Under the Sign of Hell (Re-issue)
Gorgoroth, "Under the Sign of Hell (Re-issue)"
‘Under the Sign of Hell’ exists in a strange state of limbo in the center of Gorgoroth’s discography, removed in part from the notoriety of the crude ‘Pentagram’ as well as the sonic jet-engine that is the Gaahl era. As such, it remains widely overlooked, despite being perhaps the most fitting representative of Gorgoroth’s music over the years as well as a suitable bridge from the early era to the modern.
After Gorgoroth’s rather fractured first two episodes, the organized progression and overall consistency of ‘Under…’ comes a welcome change. In fact, one might even say that it is split into distinct sections, with songs of a similar nature going together. All quite generally speaking, the first two songs exude a rock ‘n’ roll vibe (especially with the crashing climax of the opener), the next two are rooted in traditional folk, ‘Postludium’ acts as a brief intermission, and then the second half of the disc fuses the two and unleashes the real black metal attack.
In each stage, Infernus boasts strong songwriting skills that have significantly matured since either previous release. The arrangements are often quite elementary, it is true, but every song has a unique character (uncommon enough in black metal), and cuts like ‘Blood Stains the Circle’ are as impressive today as they were 11 years ago. The riffing is direct, clever, and draws just enough from rock sensibilities to be catchy while still feeling adequately sinister. Too, it’s also notable that Infernus chose to integrate folk elements and traditional vocals directly into his main project, while others in the scene formed side projects instead (Fenriz, most notably).
The production is appropriate for black metal, and portions of it are quite effective—the guitar tone, especially for the harmonies of ‘Funeral Procession’—but in other areas it is disappointing. The snare sound on the first track, for example, is startlingly loud and distracts from what is otherwise a good opener. The bass drum, in contrast, is placed far too low in the mix, and often blends into a single droning hum beneath the bass guitar that is easy to forget entirely.
Still, in the given context this is a relatively small concern, and the album is altogether a strong one. Combining the primitive inspiration of its predecessors with the concentrated force of its successors, ‘Under the Sign of Hell’ is to this day one of the best examples of True Norwegian Black Metal.