Kristian Eivind Espedal, aka Gaahl, is a controversial yet prolific figurehead in the Norwegian black metal scene. His work with Gorgoroth, Trelldom, God Seed, and Wardruna showcases how influential and varied his vocal abilities truly are. Of course, felony charges for assault, receiving death threats for coming out as openly gay in 2008, giving eccentric interviews involving the dramatic uttering of one word, and teaming up with former Gorgoroth bandmate King ov Hell in a failed attempt to wrestle the name away from guitarist and sole remaining founding member Infernus in 2007 all have a tendency to overshadow any and all of your accomplishments, no matter how powerful. With all that in mind, we are now in possession of GastiR – Ghosts Invited, the debut full-length from Gaahl’s newest project, Gaahls WYRD. With lofty claims of musical extremity and esotericism, as well as a more varied vocal delivery by Gaahl himself, GastiR comes across as a promising endeavor that looks to reshape the blackened landscape to Gaahl’s vision.
And when all the pieces fit, GastiR shines. Late album highlight “The Speech and the Self” contains some incredible hooks by guitarist Lust Kilman (aka Ole Walaunet) and interesting fills by drummer Spektre (aka Kevin Kvåle), with Gaahl’s vocals saddled somewhere between a low muttering growl and a clean vocal that’s best described as nestled between Peter Murphy and Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride). Elsewhere, closer “Within the Voice of Existence,” once it actually gets going, highlights the potential Gaahl and company are capable of, with an incredible atmosphere that builds to an explosive climax by the album’s end. The talent that they possess together in these two songs makes for an intriguing display of songwriting.
Too bad the rest of the album doesn’t hold a candle to those two songs or their lofty promises. To put it bluntly, GastiR plays out more like Gaahl having a vocal fever dream over some rather run-of-the-mill black metal. Opener “Ek Erilar” exemplifies this, as most of the song features Gaahl either singing in a low, growling register or howling with some rather paint-by-numbers black metal before abruptly ending when things are just getting somewhat interesting musically. “Carving the Voices” adopts a mid-paced crawl with Gaahl sounding his most Murphy-ish over a backdrop that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on any other black metal album. The biggest offender lies in “Veiztu Hve,” a track that starts off promising with its urgent tempo, atonal full-chord riffing, and Gaahl delivering a menacing spoken word section. Sadly, it devolves with one of the worst chants I’ve ever heard in a black metal song, and that chant stretches out for almost half of the song’s almost-seven-minute entirety.
The Iver Sandøy production and mix also leave a lot to be desired. Spektre’s drumkit sounds muffled, especially where the bass drum is concerned. Anytime Spektre utilizes double-bass, it sounds like wet cardboard being cracked with a baseball bat. Elsewhere, Eld’s (Frode Kilvik) bass is so buried that it might as well not be there. Thankfully, Kilman’s guitars cut with the right amount of heft and treble. The same can’t be said about the songwriting, as songs are either not fully formed (“Ek Erilar,” “Through the Past and Past”), or drag on for far too long, effectively stifling the potency (the chanting chorus of “Veiztu Hve,” the overbearingly long first-half of “Within the Voice of Existence”).
Gaahl stands as one of black metal’s most gifted vocalists and lyricists, as well as an intelligent, highly-respected individual, and I’ve enjoyed prior contributions of his throughout his storied career. This makes GastiR all the more disappointing, as I’m not blown away by most of the songwriting on here, and the songs that did impress me did so because of the strength of the songwriting present, not due to any thinking outside of the box. Perhaps this is just Gaahl testing the waters with a new band, but I’m left wanting something more substantial than what GastiR has to offer.