There is a duality I struggle with any time I have to write a review. As a critic, I listen to an album and try to find the good things along with the bad. As a musician, I know that criticism stings. If you’ve read more than one review here at AMG, you know that we don’t write fluff. We don’t pander to the labels or the bands. It’s our mission to be unmerciful. I admit (despite the very real possibility that the Angry Metal Gods, AMG himself and Steel Druhm, may strike me down for doing so) that on occasion, the little musician dancing on my right shoulder whispers in my ear, “How is it going to make the drummer feel when he reads his fills sound like he threw his drum set down a flight of stairs?” Meanwhile the little devil with the red pen on my left shoulder whispers, “Fuck that guy, he couldn’t drum his way out of a paper bag.” I have to remind myself, as a musician and a critic, that opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one and we all think everyone else’s stink.
This brings me to Florida’s Gnosis and their debut album, The Third Eye Gate on Nuclear War Now! Productions. As I admit another bias and further risk firing, I’m a big fan of the label. They have a great roster of bands like Ares Kingdom, Black Witchery, Sect Pig, Katechon, and more. Couple that with the fact that Yosuke sells most of his own releases for a measly $5, I’ve binge shopped at the NWN! web site countless times and have rarely been disappointed. So, I signed on to review Gnosis without a moment’s hesitation.
It’s clear their mission is to keep the ‘hell’ in Hellenic, as the influence of Thou Art Lord, Rotting Christ, and Necromantia is blatant. The bio hits the nail right on the head, saying, “the riffs themselves exude characteristics similar to those that adorn the ancient Greek canon of black metal (Varathron, in particular, comes to mind). On the other hand… the vocals, song structures, and atmosphere are… reminiscent of Goetia-era Mystifier.” Vocalist J.S. does an impressive job capturing Asmodeus’s sound but with a less varied delivery, never reaching the manic Blasphemy-ish spewing that’s so effective on Goetia in sections of a song like, “Caerimonia Sanguilentu (Goetia),” rather sticking to the deeper, muddy style on “Cursed Excruciation/The Sinuous Serpent Of The Genesis (Leviathan).” There are some solid riffs. The slow passage in “Primaeval Light” is eerie and catchy. Like their progenitors, Gnosis impressively and effectively sound evil and ritualistic, particularly on the eponymous track. They come out of the gate raging for the first two minutes then let the music breathe, with the vocals sickeningly crooning over an extended slow section where the guitars occasionally drop out and the bass and drums play a brief but tasteful lick. The production righteously sounds like Goetia on steroids, with just as much murk but with a lot more oomph, right down to the snare screaming over the top in slower blasts and being buried in the fast ones.
However, much as I wanted to like Gnosis and love the era and sound they’re trying to recreate, on a whole the songs are too formulaic. I found as listening to most of The Third Eye Gate, that I had the mystical insight the band’s name refers to, and could prophesy which part was coming next. Here’s the slow blast. Here comes the tremolo picking. Here comes the double bass. Here is the arpeggiated guitar. The palm muted chug. For some acts, VON for instance, relentless repetition can create a ritualistic feeling. Give a listen to how many times Necromantia repeats the riffs in the “Unchaining the Wolf.” Way too many, but it works because it’s so downright awkward and hypnotic. Gnosis touches on that at times but, for the most part, the songwriting is disappointingly predictable. Perhaps because “its members.. previously participated in other regional bands of somewhat disparate style,” Gnosis may well be comprised of individuals that are fans of Greek and Brazilian black metal yet aren’t as seasoned in the genre as disciples would be.
Had I not already been familiar with the fine works of the bands Gnosis clearly look up to, The Third Eye Gate might have left a better impression, but knowing the master works just made me realize they aren’t as good as their idols. Can Gnosis be faulted for that? No. It is nigh impossible to go back and recreate the magic of a bygone era. I get why NWN! signed this band because there’s a lot of promise here, it just hasn’t been fully realized yet.
SIDENOTE: Gnosis released the most massive, insanely epic logo on Facebook after the album had been put together. It sure would have won the Illegible Logo Rodeo we used to run over at Unchain the Underground when Angry Metal Guy, Himself, was just a lowly contributor as I am now [And a fired contributor to boot. – Steel Druhm].