a kind of solemn, recitative tone to them, and fit the more melodic passages to a great effect.
"Postludium" is next, and is a weird interlude built upon a backwards phrase sung by Pest played at different speeds.
"Ødeleggelse og Undergang" brings the fast pace back into the picture, although the riffs are menacing more than aggressive, especially in the middle section where the pace goes down.
The last drum roll of the song mixes with the beginning of "Blood Stains the Circle", another fast number with a very strong percussive feature that give it an almost tribal feel. Pest's vocals are amazing here, as lacerates his larynx with a kind of "melodic" scream which is definitely the highlisght of the song.
More speed comes in the form of "The Rite of Infernal Invocation", a blizzards of really fast riffing backed by precise drumming and more possessed screams from Pest. At the end of the song a kind of rumbling noise comes in and goes on for about three minutes before the last song, "The Devil is Calling", begins... weird and rather pointless, as most people (including me) just go for the skip button when the music ends.
So, "The Devil is Calling"... the slowest track of the album, and the most melodic one too. Grim somehow manages to hold back hsi need to thrash the hell out of his kit and provides a slow but rock solid background for the great riffs that make up this grand finale.
"Under The Sign Of Hell" completes the trilogy of the first Gorgoroth era on a high note, and introduces new elements in their sound. A recommended listen if you like raw Black Metal, and a mandatory purchase if you're a fan of the band. It's well worth it.