In the crowded world of black metal, small changes can make a big difference. Such is the case for Belgian band Saille. Compare the logo on their latest album, Gnosis, with that on previous efforts. It’s more direct, with less superfluous elements. A subtle shift, but one that speaks volumes about the music contained within. This is still epic black metal, as was present on previous albums such as Eldritch and Ritu; but it’s a much more muscular version, hitting harder than ever before. This is black metal that is not content to simply sit and ask questions; it will demand answers, by force if necessary.
Whilst previous efforts had a more overtly symphonic feeling, on Gnosis the music is rooted much more in the “classic” black metal instruments – guitars, drums, bass, harsh vocals. The leads and riffs are stronger, imposing themselves upon the listener whilst never feeling anything less than epic; and the drums are an impressive battery, relying not only on brute force to subdue the listener – though there is plenty of that – but also a knowledge of when to back off, to create tension and contrast. If previous efforts were comparable to heavily symphonic bands such as Dimmu Borgir or Old Man’s Child, the chief point of comparison here is Emperor. Specifically, Gnosis has the same kind of force as IX Equilibrium did on tracks like ‘Curse You All Men!’ and ‘The Source Of Icon E’, combined with the questing spirit of Prometheus. Fittingly, the album explores in its lyrics the quest for knowledge and Promethean ideal, though the exact lyrics are often lost in the onslaught of drums and guitars, even if it the intention and emotion of the vocals is clear throughout.
A comparison to Emperor is no small thing, and it’s to Saille’s credit that it feels earned not just in the sound of their black metal, but also in the quality and variety of their songwriting. The band clearly understand that the best approach to extreme metal is not to simply batter your listener in to submission, but to include small moments of respite and contrast, ensuring the more aggressive, intense sections lose none of their impact. Fourth track ‘Genesis 11:1-9’ is a prime example of this, its more mid-tempo approach arriving at a crucial point when the speed and intensity of the album threatens to become overbearing. Repeat listens also help to reveal the strength of the symphonic elements of Saille, with the keys being placed further back in the production. Their melodies and textures help provide a counter-point to the guitars, and keep the album interesting on repeat spins once the initial thrill of its energy may have worn off.
Those small changes mentioned at the start of the review give Gnosis a clear sense of identity and place within Saille’s discography, but also within the wider black metal scene. Many bands will readily point to Emperor as an influence, but few have come as close as Saille to capturing the same kind of musical journey as that mighty band did. For sure, Gnosis is a journey, best experienced as a whole rather than dipping in and out of individual tracks, making this an album that credits its audience with intelligence and patience. It is a quest well worth embarking upon, and it would not surprise me to see Gnosis popping up on some end of year lists come December.
Gnosis is set for release on 13 March 2017, and can be pre-ordered on CD at Code666’s webstore.