Gaahl has been around the Norwegian black metal scene a very long time, and for a guy that once fronted among the more stubbornly traditional acts in Gorgoroth, he has shown a notable willingness to branch out in recent years. His one album with God Seed wasn’t exactly a huge step away from his years with Gorgoroth, but it also didn’t exactly sound like Incipit Satan or a Trelldom record.
So it’s nice that it hasn’t taken him and his bandmates long to put more tunes to tape. The Humming Mountain is thankfully an enchanting continuation and expansion of GastiR, proving that Gaahl is still coming up with nothing but cool material during all his musical soul searching.
He’s also even more willing to take his time and let things breathe, at least if the nine-plus-minute opener “The Seed” is any hint. The entire song is classical and acoustic guitars, some quiet keyboards (or flute?), and Gaahl’s soft, whispery singing ‒ think the more romantic side of Johan Edlund, but less sugary ‒ as if he’s very meticulously enjoying one of his fine wines while it plays. The tune takes up nearly a third of the EP’s 29 minutes, and probably runs a tad longer than it should, but 1. It’s very pleasant, 2. EPs are where folks are supposed to get their weirder ya-yas out, and 3. It makes sense in the context of the rest of the release. For example, the ensuing title track is just as dreamlike but contains actual metal riffs and a thicker, odder atmosphere. It’s a natural progression, bringing in the volume while still maintaining the preference of mood over aggression.
Then things get positively nuts. “The Dwell” seems to come out of nowhere following two rather subdued songs, all thrashing black metal and infectious, raw fire. Despite having some catchier, eased-up moments, it’s also probably the most ferocious Gaahls Wyrd song yet. Gaahl uses nearly all of his vocal tricks here ‒ the sung wails, a kind of half growl, and his eerie croons ‒ while the riffs, drumming, and especially Lust Kilman’s soloing are all pure molten magma. “Awakening Remains – Before Leaving” is just as wild, but in a very different way. The music rides a torrent of blast beats, hyperspeed riffing, Eld’s killer bass countermelodies, and some chunky riff moments that will bring back the Enslaved comparisons (in only the best way, of course), but Gaahl goes a different, much slower route with his vocals. He’s at different times ritualistic (the almost monotone crooning floating eerily over the blasting) and tortured (the higher singing/wailing), but as the song progresses, he begins to take on a note of triumph, adding to the huge finish as much as the instruments. Only a quiet outro (aptly named “The Sleep”) follows, completing the thrilling arc.
For all the quality music he’s released in the past, Gaahls Wyrd gives the sense that the man Gaahl is more comfortable than ever spreading his wings into whatever styles seem right at the moment. Sure, none of it veers too far from his past, but the range of it all gives it a real personality all its own. The Humming Mountain continues the beautifully bewildering journey started with GastiR, and leaves the hope that this particular project is just getting started.