Review Summary: By-the-numbers black metal that doesn't live up to its members' potential.
Ov Hell does absolutely nothing new. Not one single thing at all. It's the same run of the mill black metal Norway has been producing since the early 1990s. And I believe I know the reason why, considering that the genre this band plays is, of course, black metal. Reason being is that very little room for experimentation and/or change is allowed without the fans of the genre crying "sell-out" at the band in question. This happened to Darkthrone when they changed to a more punk sound. This happened to Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth when they adopted a more epic, symphony based sound. Hell, this happened to Mayhem when they made one album that had a more experimental edge to it; it was still black metal, but it was a unique brand of black metal, showing that the band wanted to break the mold and expand the genre. The fans, however, were not buying it. This reluctance from the black metal fanbase has lead to many newer bands playing this style of music to borrow as much as they can from the flagship bands of the genre. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that this album is so generic. King ov Hell has not yet expanded beyond the sound of Gorgoroth’s Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam, because almost everything about this album, from the writing style to the song structures, essentially rips off that album. Combine that with the major faults that Gorgoroth had while King ov Hell was the main songwriter (mainly the fact that that era of the band was kinda repetitive in the songwriting department), and you’ve got the most repressively boring metal album of 2010.
Opening the album is Devil's Harlot, which starts as many black metal songs do: blast beats. Get used to the blast beat folks, because it's the main drum beat throughout most of the album. While not as fast as Marduk or 1349, it can still be considered by some to be a blast-o-rama black metal album like many others. Devil’s Harlot was a decent choice for opening track, because it’s pretty much the only interesting track on the entire album. One listen to the opening track and you’ve listened to the whole of The Underworld Regime. The guitars make use of tremolo picking as if it's the only guitar playing technique there is, and whenever there is something other than constant high string tremolo picking, it’s usually that semi-clean sounding picking that resembles the intro to Freezing Moon. This isn't a knock on Ice Dale and Teloch mind you. They are two very talented guitarists, especially Ice Dale, who showcased his ability on the guitar on Enslaved’s most recent album they released a few months ago, but it just seems like they're following the motions of a standard black metal song in over-using the same tremolo riffs over and over again. Frost, as mentioned, takes the blast beat and goes crazy with it. This is no surprise when talking about Frost; anyone who's listened to 1349 and early Satyricon is aware of the fact that Kjetil-Vidar Haraldstad loves the blast beat. However, as with Ice Dale and Teloch over-using the tremolo picking, Frost seems to overuse it here. I personally would’ve loved to see more variety here. King ov Hell's bass is, in standard extreme metal fashion, almost entirely inaudible. The album’s time signature seems to be perpetually stuck in 6/8, because very rarely will you hear any time other than 6/8 on this album. I will say though that it is interesting to hear Shagrath after Dimmu Borgir's rise to stardom on a raw black metal record. His voice is absolutely identical to his voice on Dimmu Borgir's albums, and some are crying foul on this album solely because of Shagrath's part in it. Please people, don't put this album down because Shagrath's on it. Put it down because it's generic and boring. For a black metal record, the production of this album is very, very poor. As we all know, the vast majority of black metal records use a very low fidelity production sound, where everything is rather unpolished and raw sounding. The problem with The Underworld Regime is that it sounds like the people who mixed this album were trying to make it a polished, near perfect sounding album where everything is audible (except for the aforementioned bass), but just decided to give up half way through mixing it. What comes out is a very muddy sound that resembles trying to listen to an iPod while underwater.
They've also taken a very minimalistic approach to the lyrics; never do any of the songs exceed three verses and it's mainly the same words just being repeated over and over again. It’s probably the laziest attempt at writing black metal lyrics I’ve ever seen, and considering how lazy some black metal bands are in writing their lyrics, that’s pretty sad. For example, here’s the entirety of the lyrics to Ghosting:
There's no cause for life anymore...
But a proper burial...
All of natures wounds upon you reflected in an eye,
Dismissed your fate!
That is fucking pathetic. Four lines do not a song make, Shagrath. What’s worse is that Ghosting’s run time is over six minutes. They also have a track sung entirely in Norwegian, because as we all know that no black metal release is complete without a song sung entirely in Norwegian. What’s sadder than the repetition and minimalism though is just how cliché the actual lyrics are. They follow the basic black metal lyrical paths: Satan, God sucks, war, and winter is awesome. There is absolutely no variety in these topics. I was really expecting more from someone like Shagrath, who I regard as a pretty good lyricist.
Perhaps the cardinal sin of The Underworld Regime however is the fact that it is one simple thing: BORING. I kid you not; this is the single most boring album I have ever heard in my entire life. And this can be chocked up to one thing, that thing being that even with an all star roster of some of extreme metal’s most notable players, this album does absolutely nothing new. The saying that “variety is the spice of life” most definitely applies to Ov Hell and the haphazard effort they have produced. Everything moves along at a sluggish pace, which combined with the crappy production and the monotony of the instrumentation from Ice Dale, Teloch, Frost, and King ov Hell, makes this album an insufferably boring listen to even the most complacent black metal fan. The Underworld Regime is generic in its actual music, the production is bad even by black metal standards, the lyrics are crap, and it just doesn't seem like the band put their full into their debut. Granted, the music was probably written solely by King ov Hell before attaining the additional members for recording, but even then that's no excuse to make a half assed effort. If you want some very good black metal, listen to De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas by Mayhem, Transilvanian Hunger by Darkthrone, or Filosofem by Burzum. If you want generic black metal that's been done countless times over by much better bands, then listen to The Underworld Regime. It’ll be of good use if you’re having trouble sleeping.