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Although it may sound silly; this is the epitome of a Gorgoroth album. Here me out: when one thinks of Gorgoroth, they think of pure chaotic evil and satanic hatred, and that is what all 33 minutes of Under The Sign of Hell offers. Each song is well crafted and diverse, thanks to excellent song writing from Gorgoroth mastermind, Infernus, and exceptional performances from the bands finest line up.
1997 was a fine year for black metal with lots of great bands releasing solid albums, but I must say Gorgoroth wins the gold medal. The album opens up with the sound of Infernus readying his axe for battle, some miscellaneous guitar sounds seep through the speakers, and then Revelation of Doom explodes into a relentless blizzard of furious riffs and blastbeats. Before you have time to fully comprehend the aggression of Grim’s unholy snare, Pest rages in, preaching blasphemy in one of the most evil vocal performances of musical history. The unyielding onslaught continues into Krig, although the riff is a bit more catchy and the short length of the song makes it real fast neck-splitter, however the third track, Funeral Procession is a nice contrast to the frenzied beginning of this album. The brilliant melodic riff is somewhat reminiscent of Dissection’s sound from the ‘90s and the bizarre moaning partway through creates an eerie, mysterious atmosphere.
Each member excels beyond expectation. This record showcases Infernus’ best song writing and many of his most memorable riffs. Grim’s drumming is truly astonishing and even though he would take his life two years after the release of Under The Sign Of Hell, his performance on the album is enough to immortalize his name as one of the finest drummers in the Norwegian black metal scene. In addition to these two demons, Pest offers some of the sickest, most hateful, and downright evil vocals, well, ever. Revelation of Doom shows him in his most violent state but he also performs perfect clean vocals in the vein of Storm or early Vintersorg on the track Profetens Åpenbaring (a personal favourite). This sort of addition is uncommon in most pure black metal albums, but is another way that this album achieves diversity. His desperate wailings in the latter half of Blood Stains the Circle are most disturbing and you can even make out some of the lyrics on the catchy closer, When The Devil is Calling.
One of the things that I love about this album is the natural production. It’s not raw in the sense of early Darkthrone (although it certainly isn‘t clean), but more rehearsal-like, as if you are hanging out in a gloomy garage on a dark evening, watching the band perform these songs. Despite sounding this way, it doesn’t come off as half assed and each instrument is sufficiently audible.
It seems cliché to say that black metal isn’t made like this anymore, but hey, I’m not hearing music that sounds like this nowadays. Now that Pest is back in the band and King and Gaahl are out, I have high hopes for the bands future. Hopefully the band will once again make music the priority, rather than the image. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for some true unholy black metal with unlimited replay value from the vastlands of Norway, this is pure classic.