Ov Hell - The Underworld Regime
Indie Recordings
Black Metal
8 songs (37:30)
Release year: 2010
Indie Recordings
Reviewed by Goat

I don't think it'd be stretching anyone's credulity if I said that the vast majority of Metal onlookers came down on Infernus' side over his court battle to retake the Gorgoroth name. The underhanded nature of King Ov Hell and Gaahl's actions shook many a fans' faith in them and it's not overstating the issue to say that Black Metal as a whole suffered - yet Gorgoroth returned in triumph with the excellent Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt and King Ov Hell and Gaahl were left with the hurriedly formed God Seed, a project that has quietly collapsed behind the scenes with the departure of Gaahl, although at the time of writing the official MySpace is still up and running. I thought it had gone for good, to be honest, until I realised that King Ov Hell's new project, wittily entitled Ov Hell, was to be the name by which the God Seed material was released. For many the endearing nature of Gaahl-fronted Gorgoroth (or Gaahlgoroth, as many amusingly dub them) was due to the mysterious frontman himself. Let's face it, that moment from Metal A Headbanger's Journey has passed into Metal legend, and the memory of his unblinking stare and sheer unnerving presence is, for me at least, what gave Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam its forbidding atmosphere.

Gaahl's departure has therefore left King Ov Hell with little to offer the recalcitrant Black Metal public, which perhaps goes some way to explaining why The Underworld Regime is nothing more than a second-rate Gorgoroth album fatally crippled by bad choices. Gathering an all-star line-up, King Ov Hell has created an album which is, in his mind at least, equal to Gorgoroth's Quantos Possunt... - Teloch, live guitarist for 1349, Ice Dale of Enslaved, the ever-willing Frost on drums and Dimmu Borgir's Shagrath on vocals. It is an impressive bunch, and their collective talents should make for a brilliant album; the trouble is, it doesn't, something that is largely King Ov Hell's fault as the author of this sub-par material. There's no faulting the skills of Ice Dale and Frost especially, but when given songs to play that are as average as this, even they are limited in what they can bring to the table. The Underworld Regime is neither as atmospheric nor as genuine as Ad Majorem... and whilst Gaahl's unique talents would have improved things, you can't blame everything on Shagrath. I'll admit to not being Dimmu Borgir's most ardent admirer, but they are a lot better than generally given credit for, and Shagrath's presence here is by no means the worst thing about Ov Hell.

In sound, as stated, this is a weaker Gorgoroth with a hefty dose of stripped-down Dimmu added, and King Ov Hell's reliance on his former band's sound is his undoing. Shagrath's voice is as effect-laden as ever, and without his day band's extreme bombast to back him up, he sounds strangely alone at the front of the music. Being as fair to him as possible, he was an ill choice to front an alternative to Gorgoroth, a band renowned for gravity and seriousness above all, and whilst he does his studio-enhanced best, the choice alone undermines the band. It's a sad truth, but a truth it is; Black Metal relies on atmosphere more than any other genre, and when you choose to represent your music with the kind of ridiculous and cringeworthy artwork that most Power Metal bands would hesitate before choosing (extra marks to those who can spot Shagrath's nipple!) you're shooting yourself in the foot. Taking all this on board, essential flaws are already running through The Underworld Regime, even before you've given it a proper listen - not a good start.

Sadly, a proper listen mostly serves to reinforce initial impressions. Opener The Devil's Harlot launches into view, a promisingly violent Gorgorothian assault, before being undermined first by Shagrath's overly-processed vocals, secondly by a completely out-of-place choir and spoken word section, and finally by the pointless and bordering on ridiculous samples that open the immediate next track, Post-Modern Sadist. Seriously, creaking machinery, eerie female singing, female chuckling, beastlike snarls, chaotic whispering AND a male monastic choir? All of this goes on for nearly a minute before the song properly starts, and the only conclusion I can take is that King Ov Hell was filling time, because there is absolutely no excuse for any of it that early in the album - it adds nothing to the atmosphere and does nothing for the song itself (a fairly typical plodder with another pointless spoken word section). Invoker slows things down a little, but is remarkably dull, sounding more like a rejected Immortal jam than anything Gorgoroth would have written, and by the time that Perpetual Night rolls around with laughably bad wolf howls, you're praying for things to end.

It's a real shame, because the roots of a good album lie somewhere buried beneath The Underworld Regime. Ghosting is by far and away the best track present, opening with unnecessary sampled storms but going on to establish an atmosphere and working it, underlying grandeur given room to bite and breathe even with Shagrath's vocal contributions over the top - it's the first track on the album which really works, and gives me hope that future releases will build upon this foundation. Acts Of Sin spoils the effect somewhat with the gasping and groaning that opens it, and the screeching women and footsteps that close it, although the riotous storm between is at least listenable. Elsewhere, there's the odd hook or enjoyable riff that you'll seize on and elevate in importance, but all in all The Underworld Regime is a very disappointing album. As with most supergroups, Ov Hell offers a lot more than it delivers, and whilst fans of the various musicians will find things to enjoy in the individual performances and those with a higher than usual tolerance for bad samples will find a slightly better album than the rest of us, all in all there is nothing worth worrying the average Black Metal bank balance for. It's not even worth my trying to verbally set Ov Hell up as some kind of Soulfly-esque rival to the Sepulturan Gorgoroth - Infernus has won this battle, and the sooner King Ov Hell realises it and moves on, the better.

Killing Songs :
Goat quoted 49 / 100
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