originally written by Chris McDonald
A substantial departure from their first two albums, Under The Sign of Hell sees the beginning of the Gorgoroth we know today. While Pentagram is still very close to my black metal heart partly because of pure nostalgia, this is easily the band’s strongest release to date in just about every aspect. The songwriting is more mature, developed, and complex than anything the band had released prior, but the real success of Under The Sign is that it retains all the darkened intensity that made the first two records so great while also taking big steps forward in the band’s musicianship and compositional work.
Infernus’s growth as a songsmith on this album is immense. His riffs here should be exhibits in a black metal museum; melodic, fierce, longer and more complex than Antichrist or Pentagram but still consistently memorable. The riffs have a very thrash-like feel at times and the guitar tone is positively venom-spitting. While Infernus steals the show, the guitars aren’t the only thing that have grown. The drumming has moved from simplistic, repetitive beats to well-developed rhythms that take Gorgoroth’s music to a whole different level. Blasting is faster, double bass is prominent and well-played, and the slower beats lose none of their intensity, with Grim doing a lot of groovy beats on the hi-hat and ride that never fail to get my head banging. Pest’s vocals far eclipse the stock performance heard on Antichrist. He puts a lot of energy and malice into his screams, and the dramatic cleans such as in the beginning of “Profetens åpenbaring” are done with a surprising amount of skill and conviction. He even does some emotive half clean/half screaming at the end of “Blood Stains the Circle.“ Hat’s performance on Pentagram is pretty damn hard to top in terms of sounding totally evil, but Pest still may very well be the best vocalist Gorgoroth has had to date (Gaahl, you backstabbing bastard).
While interlude track “Postludium” is somewhat of an oddity (though pretty damn creepy as well), every track on Under The Sign of Hell is fucking classic. If you’re a Gorgoroth fan you already know how good these songs are. The thrash-tastic hammer-on riffs that open the album in “Revelation of Doom”; the brilliantly executed melodies in “Krig” and “Funeral Procession”; the sinister slow-down halfway through “Ødeleggelse og undergang.” Anyway you look at it, this is greatness folks. I don’t see how anyone who calls themselves a black metal fan could resist a track like “Profetens åpenbaring” or “The Rite Of Infernal Invocation”; the thunderous drums, skillfull tempo changes and brilliant riffs just keep on coming, ensuring many a malicious grin and ice-filled artery (the ambient closing of the latter is simply bone-chilling). And at a modest but reasonable length of 32:53, the album neither over exceeds its welcome nor leaves the listener unsatisfied, unlike Antichrist.
Gorgoroth’s first two albums, while excellent in their own right, still hinted at something greater to come. Under The Sign of Hell is that something. While it never seems to get the attention of contemporary works like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or Pure Holocaust, this album deserves a place in any black metal fan’s collection just as much as those two. If you haven’t heard it yet, you really must as soon as possible.