Justify Your Shitty Taste: Gorgoroth’s “Under the Sign of Hell 2011”

Very few bands have more than one “perfect” album, let alone a run of three in a row but Gorgoroth managed this hat (no pun intended) trick within their first few years with Pentagram, Antichrist and Under the Sign of Hell. There are very few people into black metal who can deny the impact of these records, unless they’re contrarian shitheads in which case you should ignore everything that comes from the asshole beneath their nose. These records are — arguably, I guess — beyond reproach. So why, over ten years later, did Gorgoroth mastermind Infernus decide to re-record not just a handful of songs but the entire third full length?

During the ’00s, Gorgoroth was probably known more for their theatrics or the behind the scenes legal drama or that fucking interview with third vocalist Gaahl where he gave one word answers and swirled a wine glass. My personal interest in the band had fallen off, mostly due to the combination I just outlined as well as (what I felt at the time was) a lackluster performance at Milwaukee Metalfest in 2001, so I wasn’t really paying much attention outside of thinking it was horseshit that two guys who joined years after the band was formed were trying to copyright the fucking thing and kick out the founding member. Because of this I missed Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt, the victory lap after Infernus won the court case and the triumphant return of second vocalist, Pest. This lineup would reconvene two years later to re-record Under the Sign of Hell two years later. I would come to learn, over a decade later, that this record is fucking divisive.

Somewhere around a year and a half ago I had the itch to give Pentagram a listen, a real listen, for the first time in probably fifteen years, maybe longer. It caught me the same way it did when I first heard it in 1995, which started me on an 18 month (and running) kick on the first three records, obsessively listening like I was 16 years old again. From this I bumped into Under the Sign of Hell 2011 for the first time and was mesmerized, for reasons I’m sure you can’t wait for me to explain but we’ll get to that, consider this foreplay. I posted it on my Facebook, as I’m wont to do, and the reaction I got was (for me) very unexpected; universal scorn. The more people I spoke to, the more I found they really disliked the record but couldn’t give me any concrete reason as to why, except that they preferred the original.

Re-recording old material can yield mixed results. Sometimes you get “Return to the Eve (Studio Jam 1985)” and other times you get Stormblåst MMV. In small doses it can be cool to hear a new take on old favorites but rarely does redoing an entire album ever truly add anything to a bands legacy (the only other examples of this being done well, in my obviously excellent opinion, are Svartsyn’s The True Legend and Old Forest’s Back Into the Old Forest) and only serves to be a stopgap between releases or a sign that the artist is creatively bankrupt. So, I could understand somewhat why Under the Sign of Hell 2011 received the reaction it did. But I also knew that they were absolutely wrong.

If you listen to both versions side by side you’ll notice that the 2011 version is shorter, missing the “Exorcist” feeling “Postludium” or really any of the, for lack of a better word, “atmospheric” touches the original had. Both versions have very raw production (I remember taking the original in when Krieg did our second album as a production reference) but while the original has a somewhat more cavernous/reverb/warm(?) feel to it, 2011 is completely about audial violence. My initial reaction was that it somewhat sounded worse than the original, with more separation between instruments and a dryer, more suffocating aura to it. It sounded like shit and I loved it.

I think a lot of people cannot look at the 2011 version as its own entity without comparing it to the original, and that might be where a lot of the hesitation lies. But to listen to it on its own, to seek out its own merit, you’ll find a beast of a fucking record. Starting with the drum sound; they sound like all of the heads have been replaced with random metal pieces, just a constant clicking of machine gunfire. I know that comparison gets used a lot when discussing extreme metal drumming but the metallic on metal sounds truly weaponized, just a battery of shrapnel. The guitars and bass are caustic yet very clear, so that you’re able to follow every nuance of the songs while still retaining the (early) Gorgoroth raw power. Vocally Pest has grown in strength and projection since the 1990s and his vile yet confident delivery adds another baneful layer to an already mortiferous concoction.

So did we necessarily need two versions of this record? No, but unlike so many attempts in the past I can listen to them both and hear enough differences to justify their separate existences. Under the Sign of Hell 2011 is a nasty record of pure, no frills black metal, reenvisioning some of the greatest songs of black metal’s Second Wave as even sharper knives than before. Those of you who (unlike me) don’t want to overpay on Discogs for a copy will be pleased to know that Soulseller Records is reissuing it this October, on nice white and black marbled vinyl. While you enjoy that, I’ll continue to listen to my second hand copy and preach the justification of its existence to whoever is unfortunate enough to be in the way when I’m talking about it.

