Gehenna - Unravel (Indie Recordings)

'Tis a slow-slithering grimness which unravels here...
Release Date: 
11 Oct 2013 - 1:36am

I first became aware of Gehenna via their 1994 album, First Spell. I dug it, it was sorta creaky but nevertheless endearing black metal. One of my friends referred to it as 'troll metal,' which, given the midtempo pace and liberal use of outmoded keyboard pipes, wasn't far off. Still, though, I liked it. 2005 marked the Norwegian act's last release, WW, which took stylistic cues from a few sources --swirling, reverby-y guitars that sounded like old Emperor, buzz-saw passages that evoked Transylvanian Hunger (Darkthrone), and the vocals which were reminiscent of blackened death metal acts like Aeternus. Which is to say that, though this was a competent album, it lacked a unique voice of its own.

Now, after nearly a decade, the Northerners return with what I'd call a renewed focus. Unravel, out now on Indie Recordings, is a grim and foreboding foray into the spirit of true black metal. Much unnecessary ink has been spilled over the concept of "truth" in black metal, but it seems Gehenna get pretty damn close to it with this record. Not prisoner to any single style, the songs of Unravel instead utilize each mesmerizing blast-beat, each forlorn death march, each elongated growl to create an atmosphere that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The whole album has a dirgelike, cyclical quality to it. Indeed, the title of the album is satisfyingly indicative of the feel that one gets listening to it -- a slowly unwinding journey toward death, as evidenced by the album cover. Sanrabb's vocals and lyrics complement the material well -- hell, on The Decision, his patterned scream reminded me more of Scott Kelly (Neurosis) than any black-metal contemporaries. Riffs are held for long enough that one becomes lulled into a dim sense of foreboding timelessness. Nothing Deserves Worship begins with a funereal 5/4 groove that is answered by an equally off-kilter blast passage. Movements from passage to passage are hypnotically organic, such that the tracks feel intimately bound to one another. End Ritual is a banger of a song that breaks the mood just the teensiest with some irresistible First Spell-era organs, but even that little nugget is rewarding in a King Diamond sort of way. Album ender, Death Enters, begins with Goblin-esque keys whose eerie statement underscores the bleak cold of the song's final chords.

If the original statement of black metal was that metal is a dish best served cold, inhuman, and primeval, then Gehenna succeed admirably. For many, black metal now represents a "sound," a set of conventions. For Gehenna it represents a tone, an atmosphere, a spirit. And, unlike other bands, Gehenna haven't made a parody out of their desire to preserve that tradition. The compositions and textures on Unravel aren't trying to sound "necro," "trve," or "crust," and neither are they preoccupied with "innovating" within the genre. Whatever is evoked is of a piece with the mood of the whole. It surprises me to say this, but Unravel is a truly great black metal record.

Unravel is out now.