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Urgehal - Goatcraft Torment

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Artist: Urgehal

Album: Goatcraft Torment

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Apr. 5, 2007

Darkthrone seem to enrapture Urgehal on their fifth full-length, Goatcraft Torment, at least down to their art direction: stark gothic fonts and monochrome visuals; the members' pale and spiky appearances; the liner note imprint of Anti Human, Anti-Life True Norwegian Black Metal. But the dead giveaway is their paraphrase of Darkthrone's somewhat ill-advised "Norsk Arisk [Norwegian Aryan] Black Metal" tag on their packaging as "Norsk Satanisk Black Metal.” It all suggests the work of a unit bent on obfuscating their own music beneath a dirty, zero-fidelity gauze. But, a few minutes after guitarist/vocalist Nefas' defiant introductory shriek of "This is Satanic Black Metal!" it's clear that we've got a live case of bait-and-switch.

What Goatcraft Torment lacks in the clandestine quality evoked by cave-dweller production values, the unit more than makes up for in cold, competent, precise playing. In particular are the opening title track and "Gathered Under the Horns" which Nefas and guitarist Enzifer punctuate with gnarled chordings and atonal lines. The frenzied riffs cruise along with equal parts crunch and clarity, staying well enough away from the melodic formalism that threatened to turn Black Metal into Baroque with blast beats.

Somewhere along the way, guitar solos fell out of favor in some darker corners of the extreme metal scene. Not so for Urgehal. Check out "Risus Sardonius," which closes with flurries of shred guitar driven by a storm of blasting splash-cymbal peppered drums. The spitfire arpeggios at the climax of "Satanic Black Metal in Hell" recall prime Kirk Hammett. Even squalling blues licks sneak into the din on "Antireligios," a tune that reveals more than a passing attention to Swedish d-beat. Said track also demonstrates the band's ability to wind back to midtempo without giving up an ounce of sneering menace. Likewise, breakdowns and half-time codas abound throughout, though drummer Uruz' commanding cracks of the snare keep things more militaristic than moshworthy. Nefas delivers myriad blasphemies bilingually in a genre-appropriate rasp, perhaps saving the sauciest of jabs at J.C. for his native tongue. Of course you don't get much more direct than the title track's "This is your last night / Tonight we kill you…Die for Satan/Die for Satan.” The stark "Sentiment of Chaos,” however, hints at cracks in the solipsism and a greater awareness of worldy evil: "A woman and three children / burned spontaneous til death…End my graveyard shift / on this doomed and fucked earth."

So it is with the zeal of the doomed soul pictured in Goatcraft Torment's bloody tray photograph, his arm sliced open like a raw Easter ham, that this horde wants you to know they've more to offer to the casual or returning black metal fan than just another confusing portmanteau of a title. Someone is still stoking those blazes in the northern sky – though these days with cleaner-burning fuel.

By Adam MacGregor

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