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Full Album Stream + Interview: Gates of Dawn – “II”

The letters “USBM” conjure up a lot of things for a lot of people. From the primitive barbarism of VON and Profanatca to the crippling psychosis of Leviathan to the sunglasses of Deafheaven to whatever the fuck you folks like these days. But what you don’t think about too often is atmospheric, symphonic psychedelic USBM. That’s because it didn’t fucking exist. Until Gates of Dawn.

Last year’s self titled debut was one of my favorite records of the year, filled with lush keyboards, sinister guitar work and a warmth to it while remaining bitter cold, a la mid-’90s Swedish projects Parnassus and Octinomos. II, the project’s second album for Death Hymns, takes the formula from the debut and expands it, which is another way to describe the record, “expansive.” The atmosphere of II is drenched in a dark psychedelia, a mind altering pulse across bleak black (metal) skies. It’s a journey. It’s fucking good, is what I’m trying to convey.

Today we offer a stream of the album, nearly two weeks before the album hit with Death Hymns’ loaded summer batch. With the impending release of II I had a brief chat with Travis Nordahl, Gates of Dawn’s creator, to introduce the project and new album to Decibel’s audience.

II by Gates of Dawn

How would you describe the progression between the two full lengths?

Where the first album focused more on creating a wide expansive and blurry soundscape, II is about all the instruments playing off each other. Reacting and harmonizing in more of a band type of way. I let the psych-jam-etc influences come through a lot more on this release, and opted to come to the recording session with ideas for one song rather than a stream of consciousness style of writing.

This album also features live drums and bass, which obviously resulted in a much more organic groove. I’ve played the drums for almost as long as I’ve played guitar, and was always opposed to using a drum machine in black metal, but at the time of recording the first album it felt right to use a drum machine. The additional live instrumentation allowed for more avenues to explore and improvise that I’m very pleased with.

Gates of Dawn originally began as a dungeon synth project. What caused the shift from dungeon synth to black metal?

The purpose of this project is to have something that allows me to explore whatever ideas come along and run with them. At the time of the first release, I was living in an area that was pretty isolated. I was a bit of a hermit and spent all of my free time building and learning modular synthesis. I would record hours and hours of synth music, but only what appeared on the split with Charnel Oubliette felt fit for release. Ultimately, creating DS that’s both unique and interesting proved to be too difficult for me to be productive.

My other black metal project, El-Ahrairah, was forced into a geographical hiatus so another outlet for the ideas I had been working on for EA was necessary. All that time spent toiling away, twisting knobs and pushing buttons, allowed me to figure out how to make synths fit in BM in ways that I hadn’t done before.

When someone listens to II for the first time, what do you want them to hear?

Each song on the record discusses topics as old as time. Death and rebirth, terror and love, regret and intent, the heroes and the humbled. The track sequence reflects this point and counterpoint theme, with each half of the album ascending and descending in two distinct acts. The music often stands as a literal translation of the lyrics. Swirling, cyclical, and confusing when trudging through the sheets of cosmic dust, raw and grounded when the realization of acts committed sets in, triumphant and melancholy when forging to battle with an undeserving adversary.

I want people to get swept onto the bus, doors locked, and let off at the end of the line.

Gates of Dawn is a uniquely adventurous and creative project in an era of well marketed mediocrity. II will be released on July 22nd, again through Death Hymns.

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Full Album Stream: Xasthur/Casket of Dreams “The Hallucination Tunnels”

When you think of Xasthur in 2021, what do you envision? Images of a spectre haunting a dilapidated house? Someone looking like they’re dressed to rob a train? The One-Man Metal doc? While all of these would be accurate at certain times in the past, this is yet another proliferation of Xasthur, this time performing “funeral synth,” another offshoot of dungeon synth. On paper this sounds like it could either be fascinating or, like so much of the multitude of dungeon synth-adjacent acts (including the 14 or 15 that sprouted up while I typed that initial few sentences) a completely unnecessary bore. Which one is it?

I’d like to think I have better things to do with my time than write about boring music, but then again that’s why comments sections exist-to tell me how fucking wrong I am.

But this isn’t just about Xasthur’s innate ability to shift shapes, it also tells a story of another project, a pioneer in American black metal (for reference I’m talking about Ritual and I highly recommend their second record, Demonic Winter Metal) and dungeon synth who made his return under the Casket of Dreams moniker last year after over 20 years since his Dragons of Autumn Twilight release on Wild Rags. These two artists have a long, intertwined history so the idea of a collaboration like this feels natural even if the genre seems unlikely at first glance until you realize Xasthur records have, from the beginning, contained this very style of synth work.

If I had to pin down a single descriptive term for this record it would have to be “authentic.” Whereas you’ll come across a billion instrumental records with “horror” in the byline The Hallucination Tunnels actually conjures up a true ghastly experience that very few (if any) projects are able to accomplish. It genuinely feels like a collaboration of both minds and their inventive styles rather than two guys in a room doing whatever they want without a proper discussion on where they want to go. It’s easy to approach a record like this with mixed (if not low) expectations but if you’re a fan of either gentleman’s work or dungeon — sorry, funeral — synth in general then I assure you this will be one of your favorite releases this year.

