Way back in the darkest depths of the 1990s, Norwegian black metal band Gehenna were seen as one of the leading (black) lights of the scene with a couple of red-hot scorchers under their collective bullet belt, namely 1995’s “Seen Through the Veils of Darkness (The Second Spell)” and “Malice (Our Third Spell)” the following year. But after that impressive double-whammy something changed and the band took a decidedly more death metal approach to 1998’s “Adimiron Black”, which to a lot of black metal die-hards is the equivalent of selling-out.
But unperturbed the band soldiered on until seemingly falling off the map after 2005’s “WW”, which saw a return to blacker pastures albeit with a bit of deathly muscle. “Unravel” is the first recording the band have made since then and sees them embrace the darkness for the first time since the mid-90s, as is evident on atmospheric opener ‘The Decision’. A sombre slab of mid-paced doom with frontman Sanrabb’s harsh vocals stabbing through the melancholy, it’s a song that is at once both impressive in its control and underwhelming in its impact.
The opening blastbeats of the title track threaten to up the ante and bring in some dynamics to move things along, which it does to a point but not enough to usher in the sense of mischief or deviancy that made their mid-90s output so exciting. Instead, “Unravel” harks back to the bleaker, uncluttered sounds of Scandinavian black metal in its infancy, mixing together blastbeats and blizzard guitar riffs with a stripped-down production and simplistic time changes.
That isn’t to say that “Unravel” isn’t very good, because there are some wonderfully effective moments on here, but it doesn’t drill into your skull in the same urgent way that their earlier material did and instead washes over you like a cloak of rain-soaked gloom. It’s an album that will take a few listens to really absorb, which seems a bit odd when releasing an album after eight years away, but once you can open yourself up to what the band are doing then “Unravel” may be able to work some magic, albeit in a different way than expected.