Gehenna – ‘Admiron Black’ Re-Issue Review

Released in 1998, a reissue of Gehenna’s fourth album, the stunningly heavy ‘Admiron Black’, is long overdue and here Peaceville gives the album the treatment it deserves with expanded artwork, extra tracks and liner notes all encased in a smart looking super-jewel case.

As the liner notes explain, ‘Admiron black’ saw Gehenna reach out for a darker, harder sound which had more in common with thrash and death metal than previous releases and while the melodic elements are still present, they are filed down beneath the raging guitars and coldly industrial elements which permeate the album. With two of the band’s members departed (Dirge Rep and Sarcana) and the corpse paint removed, the resultant album is a mature, violent and darkly beautiful piece of work that sees the band move beyond their earlier output to craft something truly disturbing. Brief and relentless, the original album clocked in with seven tracks and under forty minutes in length while this re-issue adds in a further six tracks (including their much sought after ‘Master Satan’ and a rare cover of Darkthrone’s ‘Transilvanian Hunger’) as well as the aforementioned upgraded packaging which means that this is something of a ‘must have’ for fans of experimental black metal, even if they own the original.

Opening with the utterly brutal ‘the killing mind’ Gehenna waste no time with creepy intros, launching straight into a melee of double-kick fury and icy guitars augmented by the truly malevolent palm-muted verse which sees cold synth elements backing the deadly riffs and scorched-earth vocals. It’s an inspirational opening whcih is not unlike being caught in the eye of a tornado and it is instantly apparent that the band’s desire to expand into the heavier pastures of death and thrash metal has paid off by toughening the band’s already not inconsiderable sound and opening up new sonic pastures for the band to explore, which they do with glee on ‘Deadlights’, a crushing, twisted black metal blast of icy bleakness that makes one gasp and burn with the cold. A lengthy work out, the band seem most at ease allowing their riffs to breathe and develop as the song progresses giving the music a symphonic quality above and beyond the usual parameters of ‘verse-chorus-verse’ song-writing  and you are reminded just how special a band Gehenna are. The title track only reinforces that opinion with a dark sense of majesty that recalls acts such as Emperor and Stayricon but twisted and blended with a playful sense of heavy metal abandonment which is chillingly hedonistic and devastatingly heavy all at once. Again, a sense of melody exits within the rampaging guitars and light-speed percussion but it’s a subtle subtext beneath the bludgeoning rather than the main focus, and this greater depth in the composition means that the more you listen the more the layers peel away exposing the terrifying ability and dedication at the heart of the band.

Segueing directly from the previous number, ‘seed of man’s destruction’ is phenomenally heavy. Like a steel-plated jack-boot to the face, it is a breathtaking, headlong rush which recalls the searing fury of early Slayer albeit coupled with frozen industrial elements and the sincere hatred only ever found, it seems, at the heart of black metal. It’s a highlight of the album thanks to the brutal groove that it attains but it is promptly superseded by the quite astonishingly creepy ‘Devil’s work’, an eight minute exercise in blackened atmospherics and kaleidoscopic evil. It is epic, visionary song-writing and it is tracks such as this that help Gehenna to stand head and shoulders above so many who profess to be black metal. ‘Slowly being poisoned’ is a shorter blast of concentrated abrasiveness where the thrash influences really shine through, while the original album’s final track (‘eater of the dead’) cleaves flesh from bone with it’s unconventional, syncopated riff and guttural vocal which recalls nothing so much as Dimu Borgir’s ‘Sorgens Kammer Del II’. It is a fine ending to the album with an atmospheric soundtrack touch and one can only imagine the impact the original album had back in 1998.

Of course this being one of Peaceville’s run of re-issues, there are a plethora of extras to wade through and, as ever, they are top notch. Included here are no less than six bonus tracks which all but double the album’s run time. The extras Kick off with ‘In mother’s tomb’ and ‘master satan’, both from the ‘deadlights’ EP. While the production is rawer here than on the album ,there’s a vital pumping urgency, particularly to ‘in mother’s tomb’ (an outtake from the ‘admiron black’ sessions), that makes their inclusion mandatory for fans of the band. Noticeably, ‘in mother’s tomb’ features the synths much higher in the mix than the seven tracks included on the original album and although it is a ghostly, atmospheric work you can see why it was not submitted for the final pressing. ‘Master Satan’, an original track for the EP, is a shorter, less poisonous outing that really emphasises the thrash/death orientation of the band’s new direction but the tinny production doesn’t quite do it the justice it deserves, although the brutal riff at about 1:20 is heavy enough to overcome any lack of bass in the mix.

Next up is a band demo of the album’s title track, which offers a fascinating insight into the creative process, but which you may not listen to quite so often. ‘Embryo (machine of doom)’, however, is a beautiful, inventive track that drips with atmosphere and which is a most welcome addition to the package and which cheerfully showcases the departed Sarcana’s keyboard skills to good effect. The track that fans will undoubtedly be most curious about is Gehenna’s super-strength rendition of the classic ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ which most successfully captures the original’s icy grimness but which offers little new to the track beyond a marginally heavier production sound although the vocals do, quite incredibly, sound even more unhinged than upon the original. The final track is the band’s ‘live intro’ originally designed to do exactly what the title suggests but which continues the themes developed upon ‘Admiron black’ so admirably that it was seen as fit for inclusion. A creepy, near five-minute instrumental, it serves to highlight the abilities of Sanrabb (who composed the entire piece) who could just as easily have scored horror movies had he not realised his calling as a metal musician. Subtle, with industrial hints, it is a glorious, unsettling piece of work that reaches a terrifying crescendo before fading away into the sound of deathly silence.

Overall this is a comprehensive return to an amazing album. Peaceville’s attention to detail is, as ever, first rate and it’s always good to see the artists involved in the process making sure that fans get maximum value for money. The liner notes and expanded artwork are a nice touch and the extra tracks worthy inclusions that easily justify a second purchase. Consider this the definitive version of a classic album.

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