The adjective bleak is seldom used as a compliment, however if you’re involved in the extreme metal underground, and particularly if black or doom metal is your bag, then bleakness is considered the artistic (un)holy grail.
The Netherlands’ Ggu:ll are masters in the art of bleakness. Since forming in 2009 these Tilburg residents have been carving a distinctive niche for themselves with an icy brand of blackened doom. Now with the release of their second album, Ex Est, the band add new textures and sounds into their dark soundscapes, drawing influences from the worlds of psychedelia, noise rock and sludge.
Loosely based around the idea that one day all things come to an end (finitude), Ex Est finds the band playing with different shades of extremity throughout to create a desolate landscape of noise. Opener ‘Raupe’ uses repetition and drone to slowly build into a brutal crescendo, before erupting into ‘Falter’ which has a driving, discordant rhythm that brings to mind the noise metal riffage of Unsane as much as it does Dream Death or Asphyx. ‘Enkel Achterland’ feels more heavily indebted to classic doom, albeit with nods to black metal, while album centrepiece ‘Samt Al-Ras’ uses slow, psychedelic tones to conjure up the kind of cyclopean architecture found on the album’s Hellraiser-esque cover.
Throughout the album, vocalist Van Der Voort’s grim vocals (definitely inspired by the masters of second wave black metal) uses restraint and nuance to follow the ebb and flow of the music, giving him a unique style very much integral to the band’s sound. This is particularly evident on ‘Hoisting Ruined Sails’, which uses toweringly heavy melodies to conjure up an image of a battered ship lost in a hostile ocean. Album closer ‘Voertuig de Verlorenen’ is similarly cinematic. Starting with a brutal riff similar to early Darkthrone, it crashes down with a thunderclap of symbols before disintegrating into a haunting, feedback-drenched second half which could come from the work of Khanate.
With this album it feels that Ggu:ll have stepped everything up a notch. The intricacy of the riffs, the quality of the songs and the sheer scope of their vision all feels like a progression which has seen them go from eye-catching newcomers to one of the highest quality bands in their sub-genre. If blackened doom metal (or even doomy black metal) is your vibe then you owe it to yourself to give this a spin.
Ex Est is out now via Consouling Sounds and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader