Gehenna – ‘Murder’ Album Re-Issue Review

Released some twelve years ago in the year 2000, ‘Murder’ was the fifth full-length release by Norwegian black metal terrorists Gehenna. Originally released on Satyr’s Moonfog productions imprint, a label that was also home to Darkthrone and Dodheimsgard, the recording of ‘Murder’ was to prove a turbulent period for the band. With Damien, the keyboardist on ‘Admiron black’ already having left the band shortly after that album, Dolgar (guitar/vocals) departed shortly before ‘Murder’ was to be completed (although he was to return) and E.N Death (bass) shortly thereafter. It would take another five years before the band would enter the studio again to release the acclaimed ‘WW’ album before Gehenna slipped quietly into a lengthy period of inaction that continues to this day despite rumours of a new album having abounded since 2007.

Whatever position Gehenna themselves may be in currently, this re-issue gathers together the original ‘Murder’ album alongside eight bonus tracks and packages them with some brief liner notes written by the band to provide a timely reminder of the sheer visceral power that Gehenna had at their command. Indeed, if this was a band in turmoil, it does not show through their performances which are as precise and mechanical as they are crushing.

Opening with an ‘intro’ that draws together sampled voices over unsettling noise, the band launch into the album’s title track with undimmed ferocity, Blod’s drums sounding like the rolling thunder of a mechanised army on the march whilst the vocals sear through the noise and debris with laser-guided hatred. ‘Worthy exit’ is equally brutal in approach, the churning riffs recalling early Darkthrone but with a production job that sees the percussive assault hammer the listener firmly into the floor. Indeed the production is not the only thing that sets ‘Murder’ in a different category to what had come before, but also the band’s decision to incorporate elements of technical death and thrash metal into their genetic make-up, the result being an album that frequently conjured the black metal atmosphere of yore (for example on ‘devout dementia’) only to subvert it with hammer-blow riffs that smashed the mood to pieces in pyrotechnical displays of death metal thuggery. Such a move would always prove controversial with fans, but this attempt to push beyond the boundaries of earlier albums was a brave move by a band afraid of being backed into a stylistic corner. The result was frequently successful, although there are moments where the riffs pile up and the music overwhelms where a touch more subtlety would have aided the overall impact of the album. ‘The Crucified one’ kicks off a ferocious attack that proves to be one of the heaviest songs on the album and then ‘perfect hate’ appears in a noxious cloud of black metal savagery, all discordant guitars and twisted samples. It is the perfect centrepiece to the album, the brutality of the riffs offset by the atmosphere generated by the torn-from-the-mouth-of-hell vocals and explosive tempo changes.

With the album not quite sure whether to opt for black metal’s iciness or thrash’s straight-for-the-mosh-pit approach, the uneasy alliance occasionally opts for rather too much of the latter and ‘to the grave’, whilst a fine song in its own right, slips below the level of quality established on ‘Admiron black’. A heavier, more straight ahead thrash style song with only trace black metal elements it is certainly heavy, but the fire and fury alone does not satisfy and the crucial dark personality injected into earlier Gehenna releases feels more forced on this track than anywhere else on the album. ‘Trail of blood’, thankfully, sees the band unleash a truly poisonous piece of music that recalls the technical fury of Deicide with its light-speed riffs and blood-smeared vocals. ‘Master Satan’ veers wildly into death metal territory with its unhinged solos and seemingly unstoppable force and it sounds… pretty damn awesome actually – a demented, evil rampage through all things heavy it slashes and burns with an immense fury that still has the power to terrify even twelve years after its original release.  ‘The dead’ closes the album proper with a flurry of double kick drums and riffs which don’t quite match up to the inventive aggression displayed elsewhere.

Overall then ‘murder’ is an album that is certainly heavy and well played, but which arguably fails to math up to the quality of earlier releases. That’s not to say it’s a bad record, and there is a tendency amongst extreme metal fans to temper disappointment with extreme negativity, but it’s certainly the weakest entry into Gehenna’s largely faultless back catalogue. However, whilst the album itself might not reach the peak of earlier works, the bonus tracks are certainly of interest as they showcase a disintegrating band endeavouring to find their voice veer a selection of alternate versions and instrumental versions. As noted earlier, ‘murder’ saw Gehenna attempting to spread beyond the narrow confines of black metal and whilst the resulting hybridisation was inconsistent, the work-in-progress bonus tracks give an excellent insight into the writing process in what almost amounts to a second album’ worth of material.

The first track sees the band back in full black metal mode for a cover of Mayhem’s ‘cursed in eternity’ originally recorded for a tribute album released back in 1999. The difference is immense, the production pared back from the glossy finish of ‘murder’ and sounding all the better for it. The recording drips atmosphere whilst the guitars are a furious, blackened smear across the face of the recording – a far cry from the crushing, more traditionally metal riffs of ‘murder’. We then come to two alternate versions of album tracks – ‘murder’ and ‘the dead’ respectively. Most notably both tracks see the final production stripped away and the songs imbued with a much more organic feel. ‘Murder’ in particular sounds awesome and it is interesting to ruminate on how the album, and band, might have turned out had it sounded like this. Following the diabolical duo of alternate takes we then find four instrumental tracks (album highlight ‘devout dementia’, ‘perfect hate’, ‘to the grave’ and ‘trail of blood’) which, shorn of vocals,  emphasise the structural changes the band were keen on making to their music. This is particularly notable on ‘devout dementia’ with its brilliant opening chords marred by a more conventional chugging riff that stands at odds with the atmosphere-generating discordance of the song’s opening. Better still is the instrumental ‘perfect hate’ which is just an amazing piece of music and a highlight of the whole disc. Finally we get an ADP version of ‘crucified one’ with a darker production than it’s album counterpart.

There is much to recommend ‘murder’. For sure it is not the perfect Gehenna album, but what it does show is a band trying to approach their art from a whole new direction, incorporating a number of new elements and experimenting not just with structure but also sound. The result was an album that occasionally moved too far from the original Gehenna sound, but which also threw up some genuinely great moments. ‘Perfect hate’ in particular is an awe-inspiring piece of music, and the alternate and instrumental tracks which make up the second half of the disc are worth their weight in gold demonstrating, as they do, the genesis of the album. Fans of the original will be delighted with this expanded version of the album whilst those who stayed away will benefit greatly from listening to the record complete with the sketch-book-bonus-tracks that led to its formation. The liner notes, whilst somewhat brief, do add to the back story of the record and on the whole this is a re-issue that Gehenna fans will want to own thanks to the excellent additional tracks and overall quality of the package. This re-issue provides a welcome return to an unfairly overlooked record.

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