GEHENNA - First Spell (HEAD NOT FOUND - CD 1994)
“First Spell” is considered to be a debut full length album of Norwegian Gehenna, but I must say that calling it a full length is a bit exaggerated, as the whole material is only 26 minutes long (short). Obviously some other bands also released albums with such a short content – like Deicide for instance – but still it feels a bit awkward to debut with such a short material, especially as some songs already have appeared on the demo or EP. Anyway, I remember that when I got this album back in 1996 or 1997 I really liked it, because of the unique atmosphere and some nice, kind of catchy, memorable songs, which differed so much from the typical primitive and raw black metal. But when I listen to “First Spell” nowadays I feel like my impression on this album has changed through the years, for worse, as nowadays this album sounds just too archaic and too infantile. I feel like it didn’t grow old well… at least not as good as some other stuff Gehenna or some other Norwegian bands have recorded back then.
The main problem with this album is that it just feels to be too soft and too delicate for the early Norwegian black metal release. Not evil enough. Obviously the keyboards play a significant role in the music of Gehenna, as the band tries to evoke a dark, ghoulish, sort of inhuman, macabre atmosphere… and sure, they do it well, but it is just too pleasant, in my opinion. There were other Norwegian bands, which played the more atmospheric black metal in much better way, just to mention the early incarnations of Ulver, Satyricon, Troll and Dimmu Borgir. When comparing Gehenna’s “First Spell” to them the difference is quite huge. Obviously I cannot deny the fact that Gehenna has developed their own sound and style already on this debut album – or even earlier, on the “Black Seared Heart” demo – and for that they must be praised. But the songs, which “First Spell” contains, are just not so good and I am afraid that the passing time wasn’t too kind for this album. Now it almost sounds infantile, some arrangements and melodic passages are hilarious, in my opinion, like that keyboard solo in “The Shivering Voice of the Ghost”, which is such a happy tune that I am scared to call it black metal. And no, I don’t think that it is very bad, when the keyboards are leading the music, while the guitars are almost behind them, if it was only helping to create the dark and evil atmosphere… Hmm, maybe if the production of “First Spell” was rawer and so clean and polished, then the band would achieve this effect? I don’t know.
Of all songs from “First Spell” I think that “The Shivering Voice of the Ghost” is the most memorable and best; I like that chorus part in this track and also the whole atmosphere in it is just as the title says: ghoulish and macabre (except the happy keyboard “solo” part). I also like that organ theme, which opens this song and Dolgar’s harsh, raspy vocals. Yeah, this is really good track. “Unearthly Loose Palace” is not too bad also, but it is so slow, almost kind of melancholic that after a while it starts to annoy the hell in me. “Angelwings and Ravenclaws” is probably the catchiest of all the songs; it is also the only one, which is so short (less than three minutes, while rest of the songs is about six minutes long each). It is slightly faster, in the sense that it won’t put you to sleep as much as “Unearthly…” just did, but I am surprised by what the keyboards sometimes play here. I think that Gehenna really done it all wrong on this album, when we’re talking about this instrument and its arrangements. Finally “Morningstar” sounds quite close to what Dimmu Borgir was doing at that same time on “For All Tid”, and for sure it is my second favourite song from “The First Spell”. It is more lively, has some cool riffs and finally the keyboards don’t play such an important, leading role in the music, giving the guitars more space.
So, as you can see “First Spell” is not my favourite Norwegian black metal release. It is not a bad album, for sure it is good to have it in the collection and giving it a spin once in decade. Gehenna captured here a unique atmosphere, but too many things have been done wrong in my opinion, speaking of the arrangements and the keyboards. Personally I liked this album 15 years ago more than nowadays. And “Seen Through the Veils of Darkness” is far, far more superior to this.
Standout track: “The Shivering Voice of the Ghost”, “Morningstar”
Final rate: 69/100