Gaahl is a multifaceted artists. This is evident in his artistic output, which ranges from raw black metal in Trelldom and Gorgoroth, to hypnotic Nordic folk in Wardruna. To me this has always felt like a juxtaposition between two sides of Gaahl himself, one made out of anger and aggression, and another of longing and melancholy. In The Humming Mountain, Gaahl’s Wyrd‘s newest “mini album”, both sides are in full display and, depending on what kind of Gaahl you prefer, you might find yourself very disappointed.
The album opens and finishes with two dark ambient tracks that, put together, make up about 12 minutes (which, in a 29-minute album, is quite a bit). They’re largely made up of soft keys, guitars, and percussion, mostly repeating the same short melodies, with Gaahl‘s voice showing up here and there as if repeating a mantra. This could be deliberate, and in line with the album’s overall theme (Gaahl’s philosophical musings intertwined with his Norse religion), but who knows.
Title track “The Humming Mountain” (and which, as of right now, has the most plays on Spotify), speeds things up a bit, but barely. It’s doom metal, and kind of a boring one at that. Though Gaahl‘s clean vocals are not particularly good, they have a church quality to them, reminding me of the many off-key priests that I saw singing in church as a kid; that, coupled with the strange noises in the background, makes the song unsettling in a way that I think is actually quite cool.
The band’s fury is unleashed in “The Dwell” and “Awakening Remains”, the two tracks where black metal finally makes an appearance. But even here Gaahl refrains from growling, choosing instead to mostly maintain that same chant-ish approach to his voice that he used in the slower tracks. Since there were a few times where I thought growling the lyrics would have been better, I didn’t always approve of his choice. Other times, however, that type of delivery worked wonders (like in the closing section of “Awakening Remains”). This is a departure even from their previous album, where in songs like “Through and Past and Past” we could steel hear Gaahl‘s harsher vocals, so it did make me wonder whether Gaahl is planning to leave growling behind altogether.
As a successor to Gastir-Ghosts Invited, which received critical acclaim, The Humming Mountain leaves a bit to be desired. It’s not that it’s a bad album (if you’re in the right mood, you might even enjoy the atmospheric sections) but it didn’t give me nearly enough of the fury that I want to get from something involving Gaahl. Maybe as part of an LP the huge atmospheric sections would be easier to swallow, but here they felt a bit self-indulging. Right now I’m not completely sure of what Gaahl’s Wyrd wants to be, and I don’t think they know either.