The Underworld Regime
8 February 2010
by Tom Dare
Can we finally put the soap opera of the Gorgoroth name dispute behind us now? As interesting and legally important as the issue was, it is surely time to get back to the business at hand- making disturbing and evil black metal and generally upsetting people.
For those of you who didn’t follow that particular saga, here is a brief synopsis of the biggest black metal melodrama of recent years [deep breath]:
Vocalist Gaahl and bassist King Ov Hell fought founding guitarist Infernus for the right to own the name of seminal Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth. Gaahl and King lost, and Infernus re-launched the band with a new line-up, releasing the fine come-back album Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatem Trahunt late last year. Gaahl and King had planned to release an album under the moniker God Seed before Gaahl decided to retire from music to pursue a career as a fashion designer. King recruited Shagrath from Dimmu Borgir for vocal duties, joining Frost of Satyricon on drums and Ice Dale of Enslaved and Teloch of Orcustus and 1349 (amongst other bands) and The Underworld Regime is the result.
First impressions of this will probably go somewhat along the lines of “thank fuck- it works! We can put the court cases in the past”. The riffs are everything you would hope for from a band with this amount of experience and reputation, Shagrath’s throat is in ripping form and noticeably more butch and less camp than in his main band, and the drumming is… well, it’s Frost, of course it’s stunning. To a certain extent, the album does work. The unsettling angularity of the razor-sharp riffs creates the nether-worldly atmosphere reminiscent of the last few Gorgoroth albums before the dispute but without necessarily sounding like those records, thus being distinct. Certainly the deep unease in the pit of the stomach that black metal should evoke is there. However, it does not always work the way you feel it was intended, and this is largely down to the vocalist- not Shagrath, whose performance is one of his finest, but Gaahl.
The feeling permeating The Underworld Regime is one of being drawn slowly down through the mists of the realm below for an inevitable and fateful meeting with the cloven-hoofed one, and to a certain extent this is sustained. However, this record was so obviously written with Gaahl’s horrific, inhuman shriek in mind that at times Shagrath’s more visceral and vehement snarl drags the listener from the unholy imagery the music creates and breaks the mood. All of a sudden a song will go from being a potentially stunning black metal track on a potentially stunning album to a merely another good black metal song. I suspect this is something that will be corrected should King and Shagrath get together for a second record, but it is problematic here. The other flaw centres on the short length- at the precise point when the tension has been ramped highest, and a proper closing track is needed to round the album off, it simply finishes. It feels too short as a result- in a way that, in recent months, Beherit’s Engram, Immortal’s All Shall Fall and most strikingly the aforementioned Quantos Possunt… by the new Gorgoroth line-up do not.
Watch an interview with King ov Hell from 2009
Having said that, there are some seriously good songs on here- most notably ‘Post Modern Sadist’ and ‘Perpetual Night’- and the signs are that the split of Gorgoroth has benefited black metal fans- the new line-up of the band is in fine form, and we have another good band out of it as well, one which is quite different to the new Gorgoroth.
The big question: is The Underworld Regime as good as Quantos Possunt…? The simple answer is no- it is far less inventive, works less well as a structured album and simply does not achieve its aim in the way Gorgoroth’s return opus did. It is however a good black metal record that hints at better things to come.
Sounds Like: Gorgoroth’s previous two albums with Shagrath on vocals, obviously.
Top Tracks: Post Modern Sadist, Perpetual Night, Ghosting
Ov Hell- The Underworld Regime tracklisting:
Post Modern Sadist
Acts of Sin