When you start digging into black metal, Gorgoroth inevitably falls into the mix, and it was there that I first discovered Kristian Eivind Espedal, aka Gaahl. Blasphemy though it may be, the band as a whole didn’t stick with me, but as Gaahl moved on I stayed with him, following his brief aggressive burst with God Seed as well as his work with the more introspective Wardruna. But it wasn’t until Gaahl’s WYRD that the man found an outlet that really spoke to his increasingly divergent interests, and two years after a stellar debut we’re graced with the mini-album The Humming Mountain. Surprising no one, it’s really good.
Those looking for the raw, blistering attacks found deep in his past on albums like Ad Majorem Sathanas Glorium need not apply: the five tracks included on The Humming Mountain are altogether more interested in somber textures and moods. The album delves into Norwegian folklore, exploring the nature of creation and consciousness as a slow, inevitable movement, comparable to the mountains or the movements of ice. The music takes a glacial approach as well, whether it’s the soft impending thrust of acoustic guitars on opener “The Seed” or the more metallic yet still inexorable march of the title track.
But when the band wants to rip your face off, they show they can execute flawlessly. “The Dwell” has a simply vicious opening riff before settling into a martial drum roll and taking off into a mid-paced attack. “Awakening Remains – Before Leaving” perhaps recalls the glory days of black metal the best – there’s an energy to the guitars and clean vocals that recall Emperor and Ihsahn’s early solo work. It’s the last centerpiece of the album, really capturing that early atmospheric black metal vibe but injected with a killer production that doesn’t wash everything away in reverb and high treble. Gaahl’s vocals are the strongest they’ve been on any album, and in his backing band (the lineup is consistent from their previous album GastiR – Ghosts Invited) he has a cohesive until that can execute whatever the man thinks up.
Wrapping up with the atmospheric soundscape of “The Sleep” it’s clear that Gaahl continues to not be content resting on his laurels or churning out the same thing again and again. The Humming Mountain speaks to a yearning to explore, to slow down and notice the minutia of creation and darkness and express that in his music. Good thing it sounds as good as it does, huh?