The latest release on Season of Mist from genre-redefining black metal act Gaahls WYRD, The Humming Mountain, may be technically classified as an EP, but it’s such a powerful statement I am going to ignore its brevity and re-classify it as an album for my own review purposes based purely on its quality. It also suits the conceptual nature of the record effectively and concisely without any filler tracks, as well as being an echo to the past, where pioneering acts like Tom G. Warrior’s Hellhammer would release shorter albums on a more regular basis. This is no demo tape-trade, though: it’s a well-planned, beautifully executed artifact.
I honestly did not think the band could outdo themselves – their last record, GastiR – Ghosts Invited, was a total paradigm shift for black metal as well as a really strong record overall (reviewed in detail here) – but they have proved once again on The Humming Mountain that they are far more than just a backup band for one of the world’s most notorious frontmen. Like fellow True Norwegian Black Metal alumnus Ihsahn (of Emperor), Gaahl has left the church-burning, nail-studded gauntlets and pig heads in the past and has refocused his attention on music with a message. His continued collaboration with Eld and Lust Kilman shows a shared passion for expression, philosophy and the yawning abyss.
Album opener, “The Seed” follows the longer format typical of so much atmosphere-driven black metal – but that’s about the only common ground here.
Even though the mini-album was released almost a month ago, it’s taken this long to fully synthesize (and appreciate) what I’ve been hearing. From the slow drawl anti-lullaby of “The Seed,” all the way to the minimalist closer, “The Sleep,” the musical journey is one of sustained tension. Breaks and builds are hinted at, teased and occasionally – but not often – exploited, resulting in a continuous compromise between nervous anticipation and cathartic exhalation. Even when things get rougher (“The Dwell” particularly, but also evident in the opening passage of “Awakening Remains – Before Leaving”) the chaos is never a cascade. Control is always held, and felt.
The overall effect is one of inevitability – and something Gaahl is no stranger to, musically. Prior acts associated with the man, like God Seed and Trelldom, were notable in their build-up of a “wall of sound” effect, a crushing, hypnotic mass of music reverberating dangerously – especially in a live setting. The Humming Mountain achieves something similar, but more a “wall of mood” as the carefully restrained emotions ebb and flow, never quite retreating – but neither are they ever fully released.
And, thanks to Season of Mist, you can enjoy the whole record right here.
The title track is a well-chosen single, encompassing this same shifting tide of atmosphere, but in one cohesive offering just shy of 5 minutes. Viewed in isolation, it’s a stunning example of post-black angst but when juxtaposed with the rest of the mini-album, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece. Once again, on The Humming Mountain Gaahls WYRD can be seen as a prime example of how black metal as a genre has grown up and no longer needs to be raw or kvlt – it can also be nuanced, exploratory and wholly original.
The Humming Mountain Track Listing:
1. The Seed
2. The Humming Mountain
3. The Dwell
4. Awakening Remains – Before Leaving
5. The Sleep
Run Time: 29:17
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Record Label: Season of Mist