|Cover artwork by Denis Forkas|
Gevurah, a Canadian black metal duo, put out an EP in 2013, Necheshirion, that I wasn't sure I completely understood. It was music I felt drawn to and frustrated by at the same time, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Good art should make you think, and sometimes even make you hate it a little bit because of your own perplexed reactions to it. Even after all this time, I'm still a bit mystified by it, but after three years, they're back with their debut full-length, puzzling me all over again.
Hallelujah!, which probably isn't the black metal album title you were suspecting, starts slowly. "The Fire Dwelling Within" opens with whispering over a swelling guitar line, and even with the addition of the percussion, it takes a bit for the track to coalesce. There's some chanting involved, and oh God we're already passed the two-minute mark. You might be tempted to click away--there's so much else to listen to--but hang on. The song proper finally kicks off with a growl and we're treated to some excellent, mid-paced rhythms underneath furious, buzzing riffs. There are plenty of clanging, dissonant chords to come, and a vocal style that sounds like Lemmy doing black metal. I swear I'm not making fun here--the style works, and once the comparison popped to mind, it stayed there.
A lot of the album is like this. It seems to aim more toward disturbing hypnosis than metal ass-kicking. Musical ideas build and fall, although the intensity rarely drops. There's no real true breather until the lovely, mid-album-ish "Lifting the Veils of Da'at," which presents a melodic idea and builds on it, simply and effectively, over the course of four minutes.
All of this push-pull is the album's strength and possibly its weakness, depending on how you like to be challenged. It clocks in at just over an hour, which certainly isn't that unusual or particularly unmanageable, but it's really heavy on the back end, with a 19-minute-long closing track. The penultimate track, "Dies Irae - Lacrimosa," would have been a killer album closer. The opening riff is simple but infectious, the vocals build to the point of sounding physically painful, and there's an abrupt break in the middle of the track that lets it build up all over again.
But then this closing track, "הַלְּלוּיָ." (It's also the title track, as the Google machine tells me this is Hebrew for "Hallelujah.") It moves and evolves, but ever so slowly. On first listen, I asked myself if these ideas needed to be repeated so often with so little variation. At one point I thought it was close to the end, but I was still only halfway through. Eventually some monkish choral work kicks in, which on first listen annoyed the hell out of me. But then the riffs after the choral parts pick up that melody, which is cool! I didn't know what to think. I wanted to punch this song in its little song face for taking so long, for weighing down this album. After a second listen, though, I was a little more convinced. Additional listens drew me in a bit more.
My ultimate conclusion? I honestly don't know. There's a lot to like here, with a dose of frustration mixed in. The album's too damn long, but on some listens, I feel truly elevated by it. Other times I feel like I'm just being ground down. With that said, post-review I find myself still listening and still thinking about it, which I've found is often a mark of good art. I highly recommend finding your own love-hate relationship with it.
P.S. If you’re interested in a fantastic breakdown of the spiritual ideas involved, head over to Last Rites for an excellent summary.