Metal Church - The Present Wasteland

If you are a devout supporter of all things Black Metal and, most importantly all this Norwegian in extreme music, then the name Gehenna ought to be quite familiar to you. Gehenna were first formed in 1993 (a very important year for the scene) in the quite picturesque Norwegian seaside town of Stavanger and for the last eighteen years they have been presenting the world with their take of straight forward, intense, and classic-sounding take of Black Metal. The band’s latest full-length effort “WW” was release in 2005 by the Norwegian label Moonfog Productions, so why is it that in the year 2011 we get to have the exact same release under the moniker of Peaceville? Well, it is a simpel case of the cult British label having bought the rights to this album and re-issuing it with a few additional tracks thus enabling all of us who never got the change to get our hands on the original pressing to finally add this album in our record collection. So, is “WW” indeed an album worth having? I believe that it is, even though the first two spins were not too promising.

As we all very well know, Black Metal has changed significantly over the last twenty years with even the most legendary of outfits like Darkthrone, Mayhem and Satyricon being in constant search of new ways of musical expression. When compared to that of the above bands’, Gehenna’s approach is both simplistic and to a ceratin extent predictable, with each of the eight compositions on offer relying on harmonic/atmospheric guitar themes, simple/repetitive riffs and intense drumming for making a positive impression. The first few times that I listened to “WW” the one thing that really attracted my attention was Sanrabb’s eerie guttural vocals but soon after I made the decision not to give up on this album, more things begun to click. Bathory’s influence on the music of the band is audible in every single guitar harmony used and Frost’s (see Satyricon) drumming performances, though at times way too intense, are, in others, far more restrained and thus more supportive of the compositions on offer. What we have here, then, is an album that will undoubtedly satisfy fans of the early 90s Black Metal scene but one that may not necessarily appeal to people whose involvement in the scene begun closer to the new millennium.

The album kicks off with the quite fierce “Grenade Prayer” and straight away one detects how well produced this effort is from the way that each instrument comes across clearly in the final mix. Though predominantly a fast-paced piece, there are a few rhythmical mid-tempo moments that provide a welcoming break to the proceedings – a similar approach being followed in “Death To Them All” and “New Blood”, though both featuring a few more clearly audible references to the mighty Bathory. One song that immediately stood out was the slow paced rhythmical opus “Flames Of The Pit” – the first composition to really enable the band to show off its ability to present us with its atmospheric credentials. In “Silence The Earth” Frost really punishes its double-bass drums whereas my personal favorite “Werewolf” is a celebration of all things Bathory that proves how diverse this band can really be. The four minute “Abattoir” which follows may not necessarily meet with its predecessors’ standards but “Pallbearer” is a totally different ‘beast’ as it is based on simple but clever atmospheric passages and features some catchy groovy guitar riffs towards the end. Those of you who will choose to invest in this 2011 reissue will be rewarded with three bonus tracks; two alternative mixes for “Grenade Prayer” and “Werewolf” as well as with a decent live version of “Flames In the Pit” which proves how well these songs can be recreated on a live environment.

Though revered in the underground Black Metal scene Gehenna never managed to become as influential as some of their fellow-countrymen. I am not sure whether an explanation to that fact can be found in albums such as “WW” as, even as I write these very words, I am not sure quite what to make of them. I mean, if I find myself in a mood for aggressive and uncompromising Black Metal, “WW” could potentially be a decent companion, but what I am not quite sure of is a) if this album will indeed be among my top choices, and b) how often I will find myself in such a specific mood. Something tells me that those not totally committed to this type of archaic/early 90s Black Metal will most probably find themselves thinking is similar lines, hence the reason why I decided to award this album with a restrained but also fairly favorable rating.

John Stefanis

Rating: ***1/2 (3.5/5.0)

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