Polish punishment crew Gurthang have managed to shoehorn six albums in to the past decade, Ascension being the latest. Originally a solo project, things have since evolved to the point where they are operating as a fully-fledged five-piece.
By all accounts Gurthang’s formative years were centred on a doomy blackened soundscape but more recent work has been closer in shape and texture to straightforward black metal. The tempo is certainly ratched up on almost every track on Ascension powered by a relentless battery of blastbeats and some hellish screams that help keep things very much in the raw.
This album is nearly an hour long, although it is top and tailed by a couple of 12-minute tracks, the first being “In Void Again”. The opener represents a fairly accurate surmise of what Gurthang are now about, stretches of morose black metal, a couple of prog plays and some chaotic frenzied riffage. There’s a lot to take in but a few listens will help pull back more of the venomous variables that are at play here.
There’s an almost militaristic chug at the start of “The Great Silence” before some throat-clearing growls signal an increase in the tempo and some eye-gouging riffwork. The pacier momentum is solidified the further we go with both “Mirrors” and “This Mortal Shell” hotbeds of nihilistic blackened call to arms.
“Under the Dome” sparks into life as if a hand grenade has just been rolled across the floor. The explosive start does eventually level off although a skull crushing throb continues to suck up the air like a vacuum as Gurthang heighten the tension.
If anyone by this time is wondering what happened to the band’s early old doom influence then the two-minute funereal instrumental “Wither” at least in part answers the question. It’s still there in the background, brought to the fore occasionally to create a mood and atmosphere, although in reality this two-minute intervention merely acts as the gateway to the substantive closer “Solace,” undoubtedly one of the album highlights.
If Ascension lacks something of the sheer unbridled intensity of their countrymen Mgla – and occasionally Gurthang do lose their way slightly – this feverish finale is a more than satisfactory climax. The Poles set out on a defined path from which they don’t deviate throughout the 12 minutes. Clever hooks are laid out to trigger a shift in tempo when necessary but everything flows tidily, keeping you gripped from the first frozen bark to the last.
The band’s name derives from Tolkien’s tale book Silmarilion and refers to the sword of Túrin Turambar. The name fits very well as Gurthang are showing themselves to be accomplished sonic swordsmen that you would not want to meet in a duel.