Gehenna: Seen through the veils of darkness (the second spell)
20/01/12 || BamaHammer
I enjoy quite a bit of black metal nowadays when it’s done right. It’s easy to be turned off by a lot of the old-school stuff when the intentions of the bands were to make the music sound as aurally displeasing as humanly possible, and a big “fuck you” to all those guys. However, in 1995 Norway’s Gehenna managed to create an authentically creepy album, featuring one of the best atmospheric soundscapes out there, and did it all while sounding pleasing enough keep you coming back for more.
9. The songs are genuinely creepy as hell from beginning to end. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that “Veils” is one of the most atmospheric albums I’ve ever heard. Its song structures are pretty complex for a black metal album, and they’re constantly moving around and creating numerous sweeping changes in the soundscapes that make for a truly eerie, evil atmosphere. Even the rather simplistic chord progressions and typical black metal staple of working off the tri-tone work so well at submersing your psyche into the pure, unadulterated darkness. The guitars and bass usually move in unison, on top of the keyboard parts, which are the real jewels to be found here. The orchestration truly only bolsters and enhances the guitar-driven metal side of the sound instead of taking on a the ever annoying Dimmu Borgir role as the driving force of the music itself. I might even go so far as to call this album a worthy precursor to black metal sound that was damn near perfected with Emperor’s 1997 classic “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk.” This album is truly a remarkable and slightly under-appreciated piece of black metal royalty.
8. The production is a little thicker than most black metal albums of the mid-‘90s, but it still sounds raw and cold. The combination of the guitars and the keyboards possess an almost airy quality that encapsulates the creepy atmosphere extremely well. The tone of the guitars ranges from a sharp, ice-cold, ripping and slicing tone on some occasions to a slightly more mellow, almost warm tone on others, depending on the mood in the song. There was clearly some thought in the tone-sculpting process on this record, which I appreciate. The drums, the snare in particular, sound nice as well. The snare has a loud, long sound, and the kicks have a nice sharp thud to it, suiting the style perfectly. In an era when productions seemed to be purposefully butchered, “Veils” brought a sound that was ultimately listenable and pleasing to the table, which made the album at least seem to be much more mature than many other black metal releases of the time.
7,5. Like I said before, there was clearly some thought put into guitar tones on this album. When things get aggressive, the guitar gets icy and razor-sharp. When things get atmospherically ethereal, the guitar gets warm and mellow. Most of the melodies are actually quite lovely, and you’d swear that some themes occasionally reappear, but that’s part of this album’s mysticism. The two-guitar system also works very well here, employing one to handle root chords while the other picks the melody above it. My only real complaint is the lack of truly brow-raising memorable moments.
6. There are three vocalists listed as contributing on this album, and they all do a fine job, but honestly it’s nothing special. It’s your standard black metal tone with an occasional haunting moment or creepy line. It works for what it is, but it doesn’t break any new ground or anything. Shocking for black metal, I know.
7,5. The bass sounds pretty good for a black metal album. There isn’t a moment when it disappears behind other instruments, which is amazing with the sheer amount of other things that are always going on. Most of the bass parts are simply following the guitar wherever it goes, but it all fits very well. The tasteful, mellow tone gives the guitar melodies a good foundation and just enough bottom end to make the music sound much more refined than many other black metal releases. It is by no means a driving force for the music or overly flashy or technical, but it does a fine job of accentuating the roots of the songs. It’s actually one of the better bass sounds on a pretty barren list of decent bass sounds in the black metal genre.
8. Dirge Rep, who handled the skins on a few Enslaved releases, performs admirably on this album. He does nothing overly flashy or fast, just keeps a steady, hypnotic beat that fits the sound and the atmosphere of the album while adding enough subtle fills and breaks to keep things interesting. There’s a reason why bands like Enslaved, Emperor, and Craft have utilized his services. He’s a very good black metal drummer.
9. I had to add this category because it’s such a huge part of the music. Sarcana’s contribution on the keys are an absolutely integral part of this album’s sound. The pads and strings are always tastefully executed and never overdone. This is how keyboards are supposed to be used on a black metal album. They are never the focus of the music and do nothing but reinforce that ever important atmosphere. Some parts are so good, you’ll get chills when you hear them. If you were to take the keys away from this record altogether, I suspect it would be a terrible slab of shitty black metal. With the keyboards, however, it’s a classic.
6. They range from philosophical Enslaved-esque nonsense:
I leave this world behind in absence of my body
Where trails of troubled souls shall lead the way.
To quasi-evil drivel:
Severed was his head, but still he could see far, far away
Their open plains, their open fields
Where rivers ran with blood, they lifted his body
Drenched in Sumerian black waters of sin
Black metal has never been known for its poignant poetic moxie, but these lyrics need some Satan or something somewhere. They sound creepy because of they way they sound on the album, but once you read them, they sound a tad silly.
7,5. You’re walking alone in a pitch black room. The stench of mold and ancient earth fill the stagnant air. The faint glow of a fire traces the outline of an old rounded door from the endless darkness. You feel the door, looking nervously for a means to open it, and finally discover a handle. The door won’t budge. You meddle with the handle a bit, and the old moldy, decaying door opens with a loud creak, revealing a room filled with shades of the color tan. Your lockpicking skill increased. Level up.
8,5. I’ve always loved the Gehenna logo. It’s pointy and horny (teehee) and has a sun or some shit in the middle of it. As an added bonus, it’s completely legible. It also always looks fan-fucken-tastic in red. There’s really no better, more evil color combination than deep black with red accents. At least to me. Fuck you.
7. It’s a series of black pages with red words and contains lyrics, credits, and the obligatory ridiculous photos of the band in assorted costumes and D & D play-time garb. You know, the usual. I like it though.
Overall and ending rant
As far as my favorite black metal albums are concerned, this one has to be near the top of the list. It’s nowhere near the fastest or the heaviest, but the atmosphere it creates is unmatched. I don’t usually like this cliché, but “Veils” really does need to be heard as a whole to be fully enjoyed. My suggestion: turn off the lights, push play, sacrifice something, close your eyes, and let it sink in.
- Released: 1995
- Label: Cacophonous
- Website: gehenna666.cjb.net
- Dolgar: rhythm guitars, vocals
- Sanrabb: lead guitars, vocals
- Svartalv: bass, vocals
- Dirge Rep: drums
- Sarcana: keyboards
- 01. Lord of Flies
- 02. Shairak Kinnummh
- 03. Vinterriket
- 04. A Witch Is Born
- 05. Through the Veils of Darkness
- 06. The Mystical Play of Shadows
- 07. The Eyes of the Sun
- 08. A Myth…
- 09. Dark Poems Author