GEHENNA - Black Seared Heart (HOLYCOUST - CD 1997)
I may be wrong, but somehow I have a feeling that Gehenna is one of the most underrated Norwegian black metal bands from the old days. I suppose it doesn’t happen too often when people mention this band as one of their favourite and the influence and while they may always keep mentioning the likes of Darkthrone, Immortal, Enslaved, Satyricon, Emperor or even Dimmu Borgir as well as some other bands spawned in the freezing North back in the early to mid 90’s, then Gehenna is not praised so much – at least this is how I feel. And it is a shame, as clearly it was one of the most talented and original bands, at least in my opinion, and I’m here to say that they have actually been one of MY favourites, when speaking of the Norwegian black metal scene. Their “Seen Through the Veils of Darkness” LP is undoubtedly among my preferred albums, which still gives me chills. Hmm, maybe Gehenna never got so much attention because they seemed to stay a bit away from all those church burnings, mafias and stuff like that and they debuted a bit later than the first Norwegian black metal bands? Or maybe because they happened to change their style in the end of the 90’s so much? I don’t know. It is only my impression. I liked this band ever since I first heard it – and it was at the time of the “Malice” release - and I have a lot of respect for their unique style. And as a fan and collector I was really happy when somewhere in 1997 Holycoust Records has released a compilation CD with some rare songs of Gehenna, as it is always great thing to have also demos or other unknown songs in the collection.
In this case they have provided a CD, which first of all features the original 1993 demo titled “Black Seared Heart”. This demo is very rare, as originally it was released in a criminally small quantity of 100 copies, so I guess if there are any real, original copies of it circulating anywhere then they must be worth a fortune. The demo was so rare that a couple of songs from it were also released on 7”EP (by Necromantic Gallery Productions) under the title “Ancestor of the Darkly Sky”, but this compilation CD offers “Black Seared Heart” demo in its entirety, so great! Additionally, “Black Seared Heart” compilation contains a couple of songs, which Gehenna has recorded in 1994. Back then the band have entered the studio to record a full length album, but terminated the recordings only two days later and the only result of this short recording session were three songs, which have been recorded in raw versions (with no keyboards, only with drums, bass and guitars; Sarcana, keyboard player, has joined the band few months later and only then some keyboards and vocals parts have been added to these songs when she already was in the band). “Black Seared Heart” compilation has only two of these three songs, as the third one (“Angelwings and Ravenclaws”) has been lost somewhere… hmm, don’t ask me how can you lose a song, OK? Finally the third part of “Black Seared Heart” is a song called “Midwinter Forest”, recorded during the rehearsal of 30th of March 1994 and it supposedly is the only version of this oldest Gehenna song. OK, as you can already see, “Black Seared Heart” is a very tasty compilation; and I hope this introduction of what it contains will be enough to make every Norwegian black metal fan sweat in excitement.
If you know the early full length albums of Gehenna, then there won’t be any surprises for you, speaking of the quality and style of the music from this compilation, as clearly this band was developing their own sound and style ever since the very first recording. And that is something what only confirms how amazing that scene in Norway was back in the early 90’s! I mean there were so many killer bands and almost each of them had its own style and sound. There was nothing like in the Swedish death metal scene for instance, where 90% of the bands sounded the same, because they all recorded at the Sunlight and had similar style of music (not that I complain on that, as I worship the Swedish death metal scene!). But it only proves that whatever happened in Norway back then was truly unique and special… not only because of what was happening around the scene, but mainly because of the phenomenal and immortal music, which those bands have been creating back then.
Anyway, starting with “Black Seared Heart” demo… first of all, it amazes me how good is the production of it. I mean, if you listen to some demos of other bands from that time – like of Thorns, Mysticum, Manes, Enslaved, Emperor or whoever – they often had just terribly poor production, but for “Black Seared Heart” this is not the case. The sound here is quite clear, you can actually hear the riffs, keyboards, drums and everything what the band has recorded. Sure, musically Gehenna was also different from these bands, which I mentioned here, music wise they have played something much slower, more atmospheric, with many keyboards parts, melodies… This demo may be not the most phenomenal material recorded in Norway back in those days, in many ways it may lack a bit of that evilness and cold, grim mood, which other bands have developed, but it is exchanged for some catchiness and really memorable music. I like the title song probably most, but “Angelwings and Ravenclaws” is also excellent. “Black Seared Heart” is quite aggressive song, comparing it to the rest, while “Angelwings…” has just an awesome, catchy riffing and some truly memorable moments – no wonder then that this song was later re-recorded for the full length CD.
Then we have those two unheard versions of songs, which ended up on the albums. Well, to be honest they don’t bring anything new to what we already know, except that these versions are much rawer and the sound is also harsher (oh, the vocals are especially severe…) but it is always exciting to listen to “The Witch is Born”, which surely is one of the best and most memorable songs in the career of Gehenna – at least in my opinion it is a true anthem, which I remember I even used to cover with my band back in the 90’s. The second of the two songs – “Night of the Serpents Judgement” – has been retitled to “Mystical Play of Shadows” on “Seen through the Veils of Darkness”, so not only some arrangements, but also the entire lyrics for it has been changed, what makes this version a bit special… Musically this song reminds me early Dimmu Borgir, from their “Inn I Evighetens Morke” 7”EP and “For All Tid” era, but that surely is not a complain, as I really like those two Dimmu releases! And there’s one final song left – called “Midwinter Forest” – and as I already mentioned it is an unreleased track, recorded during a rehearsal in 1994 and it is the only existing version of this track (parts of which were written even before the “Black Seared Heart” demo was recorded). Well, as an rehearsal track, it doesn’t sound as good as the previous songs, but it also isn’t terribly bad, you can hear what is it all about without any problems… and musically it reminds Ancient a bit (who never have been my favourite Norwegian black metal band), so maybe this is why I don’t like it so much and treat it more like an interesting addition to the compilation CD that something truly exciting and worthy… for sure “Midwinter Forest” is the least interesting song from the whole “Black Seared Heart”.
So, I hope I described the content of this compilation quite well. I can say that for sure it is a worthy release and a mandatory album for the fans of Gehenna. The original version of Holycoust could have been done a bit better, maybe the booklet should have had some extras like old photographs and original demo artworks, but it still looks fine. And if you cannot find the original pressing - I have heard that this compilation was added to one of the “First Spell” album re-releases, so it should be easily available in one form or another. For me this is a mandatory release, and I say so not only as a Gehenna fan, but also as a worshipper of the Norwegian black metal scene.
Standout tracks: “Angelwings and Ravenclaws”, “The Witch is Born”, “Black Seared Heart”
Final rate: 75/100