Initially, this review was going to begin with a nutshell description of the current black metal scene. I had a few ideas: how the style is split into two methods of composition (instant gratification versus slow burning atmosphere), how the line between traditional and post-black metal is slowly being blurred, and so on. As I repeatedly drafted and deleted my intro, however, I began to realize that the state of the genre is far too multi-faceted to describe in terms of duality. Besides, you’re smart enough to read AMG, so you would have instantly seen through my half-baked thesis. My goal in summarizing the genre had been to emphasize how the entire breadth of the modern style is reflected in Czech Republic outfit Inferno’s seventh LP Gnosis Kardias (of Transcension and Involution), and after many failed revisions and much reflection, I realized that the band’s ability to effectively represent so many corners of a complex musical landscape is all the more impressive.
This isn’t to say that Gnosis Kardias is a world-shattering culmination of two decades of black metal evolution; Inferno’s formula sounds familiar, yet covers a surprising amount of modern black metal ground to form something unique. The persistent, rumbling blastbeats and a thick sense of dread remind me of bands like Nightbringer, yet the Lovecraftian atmosphere and multilayered guitar texturing of The Great Old Ones and even the ethereal guitar modulation from this year’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Manetheren album make an appearance. Yet as undeniably dense and hostile Inferno’s sound is, this album at times has an almost laid back quality that I totally dig. Gnosis Kardias’ opening moments exemplify this immediately; “The Innermost Delusion” opens with full throttle blast beats, yet only an eerie, slow-picked guitar pattern hangs over the rhythm section like a storm cloud, foreshadowing the chaos to come. All of Inferno‘s song openings excel at immediately establishing the tone of the track in question, and the constant evolution of the compositions rarely disappoints.
The only disappointing factor of the songs lies in their conclusions. Inferno succeeds at crafting free-form song structures without coming across as meandering (thanks in part to the layered guitars’ claustrophobic feel), yet almost all of these songs either end abruptly or fade out without reaching a proper climax. The one exception is penultimate track “Gate-Eye of Fractal Spiral,” the album’s slowest piece that finishes strong with an accelerated onslaught of blastbeats and electronic effects. The slow-burn qualities of this track recall Triptykon sans death metal elements, and while I’m not sure it serves well as Gnosis Kardias’ conclusion, it’s an undeniably memorable track that flows well into the record’s surprisingly effective ambient coda “Orison for the Baneful Serpent.” The sound of waves lapping the shore paired with the cosmic electronic effects really help in affirming the Lovecraftian vibe felt throughout the album.
In regards to performances, no one musician stands out, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This isn’t a showcase of raw instrumental talent; rather, it’s a demonstration of how a focused band can create a cohesive sound that makes the listener forget he or she is even listening to a group of individuals in the first place. I’ve found the best way to listen to this record is by letting the waves of guitars and various distortion effects wash over me; it seems there’s a new inventive cymbal pattern or cascading background riff to discover with each listen, and while the assembly of these pieces is technically very impressive, the replayability factor is what really sold me on Gnosis Kardias. Production-wise, the record can sound messy in its busiest moments and the bass could use a bit more emphasis in the mix, but overall the individual instruments have plenty of breathing room and the final product sounds quite good.
As I finish yet another spin of Gnosis Kardias, I’m struck by how natural Inferno sounds on this record. They had been a second wave-aping act until just a few years ago, and they’ve shed their former skin so effectively (and without so much as a hint of pretense) that they feel like a fresh, young act despite being over twenty years into the game. Perhaps this isn’t a genre defining (or subverting) opus, but it doesn’t need to be; there are plenty of modern bands attempting this brand of dense, monolithic black metal, yet Inferno handily stands out enough to deserve close attention in an overcrowded field.