All Hallows Eve is upon us, and what better way to revel in its demonic delights than with black metal, a longtime obsession of mine?
The genre and holiday intertwine so well: From the grimy and echo-laden production value to the full-grown men dressing up in spiked gauntlets and white makeup, black metal epitomizes the holiday. And so it is only fitting that I Begin, the first studio album from black metal group God Seed, was released immediately before the spookiest holiday in the spookiest year.
For those familiar with black metal, the name Gaahl should sound familiar, and bringing his name up is no coincidence—both the former Gorgoroth frontman and bassist King ov Hell reprise their Gorgoroth roles in God Seed, as does Apoptygma Berzerk’s keyboardist, Geir Bratland. The contributions of these three members alone make God Seed something of a supergroup and, as a result, expectations are high.
The expectations were raised, in part, because of God Seed’s first recorded work being a live record. Of course, this means that the first studio album had better be impressive indeed. Unfortunately for corpsepaint lovers everywhere, Gaahl and company fail to meet these standards, and funnily enough, it’s the band’s attempts to meander from the black metal template that ultimately tears I Begin to pieces.
To paint the picture of the sounds on this record, I offer up some history. Gaahl, though singing for both Trelldom and Gaahlskagg in his earlier days, acquired the bulk of his fame when he was hired on as the singer for Gorgoroth in 1998; King ov Hell joined in 1999.
When Gaahl and Hell attempted to boot out founding member Infernus in 2007, all hell broke loose, so to speak. A bitter court battle ensued which finally concluded in early 2009, with Infernus the winner. Infernus—now the only original member of Gorgoroth—got to keep the name, while Gaahl and company chose the name God Seed.
Laid bare, this is a perfect analogy for the sounds on I Begin. Real black metal artists don’t take it to the courts. They fight with axes in the woods, or they just stab each other, like when Varg Vikernes of Burzum stabbed Euronymous of Mayhem 23 times, allegedly over sales figures of Burzum records.
Litigation is a watered-down version of fighting, but lawyers and witnesses are the weapons Gaahl and Hell chose. It is with this diluted resolve that they recorded I Begin.
I Begin isn’t your garden-variety black metal record. The album has two things black metal usually doesn’t: riffs and starry eyes. Much like American black metal band Nachtmystium, Gaahl and company want to take black metal to heights never before seen. But black metal isn’t ready for that kind of transformation yet.
Perhaps God Seed knows this and attempts to ease us into its vision, because the first track, “Awake,” is one of the strongest on the record. There’s no swirling, synth-fueled intro, there’s no goofy chanting; the track launches into all the fury of Gorgoroth records past, including—but not limited to—shrill vocals, punishing blast beats and discordant guitar shards. Then, the day of the riff is upon us.
It’s not that the riffs in “Awake” are bad—they’re actually quite good and add much to the composition. The song introduces the idea that the riff is the wormy menace in black metal’s corpse, and it sets an awful precedent for the rest of the album—one that does irreparable damage to its core.
The material on I Begin doesn’t sound like it was recorded out in a forest or a tiled bathroom—it doesn’t even sound like it was recorded in a haunted recording studio. There are bits of electronics peppered into every second, and though Bratland is a wizard on the keys, it reeks of studio superimposition.
To that point, it is when God Seed try to redefine black metal that the record quickly loses virulence. Several songs sound like Gaahl and the boys taking a breather with lazy, mid-tempo riffing and utterly insipid, flaccid excuses for craft. Nowhere on I Begin is this more apparent than track seven, “Lit.” The track is I Begin’s answer to the prank phone calls and answering machine messages that pepper so many rap records.
This isn’t to say that every track on I Begin is a stinker. “Hinstu Dagar,” “The Wound” and “From the Running of Blood” are all superb tracks in their own rights. These are the kinds of songs I would expect from members of big-name black metal, polished versions of what everyone is doing, and that’s exactly what these tracks are; it is on these where Gaahl and the gang’s formula of black metal plus riffing works best. Both songs start out with jagged bursts of blast beats and convoluted guitars before they begin their journey into riffdom.
But as I mentioned, it’s when Gaahl gets lazy and the band decides to write electronic dirges that the record drags its feet the most. Tracks like “Alt Liv” sound like nu metal with more keyboards. Admittedly, the lead guitarist found a great guitar tone for this track, but that’s something that should never be said about a black metal guitarist, ever.
Granted, “Alt Liv” contains some of Gaahl’s more inspired vocals and a mesmerizing swath of electronics by Bratland, but no self-respecting black metal fan should buy what God Seed is selling on this track.
Other tracks, like “This From the Past,” show Gaahl abusing his status as black metal legend: While most black metal tracks are brooding and grandiose by nature, Gaahl tries to turn every four-minute track on I Begin into a black metal “Free Bird.”
To me, black metal is supposed to be like Darkthrone or Xasthur: dark and dangerous and brooding, the kind of stuff that makes you feel like you need permission to listen to it.
Where most black metal singers sound like tortured souls needing to wring the blackness from their guts by any means necessary—be it four-track cassette recorder or boom box microphone—I Begin sounds like it was produced by a guy in a polo shirt who said things like, “OK, Gaahl, this time with a little more evil.” And as we all know, that’s not very metal.
To hear I Begin’s first single, “This From the Past,” go to psuvanguard.com/arts/theevilisuponus.