The Hallucination Tunnels and its horrors are spread via Appalachian Noise Records (CD & LP) May 14 and soon after through Ancient Meadow on cassette (while you’re there I recommend the Mortwight/Moorgrave split they just released).

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Deck the Hails Part II: The Revenge of Neill Jameson’s Christmas Playlist

I used to think that the worst part about the holiday season was, because I lived in New Jersey at the time, I would have Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi’s Christmas aural equivalent to a sandpaper hand job jammed (stuffed if we’re being seasonal) up my ass forty times before Thanksgiving was even over. I sincerely don’t know what’s worse: my girlfriend at the time’s brother who loved to shout, “MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY” in a poor imitation of Springsteen because he was starved for attention and their father didn’t talk to them anymore or the fucking stage banter of the Boss’ rendition of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” “Did Santa bring you a new saxophone, Clarence?” No, he didn’t, because Clarence is fucking dead and every year, I hear that shit I feel like joining him just a bit more each time.

Now I’m convinced the biggest holiday war crime is some sappy shit from the bygone era where surfing I guess was en vogue for the holiday season. The song is “Christmas Island” and I’m sure someone writing for Vice could have a 1,000-word count think piece about everything “problematic” about it.

There’s a Jimmy Buffet version as well that sounds like having an ornament laden palm tree shoved in your dickhole that I’d have posted but I’ve already fucked up my algorithm enough.

That aside, you might recall that I did a piece on Christmas music a few years ago (put link here I guess) and I figured I’d sort of retread on that ground a bit since there’s a few more I might’ve missed or that have popped up since, plus a repeat or two since it’s the season for regifting and I’m nothing if not generous. After all, it’s an attempt to put the nog back in your 2020 egg or some kind of metaphor that I lost control over about 50 characters ago, give or take.

Krampusnacht “Krampusnacht”

In the three years since this was released it’s almost become a tradition that I put this on Thanksgiving eve when I’m inevitably driving to a fucking grocery store at 10:45 because I forgot a single ingredient that somehow holds the fabric of the next day together. Anyway, this is very dark and creepy dungeon synth regardless of the source material but the fact that it’s culled from old Christmas songs from when the holiday was about beating kids with a pine tree branch until they accepted Jesus (I think, I wasn’t alive then) definitely helps the holiday spirit. He’s remained active, including a recent 7-inch inch on Chimney Rocks Records and full length recording, but this remains my favorite of his work and somehow doesn’t manage to insult my sense of distaste for whimsey. This was recently released on vinyl by Phantom Lure who may still have copies.

Jaaportit “Kauan Koskematon”

Right, this has nothing to do with the holidays at all. So, why am I putting it in another list? Because fucking listen to it and tell me it doesn’t conjure images of snowy winter nights? This is one of those records I mostly listen to when the days get shorter and colder, which I’m sure makes me a pretentious asshole to some of you but fuck yourselves, I’m very much a seasonal listener to certain things, this being one of them. Originally recorded over twenty years ago, Jaaportit were very far ahead of the dungeon synth thing and continue to record interesting music that keeps its core coldness to this day. “Kauan Kosematon” and another early recording, “Halki Lumisen Metsan” were both reissued by the fine Out of Season earlier this year.

Lustre “The First Snow”

I know the last one was a reach as far as December(ish) listening but the 2018 single “The First Snow” by ambient black metal act Lustre just fucking screams this time of the year, from the wintry synth work to the evocative cover art by Joan Llopis Domenech. Lustre already are the sort of project that works on a level where you tend to visualize corresponding mental imagery to whatever atmosphere he’s working on and this entire package personifies its title. It’s a shame that this was digital only, I’d love to have a vinyl of this.

The Kinks “Father Christmas”

If you’ve ever worked in a record store, one thing you’ll become familiar with is watching bands who rode the innovative wave of the various permutations of rock in the ’60s tried desperately to adapt to later decades music trends in an attempt to stay relevant, with varying degrees of embarrassment (see: the 1980s). But one of the successes of this was the Kinks, at least with this song. Regardless of if you’ve able to see through the fact they must’ve heard two Sex Pistols songs and wanted to try to get in on that action, both sonically and lyrically, this is a solidly cynical take on the season as well as a fucking good proto-punk song.

Type O Negative “Red Water (Christmas Morning)”

Yeah, I don’t know how I missed this the first time around. If you dig this song, Celestial Season did it justice with a recent cover version. This is what I imagine people who listen to Napalm Records ’00s catalog open up fishnet stockings on Christmas morning to, surrounded by plastic Christmas trees they painted black. Great song, tho.

