Review Summary: Gorgoroth's finest moment
Gorgoroth are one of the pioneering black metal bands of Norway, and perhaps the most consistently and vehemently satanic of that group. Gorgoroth are so evil that they cannot seem to have the same lineup for two albums - sometimes changing lineups within an album. The one stable element has always been guitarist, founding member, and chief songwriter, Infernus. Evolving from a sound that was almost a direct translation of early Bathory, Gorgoroth settled into an original black metal sound by their third album, Under the Sign of Hell. This is easily the most focused album of their early work, and it sadly would never get this focused again.
Infernus spreads his 17th Century-inspired progressions across 9 tracks of classic Norwegian Black Metal. Many of the riffs sound as if Johann Sebastian Bach had originally written them for organ and Infernus merely adapted them for electric guitar. Nowhere is this more apparent than on album standout, Funeral Procession. Deeply gothic and mournful guitars back Pest's distorted screeching. Layered on top of a thunderous blast of double bass, this song brings dark images to mind: a dark graveyard with figures in shadowy cloaks, evil, snow-strewn forests of a forgotten age.
Pest croons a Viking chorus at the opening of the folk-inspired Projetens Upenbaring which settles into a nice plodding groove. Gorgoroth pull the classical undertones of the Antichrist album and bring them to the forefront here. Though the majority of the tracks clock in at a mere 3 or 4 minutes, Gorgoroth still manage to sound quite epic and grand throughout. There are no keyboards to speak of here, but they are not needed.
Album opener Revelation of Doom may scare some off given the overly obnoxious and hotly mixed snare drum, but it is thankfully only severely loud on this track. If one can look beyond that, this is a rather enjoyable song as well. There is but one throw away track, the evil ambience of Postludium seems to disrupt the flow of killer track after killer track, but it is easily skipped past. There is also the matter of 3+ minutes of white noise at the end of the excellent The Rite of Infernal Invocation, but this is easily passed as well.
Discussing further standout tracks would seem futile as Gorgoroth do not falter through the 33 minute running time. The production is far more approachable than many of the black metal from this time period, so even non-diehards should be able to appreciate it. Pest's vocals are fantastic, but one should be warned they are ran through a fair amount of distortion on this album which some find hard to justify. In this case it works just fine. There is also a fair amount of audible bass guitar (played by Infernus) which is unusual for the black metal genre, but Infernus shows that it can be used as harmony and counter melody as effective as a third guitar would be.
It is difficult for one to objectively enjoy Gorgoroth throughout their entire career as they are essentially a different band on each release. With that in mind, Under the Sign of Hell is prime black metal magic with the succinctness of an early Slayer or Bathory album. It stands as the point in this band's career when all of the elements fell into place, and they arrived at a point of brilliance (or is that darkness?) that would remain the example of what all of their other albums hoped to be.