I Begin is the first original release from Norwegian black metal group God Seed. While it may or may not end up being one of the strongest black metal releases I hear this year, it is definitely one of the most entertaining. Even though not all of its tracks stand out as gems, the record shows the band’s commitment to straight-ahead blackened ferocity and its attachment to sub-genre traditions but also its current willingness to play with other musical influences.
You may recognize the name God Seed from 2009, when vocalist Gaahl and bassist King ov Hell, former members of the canonical Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth, started their own band after a drawn-out legal battle over who owned the rights to the Gorgoroth name. Then came a few years of tentative line-ups and hints and promises of a debut album. Part of what might contribute to the quality of I Begin is the fact that in the years it has taken the band to produce the album, both King ov Hell and Gaahl have worked on other projects (or, in Gaahl’s case, taken a hiatus from metal music altogether) and explored different sides of themselves. In recent interviews both have talked about their changing lives and priorities. In a 2008 interview with German magazine Rock Hard, Gaahl in particular candidly talked about everything from inflammatory statements he’d made in the past to his being openly gay. Giving the tumultuous ride it has been to get this first God Seed album out, it is almost impossible not to listen to it without associating its content with the maturing personalities behind it.
So, with all that background, how does I Begin sound? At times it sounds a lot like Gaahl-era Gorgoroth, with a particular emphasis on the heavier, crustier aspects of some Swedish black metal contemporaries rather than the etherial and/or symphonic atmospheres that are associated with some of the pioneering Norwegian acts. It’s production is fairly polished, which allows you to notice the keyboard flourishes and fills that wouldn’t sound out of place in Kansas’ back catalogue. King has specifically mentioned that, as with many other metal musicians’ recent output, the album owes a chunk of its sound to 1970s prog rock. In that aspect what God Seed is doing here isn’t terribly original these days. However, it’s significant that the 70s influences aren’t overt. In fact, it was only after repeated listens that I really began to follow that side of the album at all. It adds an extra layer to the more traditional black metal mayhem, and it’s a primary reason why I Begin is able to satisfy both the need for straight-out black metal as well as a desire for something just a little different.
I Begin is a release that I’ve taken to letting play all the way through, even though I do not love all the tracks equally. In this way God Seed’s debut reminds me of Opeth’s Heritage not in sound or tone, but in how it feels as a whole album, rough patches and all. It is seemingly a direct step back toward more organic simplicity that demands to simply be heard, but then other times its musical layers invite detailed dissection. What it seemingly lacks in emotional complexity it makes up for in the sheer pleasure of listening to its heavy riffs and subtle textures. Opening track “Awake” kicks things off with crisp but blackened metallic riffs, leaving no doubt as to the established musical lineages of God Seed’s most public faces. As a first cut it allows Gaahl to demonstrate that, despite being gone from the scene for a time, his ability to emit a range of shrieks, growls, and tortured howls has not diminished. Aside from it, “From The Running of Blood,” “Aldrande Tre” and “The Wound” stand out as particularly strong tracks. The last track, “Bloodlines,” is the odd one out. It’s electronic vibe harkens back to the hints heard on previous Gorgoroth releases, and even here it’s barely more than a one-off experiment. It would’ve been interesting to hear it in the middle of the album, and hopefully God Seed will allow themselves a little more sonic freedom in the future. Some tracks are less interesting. “This From The Past” has very recognizable hooks, but nonetheless does not stick with me once I stop listening. “Hinstu Daga” sounds like a prospective audience sing-along song, but its combination of chugging riffs and heavy organ keys sounds like an ode to the more bombastic side of 70s rock, which doesn’t do much for me personally. “Alt Liv,” which has been made into the first video for the album, is catchy but not great, and it is not well-representative of the best and heaviest moments on the record.
I Begin is an apt title for what is a new beginning of sorts, and like many beginnings it is not perfect. However, its lesser moments can be overlooked in favour of the enjoyable whole. Hopefully this incarnation of God Seed will remain stable enough to stretch its wings and explore its musical future while still retaining a connection to its past.