Have you ever been away from someone for a while, whether a friend, family member, or former love interest, and when you reunite, that person has changed dramatically? Was it because they cleaned up, got their shit together, lost or gained weight in a healthy matter, or otherwise became an outrageously successful person without you? Or did you see them with a beer belly, receding hairline, on their third divorce, and you try to find a nice way to cheer them up while thinking in your head, “What the hell happened to you?” Well, Belgian black metallers Saille impressed me back in 2014 with their third album, Eldritch. It displayed some strong songwriting along the Dimmu Borgir vein, and I looked forward to what was coming next from these guys. Now, Gnosis arrived and… yeah.
But first, the good, which will take less time to discuss. “Prometheus,” arguably the best song on Gnosis, builds upon the strengths that littered Eldritch in abundance. Drummer Kevin De Leener assaults his kit with interesting fills and frantic double-bass. Combined with the riff work of guitarists Reinier Schenk and newcomer Collin Boone, “Prometheus” contains enough suspense in its 4-minute length to keep one’s interest fully engaged. Elsewhere, “Before the Crawling Chaos,” crawls with a cool dramatic riff in the beginning, setting up tension and atmosphere before the song changes up shortly after.
Now that we got that out of the way, the faults are two-fold and humongous. First, while there aren’t bad performances to be found on Gnosis, the promise shown on Eldritch, on a songwriting level, is nowhere to be seen. “Before the Crawling Chaos” contains at least four different abrupt pieces that don’t mesh well together, making an almost 7-minute song feel way longer. “Prometheus” also felt like a long tune, until I realized that immediate follow-up “Thou, My Maker” just sounded almost exactly like its predecessor in the track listing. In fact, Gnosis mostly flew by without much notice, and it definitely didn’t grab my attention like Eldritch did.
But even if Saille crafted one of the best works of symphonic black art known to mankind, the Wieslawscy brothers’ (Behemoth, Vader) mix and master would kill it dead. Within seconds of opener “Benei ha’Elohim,” I was assaulted by the worst compressed guitar tone I have heard since Cradle of Filth’s abysmal Cruelty and the Beast. Somehow, it sounds both wet and fried, like someone threw a Peavey practice amp into a pool, took it out, dried it off by surrounding it in rice inside a paper bag, plugged a guitar into it, and told the producer to press “Record” while it was still damp. When the band goes into Blast Mode, any semblance of dynamics or cohesion is thrown out the window into a swamp. The DR 4 score surprised me, as it doesn’t even begin to tell you how smothered, loud, and obnoxious this sounds. On a symphonic black metal album, where there are violins, keyboard melodies, and airy bits of fancy, there is no excuse at all for your album to sound this atrocious.
I couldn’t wait to reunite with Saille to see what they cooked up after Eldritch, but I don’t think I will be making another return trip. Gnosis, with its disengaging songwriting and horrible production, trips on itself when it should be aiming for the stars. I’m all for a good bit of storytelling, but not if it causes a severe migraine at a low volume. Like seeing someone who’s changed for the worst after a long absence, it’s best to cherish the memory of what was, and move on.