Black metal warriors Gehenna return from the ashes with horrifying crusher ‘Unravel’

gehennaDespite your particular spiritual persuasion, or lack thereof, I think we have a pretty good idea about the concept of eternal damnation and a lashing pit for the wicked. Each religion has its own version of this horrible place, and if you’ve heard a metal album or two, you know the music is fairly wrapped up in evil and chaos.

Nordic black metal heathens Gehenna might not be a destination for eternal suffering, but they probably could not have picked a better name for their black metal art they have spread across the universe for nearly the past two decades. They followed on the path of the second wave of black metal that bubbled up in their homeland, and they were one of the ones that survived past that point and went on to create chaotic, meaningful art well into the future. In fact, they’ve been fairly consistent on their musical output, they’ve slowed down their productivity a bit since the turn of the century. We’ve only gotten three albums from the band in the past 13 years, though at least what they have given us has been very much worth the wait.

gehenna coverThe band’s seventh record “Unravel” finally is in our hands, and it’s their first record since 2005’s “WW,” which was released on Moonfog. Now the band calls Indie Recordings home, and their first offering for that label is as foreboding, dark, and drubbing as anything they’ve ever put out, and it’s sort of a cold, horrible rebirth for Gehenna that not only should please folks who have been along for the ride since their 1994 debut “First Spell” but also should find favor among younger fans who are hungry for something more violent and terrifying than most of what black metal offers the world these days.

Now, even though Gehenna remain, and their mission is just as horrible, the forces behind the band have changed since the last record. Founding member Sanrabb, who handles vocals and guitars, among other things, has been the voice of the band from the start, and joining him this time around are guitarist Skinndod (Throne of Katarsis), bassist Byting, and drummer Slatrarinn. They form a horrific union that sounds perfectly attuned for Gehenna’s 2013 mission and also happen to have made one of the band’s best efforts in some time.

We kick off with “The Decision,” a song that begins with piano dripping down and a grim atmosphere forming before buzzing guitars cut through and the mission is allowed to unfurl slowly. Sanrabb’s vocals are abrasive and throaty, and despite the song feeling downright hellish, there also is a sense of melody that floods the area. Actually, melody is something that returns often on this album, making it approachable yet bloodthirsty. The title cut is blistering and fast, with tortured wails and uncompromising death, though it eventually applies the brakes as the cut drowns out in a fog of doom. “Nothing Deserves Worship” is slow-driving and menacing, as guitar lines are strangled and melodies slip into the murk. It’s hazy and furious, relentless and completely morbid. “Nine Circles of Torture” is one of the shorter cuts on the album, as guitars churn and grow dissonant but eventually ignite into full-blown terror.

“A Grave of Thoughts” has a smoky, slow-burning feel to it, and it also drubs and dumps millions of tons of doom right on top of your chest. At nearly seven minutes, it’s one of the longest tracks on the record, and it makes the most of its running time, burning and scorching the earth as it moves through its journey. “Lead to the Pyre” lets speed and punishment back into the proceedings, and it has a thrashy complexion and is a hammering helping of black metal. “End Ritual” also has a deep serving of melody that pulls you into the track, and it feels like a heavy storm moving through the night, settling over you and drowning you with thunder and downpours. Organs slip in and freeze your already soaked soul, and the guitars completely haunt. In a similar vein, closer “Death Enters” also has its ghostly transmissions, with trickling keys that stagger over its introduction, making it feel like something that would make the late Vincent Price proud. This song is pure magic, as the band hits on an approach where they all sound spiritually aligned in their playing and continually build the drama, only to tear it back down again. “Will you bow down?” Sanrabb howls, as the chaos swells and breaks, the band hits on a dark melody that keeps striking back, and the toxic swarm of damnation the band creates suddenly ends, leaving you in the dark, wondering if you’ll survive.

We may have waited a while for Gehenna to strike back, but it was totally worth every moment. The current version of the band made a painfully dark document that nicely captures the hopelessness and evil that surrounds us now, and while it won’t make you feel any better about the world, it at least should help you understand that you’re not alone in your disillusionment. Hopefully we hear back from Gehenna a little sooner that we’ve come to expect, but as long as they keep creating horrifying records such as “Unravel,” we’re willing to wait in the shadows.

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