Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gehenna - Ancestor of the Darkly Sky EP (1993)

Ancestor of the Darkly Sky was a limited edition 7" printed to about 1000 copies, serving to promote Gehenna onto Norway's rapidly emerging black metal scene. All of the content was more or less culled from their Black Seared Heart demo the same year, but here was a means to manifest an 'official' release without emptying the whole pocketbook, and it sounds as much. Like a lot of these early short-players, it loses a lot of importance in retrospect due to the fact that the tracks are available elsewhere. For example, the whole of Black Seared Heart was released with bonus material in 1996, and "Angelwings and Ravenclaws", the best song here, was polished up and included with the ensuing First Spell EP. So the value of this is severely hamstrung outside of the rarity collectors' sphere.

Though they've never made a name for themselves quite like their peers Emperor, Burzum, Enslaved, Immortal, Darkthrone, Satyricon, and Mayhem, Gehenna have celebrated a long career with a great deal of visibility through some choice labels. Ancestors of the Darkly Sky is an understandably crude sounding record, but at the very least I feel like they offer a more constrained, slower approach to the genre than their countrymen. Or at least, they did back in their halcyon days. The EP consists of but two cheesy organ pieces (an intro and outro), and then two metal tracks, the better of which is "Angelwings and Ravenclaws". Simple chord progressions are bludgeoned out with flighty, cornball keyboards and Dolgar's grimy vocals, but somehow it maintains a fair semblance of charm despite its primitive, Gothic tinged nature. The other piece ("Black Seared Heart") opens with some shimmering, affected clean tones and then escalates into a straight array of sluggish riffs that don't transition all that well. I also could have lived without the multiple, garbled vocals in the opening.

Gehenna certainly qualified in the 'symphonic' category of their genre by this time, but they had nothing on fellow acts Enslaved or Emperor who were much better at integrating their keys within the speed and virility of their composition. Nor were they as raw or blasphemous as Burzum or Mayhem, so it's understandable that they were not the biggest attention grabbers. That said, Ancestors of the Darkly Sky is competently executed, aside from a few transitions. The slower pace at which they perform here might not satisfy some of the genre's audience (in either the 90s or today), and I admit it's not all that exciting, but if you're looking for something that can at least create that mood for mid-90s, haunted house/forest atmosphere then this was far from the runt of the litter. Alas, I wouldn't advise that anyone start their listening tour here, because "Angelwings..." is far better represented on the next EP, and the albums Seen Through the Veils of Darkness (1995) and Malice (1996) comprise the band at their very best.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10] (we await the coming)

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