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Review for 'Gorgoroth - Pentagram'
Little did he know it at the time, but legendary Norwegian Black Metal musician Infernus struck the musical equivalent of gold when he formed Gorgoroth in 1992, although he no doubt began to suspect that something great was on the horizon upon seeing how perfectly everything was fitting together while recording Pentagram in early 1994 at the legendary Grieghallen Studio in Bergen.
Pentagram is Gorgoroth's first full length album, and it was released in October 1994 through French record label Embassy Productions, who had already signed a deal with them previously having been convinced of Gorgoroth's potential with their first demo tape from 1993, A Sorcery Written In Blood. Neither party would regret this, as Pentagram would go on to become one of Black Metal's most revered albums.
As is sometimes the case with many legendary bands whose careers span more than two decades, more often than not one first hears Gorgoroth's music either through their 1997 all-time classic Under The Sign Of Hell, or through one of their most recent albums such as Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam or Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt. While these are all superb albums and no doubt great ways to get to know the band's music, their main "drawback" in this case is that they are quite accessible in comparison to Pentagram, and one will always have a hard time trying to make sense of it all upon first listening to Pentagram. But don't worry, after only a couple of listens it all makes perfect sense and becomes supremely enjoyable, and once you have read this review you will be fully aware of what to expect on the first listen anyway.
First off, Pentagram begins with a slightly deceiving song titled "Begravelsesnatt", which translates into "Burial Night". There is actually only one thing about this song that is deceiving, and that is the weird reverb effect on either the guitars, bass guitar or both, making it sound like these instruments were separately recorded in a bathtub via Walky Talky. This "irregularity" is only present on the first song and does not repeat itself in any shape or form on the rest of the album, but the trouble for any first listener is that, when combined with Hat's extremely strangled vocals (which do remain the same on the rest of the album), the whole experience can be a little overwhelming, giving the impression that the whole album is going to sound abysmal.
Well, now you know, this is not the case, and once you have listened to Pentagram a couple of times, "Begravelsesnatt" actually does fit into place, and what originally seemed like an irregularity is, in retrospect, one of many small details spread throughout the album. It's just unfortunate that the most bizarre of all these small details should be the first thing a listener encounters upon checking out Pentagram. In any case, given that this is unique to the first song, it was probably an intentional mindfuck, courtesy of Infernus.
Moving on, the next thing that should be clarified are the aforementioned vocals by Hat. They are quite different from both Pest and Gaahl's vocals on later Gorgoroth albums, consisting of a very high pitch screech that some people have even compared to a strangled duck.
These two aspects of Pentagram aren't that important, but I felt they should be outlined to prevent anyone to potentially stop listening to it after only 30 seconds, because the album is entirely worth it. The initial guitar sound and Hat's vocals are strange, yes, but as I've already mentioned, after a just a couple of listens it all fits into place, allowing the listener to concentrate on the album's main attraction, the riffs and the songwriting. After all, this is Gorgoroth we are talking about.
I will refrain from doing a song-by-song analysis, because basically every single song on Pentagram is excellent, and it is so for one reason. Infernus is a genius when it comes to songwriting, and not only has he populated this album with a metric fuckload of highly enjoyable and creative riffs, he also occasionally makes the riffs slightly unpredictable. For instance, if you listen to Darkthrone, when you come across each new riff, you can tell how the second half of each riff will play out based upon the first half, but on Pentagram, there are moments when, just when you think you know how the riff will end, it suddenly goes in a subtle yet completely unexpected direction that makes the whole song sound even better and more memorable. There are no stand-out tracks, as even "Huldrelokk" which isn't even two minutes long is packed full of greatness.
Wait, maybe there is one stand-out track, the album's closer "Måneskyggens Slave" which at almost six minutes is by far the longest song on the album, almost twice as long as the rest. In fact, this is why "Måneskyggens Slave" is the stand-out track, because it contains twice as much greatness, and this is probably the song where Hat's vocal performance really shines more than anywhere else. Also, it's epic as fuck.
That's about it, and to wrap things up, I'll let the fact that this album has been re-released seven times speak for itself.
What other albums sound similar to this?
Since they formed in 1992, Gorgoroth have been a force to be reckoned within Black Metal for more than two decades, and in that time they have produced a number of brilliant Black Metal albums, all flying high the banner of True Norwegian Black Metal. Nonetheless, Gorgoroth's sound has changed over the years, in part due to the constant line-up changes but also because Infernus, the band's founder and songwriter, desired to evolve Gorgoroth's sound ever so slightly with each new album. Therefore, Pentagram's closest relatives, both sound-wise and chronologically, are Antichrist from 1996 and Under The Sign Of Hell from 1997, both being some of the finest Black Metal albums to ever be recorded and each featuring a slightly better vocal performance than that found on Pentagram due to Pest replacing Hat as vocalist in 1995.
Curiously, Gorgoroth's recent album from 2009, titled Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatem Trahunt, is a magnificent homage to their earlier works, with Infernus applying his accumulated talent as a songwriter to the style of the band's first albums with stunning results. The authenticity is made complete by the re-incorporation of Pest on vocals, who had already worked with Gorgoroth on the previously mentioned classics Antichrist, Under The Sign Of Hell and also some tracks on Destroyer before being replaced by Gaahl in 1998.
There are a number of albums by other bands with a similar sound to Gorgoroth's Pentagram, however that does not necessarily imply that they share the same feel or quality. For an optimal listening experience, I suggest Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger, Immortal's Battles In The North and Burzum's Det Som Engang Var, three classic Norwegian Black Metal albums of similar magnitude that all perfectly pull off the same balance between rawness and melody that is featured on Pentagram, each in it's own distinct manner.
In a nutshell...
Not only is Gorgoroth's Pentagram one of the band's most outstanding achievements, something to think about for any band that has been around for 20 years and produced 8 full length albums, but it is also one of the genres most distinguished works, with a short but intense 30 minute journey to the heart of Norwegian Black Metal itself, and with Pentagram, Infernus has proven that since the very beginning of his career he had what it took to be a world class guitarist and songwriter, with every song full of amazing riffs, genius song structures and subtle surprises that all make Pentagram extremely enjoyable and give it the legendary status it rightly deserves.
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