One of the most controversial and iconic bands in the Norwegian black metal scene, for many years the extracurricular activities of Gorgoroth members eclipsed the music being recorded. We had the over-the-top blasphemy of the infamous Warsaw gig of 2004, complete with nude crucified models and sheep heads on spikes, the rape allegations levelled at founding member Infernus in 2006, then the schism a year later which saw imposing frontman Gaahl and songwriter/bassist King ov Hell fail in their attempt to wrest control of the band from Infernus.
Thankfully all these distractions appear to be at an end, although Infernus has been unable to hold onto a stable line-up. Ninth full-length studio effort Instinctus Bestialis (Soulseller), originally recorded in 2013, has finally been released with former Obituary member Frank Watkins (Bøddel) and Thomas Asklund returning on bass and drums, and newbie Atteringer stepping up to the mic. So, after all the drama of the past decade, has the six year wait since 2009’s QuantosPossunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt (Regain) been worth it?
Upon pressing play, it’s instantly apparent that the band’s trademark blasting ferocity has not been reined in one iota. The vicious, clipped riffing and light speed blastbeats of ‘Radix Malorum’ will quite simply pin your ears back. The same can be said of next track ‘Dionysian Rite’ with Infernus doubling-up furiously and one of the three (yes, three) hired lead guitarists adding slick pinch harmonics to proceedings. The breakdown is suitably sinister with Atteringer intoning “Intoxication!” like a deranged, drunken cult leader. ‘Ad Omnipotens Aeterne Diabolus’ starts off slowly and mournfully, playing around with different tempos and ideas including some vaguely Dissection tasting guitar lines.
While the band more or less perfected their style several years ago, somewhere between 2000’s Incipit Satan and 2003’s Twilight of the Idols (both Nuclear Blast), it’s evident that Infernus and his acolytes have plenty more to offer. The naked aggressiveness of the riffing could still blast all the snow off a Norwegian mountain-top with ease and the overriding feeling of being repeatedly pounded by the hammer of Satan is something that you can only get with a Gorgoroth album, and Instinctus Bestialis is no exception. The death metal that infects ‘Come Night’ and ‘Rage in His Light’ are welcome additions that prevent things from being too one-dimensional, with the fantastic solo in the latter raising the bar again.
One noticeable change from previous albums is the vocal style of Atteringer. Opting for a low-pitched growl instead of the high pitched shrieks and rasps favoured by previous vocalists Hat and Pest, his low, unhurried intonations lend proceedings a darker air, especially in the slower moments which allow the tension to build once more. The production is crisp, ensuring all instruments are heard, although the sheer prominence of the guitars and relentless drums in the mix at times threaten to turn things into a stew, but this is thankfully dodged.
Hopefully now the music will be all that matters, and with Instinctus Bestialis, Gorgoroth have re-established their position as standard bearers of the Norwegian second wave.
True Satanic Black Metal has never felt so alive.