Here’s something to think about… If Darkthrone‘s Transilvanian Hunger released today, would it make the same impression it made back in 1994? More importantly, would it get the same reception nowadays that it got in the past? Birthed in 2007, Ignis Gehenna was the devil-worshiping brainchild of Nihilifer (Erebus Enthroned) and Archfiend, the duo releasing a single crude demo (Ecclesia Diabolus) to lukewarm reception and an EP (Revelations of Sinister Rebirth) just 2-years later. With a lengthy hiatus, Ignis Gehenna is set to make a return. Peddling Darkthrone-inspired Luciferian black metal with a smattering of thrash and just enough melodic death to titillate, Baleful Scarlet Star is the sole achievement of Aussie vocalist Nihilifer after his relocation to a remote and isolated part of Australia, where I’m led to believe his creative vision was allowed to flourish. It did not.
Where Naglfar rises with the chaotic force of pandemonium, Ignis Gehenna takes the opposite path. “Serpent Oracle” develops slowly and deliberately, cultivating the prickle of anticipation, exacerbated with each sustained note. Though the melody isn’t particularly unusual for what one expects from a black metal track, it did give me a window into Ignis Gehenna‘s potential. Around a minute into the song, the mood transitions into one of blasting black metal, more urgent and deliberate in nature, hinting at the style of Naglfar. Nihilifer’s vocals are delivered initially with blasting attack, before shifting into a more rasping and unintelligible croak that’s easily comparable to a watered-down blend of Mortuus (Marduk) and Tas Danazoglou (Satans Wrath). “Serpent Oracle” quickly establishes itself as the best and most memorable track on the Baleful Scarlet Star and plenty of aggressive shifts and changes keep the song interesting and on track. That said, it’s around the mid-section of this lengthy 8-minute undertaking that you realize that Ignis Gehenna have unloaded their entire bag of tricks and instead of wrapping things up as they should, they’re going to keep re-using each lurching break and each melodic interlude – the term flogging a dead horse comes to mind.
While none of what follows is bad or in any way unlistenable, there’s the nagging feeling that it’s all very unnecessary. The high points of “Baleful Scarlet Star” are the few moments when Nihilifer’s vocals hit the lower register taking on a Loss-like depth; where “Edict of Blood” draws so very obviously from Darkthrone‘s Transilvanian Hunger; where “Litany unto Thanateros” transitions from Swedish-style black metal schizophrenia, to become counterbalanced by jangly Cerekloth-inspired death doom. Another is where “Anamnesis” circles and loops back to trusty Darkthrone inspiration, this time however incorporating elements of early Amorphis-style melodic death.
Here at AMG we listen to an album many many times before even putting pen to paper. These repeat listens can end up a double-edged sword. Not only can they uncover hidden gems of creativity, but they can also magnify the mundane and the filler. Take the title track for example: there’s a natural break around the mid-point, seemingly just the spot where you’d expect the song to begin wrapping up. It does not. Or “Edict of Blood,” where repeat listens only intensify thoughts of how non-essential the track is. “Melas Oneirol” follows on, playing out with such similarity that the two tracks feel as though they’ve played on for an eternity or longer. Baleful Scarlet Star comes to a close with “Anamnesis,” and I’m left with just one question: what was the point? Ending Baleful Scarlet Star with a limp instrumental, that amounts to no more than an introduction to songs that were never included, ends the album on a faltering and strange note.
I’m led to understand that at the time of release Ignis Gehenna had two final tracks that were held back because of their unfinished nature. These final journeys may go a ways to finish off Baleful Scarlet Star or they could go on to add to an album that already seems overly long and bogged down with filler. Only tie will tell, as a follow-up album including the outstanding tracks will release in 2018. Unfortunately the grandiosity, concept and complexity of Baleful Scarlet Star was lost on me. Not a great start to 2017.