originally written by Chris McDonald
Ah, Pentagram. Now here’s a great fucking black metal record. Arriving somewhat late to the party and struggling somewhat to find their own identity initially, Gorgoroth always seemed doomed to be the odd-man out of the “big four” of Norwegian second wave BM, namely Darkthrone, Emperor, Mayhem, and Burzum (the Exodus of black metal if you will), and I find that surprising considering the quality of their first three albums. While certainly not as groundbreaking as Emperor’s grand symphonic suites or Burzum’s minimalist atmospheric genius, only the early releases of Darkthrone and Immortal top Gorgoroth’s excellent debut trilogy when it comes to raw, sinister second wave black metal. While Under The Sign of Hell is the by far the band’s best album in terms of songwriting and musicianship, Pentagram is the Gorgoroth album to own for fans of the style‘s most carnal side – no pretensions, no keyboards, just icy cold metal to howl at the moon to while you drink the blood of a Christian whore. Or whatever it is that kids are doing these days.
The band would further develop its riffing and melodic themes on their next two records, but it’s clear when listening that Gorgoroth still had their shit together even in this stage; offsetting primitive, raw riffs with sorrowful melodies in a maelstrom of fury that defines what old Norwegian black metal was all about. Everything about this record is primal and savage; from the humorously bare-bones cover art to the hardly-precise blast beats and thrashy Bathory riffs, the sonic picture Gorgoroth paints on Pentagram is impressively frightening, and still stands up today. OK, so nothing in particular about this release was really that innovative, but the intensity is there in spades, and that was obviously the goal here. Hat’s vocals on this album…oh man. This guy is easily one of my all-time favorite black metal vocalists. His piercing screeches sound about as legitimately fucked-up as you can get, and truly add to the atmosphere created by the instruments in a way that many vocalists in the genre fail to do.
Infernus seems to catch a lot of criticism these days (in no small part to the absurd legal controversy being fought between him and Gaahl/King Ov Hell), but his writing and playing on Pentagram is of high quality, if a little on the shallow side at times. “Begravelsesnatt” begins the album with a punkish D-beat and aggressive, simplistic riffs–no bullshit keyboard intros here. “Ritual” is one of my favorite early black metal songs, beginning with slow, doomy riffing before transitioning perfectly into an icy melodic blast segment, with Hat’s inhuman shrieks never failing to raise the hairs on the back of my neck (this is definitely his strongest track on the album). Short instrumental “Huldrelok” avoids the filler tag with some very strong melodies, and “Måneskyggens Slave” stretches out the track length a bit to make for an epic, powerful song to conclude the album. While things do faulter into “meh” territory a couple of times during the half-hour running time, the good parts are so deliciously evil that you won’t even care.
So yeah, this is mandatory stuff for black metal fans. Pentagram may seem a little tame for the more jaded and cynical listener, but the wonderfully austere riffs, fantastic vocals, and hateful atmosphere more than deserve your attention. Gorgoroth would go for a more melodic direction on sophomore effort Antichrist and a more complex and diverse one on Under The Sign Of Hell, but Pentagram is still arguably the cream of the band’s crop for old-school purists. If you’re one of those, you already own this. If not, consider this reissue the proverbial kick-in-the-ass to your nearest record store.