More so than the vast majority of metal bands, even those rooted in the fundamentally fucked up psychology of black metal musicians, God Seed had turbulent beginnings. Founded by bassist King ov Hell and singer Gaahl after their failed coup of the Gorgoroth dynasty from founding member Infernus (a rightful outcome, if you ask me), the project seemed to have ended before it ever truly materialized. The outspoken, media-loving Gaahl announced his ‘retirement’ from black metal, and King instead focused on his Ov Hell project, a decent if unambitious partnership with Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir, leaving potential fans to ponder if the band would ever actually bear fruit. Well, come 2012, and the (not exactly surprising) return of Gaahl, we’ve finally an album to sink our teeth into, the suitably titled I Begin. Those who enjoyed with the duo’s albums with Gorgoroth will feel right at home here, as it feels like a natural extension of the material on Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam, but there are pleasantly distinct elements here that lend credence to the fact that this is, in fact, a new band.
What I Begin completely nails is atmospheric density. With great guitar and bass tones and a generally open-chord riffing style, not to mention the addition of a keyboard player, whose work tastefully embellishes the riffing, this album feels incredibly thick, washing over you like a swampy tsunami. Most of the material is mid-paced, with layers of richly-textured riffing that feel both thoughtful and innately diabolical. God Seed pull off both hellish intensity and ritualistic, hypnotic patterns of lower tempo with aplomb, and I Begin, at length, feels both distinct and mildly inventive. Considering of course you don’t hate these guys based on general principle, a prevalent perspective, and don’t mind your black metal sounding damn fine production-wise, this is an incredibly solid offering.
Awake ignites the record with a militaristic conflagration that is actually one of the more intense tracks on the record, with gushing gouts of magma-like riffs surging out over machine-gun drumming, framed by a deep, resonant bass tone that continues to satisfy throughout the journey. I feel it could have been mildly more pronounced, as it tends to get a bit overshadowed in some of the more intense moments, but the production here is otherwise excellent. It’s incredibly thick and soupy, befitting the ‘in a cauldron’ feel without blending tones into obscurity. This From the Past is like being in the midst of some kind of devilish summoning, with tangential flights of nocturnal keys and an appreciably vile vocal performance from Gaahl. Say what you will about the man (and yes, there is a lot to say), I’ve always enjoyed his maniacally vicious emanations, and he shows a lot of range and charisma here, a leading voice befitting the suffocating timbre of the music. The track ends in a hypnotic march with flowing, twisting synths and cultish chant, a tantalizing taste of the ensuing ritualistic conjurings.
Alt Liv is a genuine plodder, a steady, swampy, rhythmic march with dramatic use of keys to conjure a horror film aesthetic, something they seem to do quite well throughout the record. Their involvement lends a feeling of distinction to an already interesting release, and is used as a primary compositional trait rather than an ornate garment. From the Running of Blood is dense and misty, weaving a creepy, minimalist melody line that bursts through the fog like a lone ray of diabolical red light, before things kick up a notch for a tense, violent storm of a finale. Aldrande Tre once again thrives on ritualistic tendencies, with a marching, circling, choppy rhythm and some sparse spoken word from Gaahl, giving way to a cleanly sung chorus that feels appropriately cultish. The pace doesn’t change much, but the continual textural shift of the riffing builds tension up until the very end. Hinstu Dagar brings back the violence with some vibrantly evil, almost Eastern-sounding riffing and effectively tense, taught drum work. It feels like the summoning of an ancient Egyptian plague, and the varied, maniacal vocals feel suitably ungodly. Lit is another slow burner, giving way to some dark, dreamy synth patterns that took me by surprise, but certainly were not unwelcome, especially seeing as the song quickly transforms into some more measured, demonic force, with riffing so thick it veritably swallows you whole.
The Wound feels more overtly Gorgoroth-like than the majority of songs here, but may be the only song I would clip a bit, as it utilizes roughly 3 riffs, and feels like a retread of the haunted, repetitious patterning that some other songs on the album did much more effectively. It ends on a high note, however, as God Seed once again unleash blast-beat hellfire. The closer, Bloodline, is not a cover of a bad Slayer song, but rather an odd experiment in only quasi-musical atmosphere, a very minimal, gothic electro number with some vampiric breathing and simple electro-pop beat. It’s an odd way to end the album, but not entirely unfitting, considering the odd atmospheric splicings throughout the album.
A good many people will likely write this off due to the musicians involved, but that would be a tragedy. True, I Begin is not a legendarily good album, but it’s incredibly solid, stamped with a pervading sense of encroaching dread, utilizing the strengths of all the members to conjure a pretty memorable morass of depravity, with an array of tricks that never stagnate or bore throughout the 42-minute run time. If you like your black metal a certain way, and only a certain way, then you’re probably the type that should stay away from God Seed, but anyone else should give it a try, as it’s one of the most distinct releases within the more visible side of the genre this year. They’ve harnessed a host of murky aesthetics here that, in conjunction with strong, dynamic compositions, makes for a pretty damn intriguing record. It’s subtly evolved from their previous work, but not so much that it feels like a betrayal of principle.
If I had to level complaints, not many individual sections jumped out at me and commanded instant replay, but the stifling, ritualistic nature of the album essentially demands it be listened to a whole anyway. I also don’t know how much more attention I’m likely to give it, but that’s more due to the overwhelming quality of other releases this year than any innate failing on God Seed’s part. I Begin is a pretty involving journey, even if it’s not all equally memorable, but I can see it growing with more spins. If you have the time and inclination to really explore this record beyond cursory examination, it’s likely to snare you much deeper. There’s a lot of texture and depth to be found here. In the future, I’d like to see God Seed go even further with the more outlandish, eerie qualities presented here; maybe even dip into some more progressive song structures, but this is a strong beginning.
It’s rather inevitable that an outcry of poseur-hating rage will resonate throughout the land in reaction to any positivity garnered by this album, and I think this will inevitably come from the sect of black metal barons who hold everything up to unfair standards that may not even apply to the album in question. This is not ‘true’ black metal, methinks, so judging it by that standard is pretty worthless, but if you care not for your credibility among the armchair elite, and have a hankering for something vile and blackened along the lines of Gaahl/King-era Gorgoroth, I Begin will most certainly fill that void.