In our rapid fire round let me just round up three punk/metal Christmas songs that don’t have shit to do with “No Presents for Christmas,” which I’ve noticed hasn’t been making the rounds as much the last few years, same as the decline of the Misfits at Halloween, showing that either it’s not getting as many “likes” as people would want or that you’re all starting to join me in the emotional sewer where fun is discouraged.

Gehennah “No Fucking Christmas”

C’mon, what the fuck else do you have to do for seven minutes and change?

Poison Idea “Santa Claus is Back in Town”

The greatest American punk institution should have done more of these.

Venom “Black Christmas”

I was wrong, this isn’t the last of the classic lineup, Mantas isn’t on it. I’m surprised no one’s said that in the four years since the first piece. Also, the Cronos solo stuff rules.

And there you have it, a little Christmas cheer which none of you asked for and I was happy to send your way. I only ask one thing and that is when you’re making your New Year’s resolutions that you resolve to stop saying “remember shows?” like some slack jawed drooling dunce looking out the window at a nursing home, waiting for the kids who despise you to come visit for Christmas only to be disappointed yet another year.

Also, here’s this.

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Valac and Kommodus Premiere ‘Eclipsing Honour and Decay’ Split Cassette

If you think just because it’s the end of the year and you’re already swimming in year end lists that there aren’t still records coming out that are really worth investing your time into then you’re just fucking naive. 2020 has been one of the strongest years for exceptional extreme metal in recent memory and I’m here to show you another release that’s near the top of the heap when it comes to shit you need to hear as this fucking fecal tornado of a year winds down; the highly anticipated split between American vampyric black mist Valac and Australia’s insanely prolific Kommodus.

Valac has been busy working churning out jet black metal the better part of the last few years that sits comfortably stylistically with similar bands steeped in mystique like Lamp of Murmuur and Dai Ichi, but as “Hollow Cries of Mercy” will show you, Valac has absolutely sharpened their sound. While I’ve enjoyed their previous work the tracks on this split are a massive step up from their earlier material. The riffs no longer seem murky behind a miasma of reverb, instead come at you with maturity and a malignant air. This split takes Valac out of the realm of black metal curiosity into a fucking dark force and I’m very excited to hear where this journey takes the project, which has several more releases in the pipeline.

It wasn’t enough for Kommodus to release what was, for my money, the best album of 2020 (the self titled “Kommodus”) but this prolific monster continues to give birth to twisted creations over and over, each time striking a little bit harder and becoming a little bit more deadly. As anyone who’s had the misfortune to talk to me about music this year knows I’m fairly obsessed with this project, as is a huge chunk of the underground. Think Integrity meets Leviathan with a generous pour of Bestial Warlust and you have an idea of the madness of Kommodus but I can honestly say nothing else out there sounds like this project. “Pyrrhic Victory” is another one in the chamber that wastes not a single second and is indicative of the genius of the overall Kommodus arsenal. Hail Kommodus.

This crucial split will be released and distributed through Appalachian Noise Records, home of Valac’s Leaning Towards Bitter Misery LP. The cassette will be available at noon on (appropriately) Black Friday while the vinyl version has been delayed as COVID-19 continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, but the record should follow sometime winter 2021.

Eclipsing Honour & Decay by Appalachian Noise Records

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Album Premiere: Moulin Banal – De Misère & D’Engelures

Out next Friday on west coast underground resistance Forbidden Sonority, De Misère & D’Engelures is the debut full-length from Montréal-based black metal/folk trio Moulin Banal. We first introduced our readers to Moulin Banal’s lo-fi-yet-dynamic style of black metal back in April 2019, but on their long-awaited LP Moulin Banal seem to open the panels and reveal a whole world of sounds within these nine tracks that make up De Misère & D’Engelures. 

De Misere & D’Engelures is a black metal representation of ancient times in Quebec, also known as Nouvelle-France at the time,” explains Comte Bergaby, the band’s vocalist, guitarist, bassist and former drummer. “It balances between cold harsh black metal and warm but tragic folk melodies.” Bergaby continues, “One side of the project reflects the old suffering while its reflection usually focuses on the brighter side, such as the love of a new life and the benefits of honest work. We explore legends stories of our land but we also created a fiction throughout the album; some of the texts are seen through the eyes of a French settler, others tracks like ‘Le Revenant de Gentilly’ are based on myths from the province.” He concludes with: “‘Vive le Quebec libre!’”

De Misère & D’Engelures

De Misère & D’Engelures by Moulin Banal

Get De Misere & D’Engelures December 4 from Forbidden Sonority. 

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