Gehenna – ‘WW’ Re-Issue Review

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why ‘WW’ turned out to be such an explosive and ugly album. Perhaps it was its tortured gestation, hinted at but not really discussed in this definitive edition’s liner notes, or perhaps it was the loss of various members and the involvement of none other than Satyricon’s Frost on drums. Whatever it was, ‘WW’ is a blistering album that broods on themes of death and war with an intensity rarely matched and for those of you who didn’t have the chance to discover the album the first time round, this timely reissue courtesy of the mighty Peaceville records offers up the album in a neat super jewel case complete with the aforementioned liner notes and three bonus tracks making this pretty much the definitive edition of a seminal album.

Opening with the huge scything guitars of ‘grenade prayer’, the drums prove to be a vicious blur of double kick fury and muted cymbals while the vocals are drawn out screams ripped straight from the underworld creating an air of menace from the off and aligning the album with the nihilistic spirit of pure black metal. While the production is typically raw, there is still a great strength behind the guitars and the musicianship is of a high standard with the brutal drums propelling everything forward to an unforgiving, martial tempo. The track fades away at the conclusion only for ‘death to them all’ to come screaming in at an even more relentless pace with a guitar riff that could flay the skin at a thousand yards and vocals that once again set this release at the head of the black metal pack. It is dark, strong stuff; the lyrics make no concession and neither does the music and the opening gambit of “parasites, not worthy of life, let them be mangled, in their own demise” is as chilling a representation of the band’s mindset as anything else you may choose to read in the booklet. ‘New blood’ is up next and its primitive clatter burns with a genuinely cold fury, driven as ever by Frost’s mechanistic drumming and lyrics that conjure up images of the brutality of the Eastern Front in all its frozen horror. While the lyrics themselves are limited in scope (most of the tracks have short and frequently repetitive themes) the real skill is the way that they convey a real feeling of desolation even within a short space, like a Haiku conveys a single emotion in just a few syllables, Gehenna’s lyrics evoke genuinely chilling images in a few short lines which heightens the impact of the music no end. This can also be seen in the slower, blood-soaked trawl through ‘flames of the pit’ which sees the band take on the stately might of Emperor and the vicious blackness of early Dimmu Borgir with huge grinding guitars set against a funereal beat and the vocals seared across the top like char lines in raw meat.

Upping the tempo, ‘silence the earth’ is a frantic blackened surge of pain and energy that sounds all the more brutal following the slower ‘flames of the pit’. With Frost’s drums once again propelling the thing at a devilish pace, the guitars blazing and the bass presumably lurking at the bottom of the mix somewhere, elements of Darkthrone and Mayhem are present and correct while the production does its best to keep things raw but still powerful, especially when the band slow down to a doom-laden crawl in the mid section and the hammer-force of each blow can be clearly felt in the gut at suitably high volumes. Opting for a more traditional theme, ‘Werewolf’ is lyrically abstract while musically excellent with a truly horrible guitar sound and a pounding mid-tempo beat that sees things pushed relentlessly forward towards the song’s bloody conclusion which sees everything ratcheted up a notch and Frost drumming for his life as the double kick beats pile up and the guitar lights a brutal inferno underneath it all. ‘Abattoir’ is a chilling and evocative track with hints of Celtic Frost (particularly in the opening grunt!) and astonishingly it’s even faster than its predecessor with the drums and guitars vying for supremacy and still losing to the bone-chilling vocals which are the true star of the song and indeed the album. Final track (of the album proper anyway) ‘Pallbearer’ is one of the most chilling pieces of music committed to tape with a doom-laden introduction and lyrics that draw their inspiration straight from the darkest known recesses of the imagination.

With the album proper drawn to a close, we find ourselves with three bonus tracks which are going to be of most interest to long time fans of the band who already know every guttural vocal and searing note of the original disc. First up is an alternate mix of ‘grenade prayer’ which, in truth, adds little beyond the original apart from a slightly clearer sound on the vocal and drums although the difference is minimal and you’re unlikely to check it out more than once. An alternate version of ‘Werewolf’ is next and again it is something that is liable to appeal to completists only as it ostensibly offers a slightly rawer version than that heard on the album although the vocals take on a terrifying new dimension with an effect not dissimilar to that used by Dimmu Borgir giving the song a truly animalistic feel rather than the drier, more natural feel of the original. Finally a live version of album highlight ‘flames of the pit’ rounds out the special features and it sounds like you’d expect a live recording of a black metal track to – tons of treble and the drums fairly loud in the mix, but happily so are the vocals and it’s interesting to hear the band perform one of their best tracks in a live environment.

Overall this is an excellent edition of a seminal album. The extras alone don’t warrant a second purchase for those who already own the album, but they do provide a nice bonus for those who don’t own a copy and who may want to explore more of the dark history of the band. Packaged, as ever, by Peaceville with diligent care and respect it’s a pleasure to see bands such as Gehenna and Darkthrone having their work bought to a wider audience in such a manner and certainly ‘WW’ has stood the test of time with the songs proving to be incredibly powerful and intelligently written. Blacker than black, dark and malicious, Gehenna can at times appear unforgiving, but there is a strong sense of musicianship and thought that has gone into each and every track and no black metal fan should be without a copy.

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