Black metal has certainly come a long way from its controversial, church burning genesis: once a genre to be either feared or derided (depending on your outlook) it has blossomed into a respected and vibrant part of the metal scene.
There are, of course, still bones of contention – who is/isn't black metal, do they have to sing about religion, what about Abbath, etc – but by and large, it has been welcomed into the metal fold with open arms (and often rabid enthusiasm from its biggest fans).
Belgian black metallers Saille entered the fray in 2009, starting off as a one man project by keyboardist Dries Gaerdelen but soon becoming a fully fledged band.
Their previous three releases (2011's Irreversible Decay; 2013's Ritu and 2015's Eldritch), all released on Italian label Code666, have all been concept albums, focusing on “the fearful, the uncanny and the weird”, and latest release Gnosis is no different, tackling the Promethuem ideal and its Luciferian counterpart, an idea inspired by the band's research into Russian composer Alexander Scriabin ('Prometheus: Poem of Fire').
This latest album also sees Saille become a five piece, as founding member Gaerdelen takes a back seat musically as he slips into a more managerial role within the band.
Gnosis was mixed and mastered at Hertz Studios by the Wieslawscy's, the brothers behind Behemoth's latest album, a connection that becomes immediately apparent upon listening to the album.
Having trimmed some of the more indulgent elements from their music (even their logo is now less curlicue'd and 'pretty'), a more muscular sound has emerged that is unmistakeably reminiscent of Behemoth, particularly their previous album The Satanist.
The difference is, Saille have added their own touches to create their own identity, on this album more than their three previous ones.
Take opening track 'Benei Ha Elohim': meaning 'Sons of God' in Hebrew, its choral intro fades to what could function exceedingly well as a blackened Nightmare on Elm St soundtrack. Turning on a dime between heavy chugs to a plinky, almost jaunty mandolin-style guitar and with a vocal style smack in the middle of black and death metal, it is a rather symphonic style of black metal, complete with chainsaw riffs and a galloping, headbang-y beat.
It's chillingly abrupt ending leads to track two, the fittingly titled 'Pandaemonium Gathers': all fierce, deliberate chug and scowling, ferocious vocals, it will set sweeping, black-haired heads banging deliriously.
So far, so black metal. Compare that to 'Blôt', with its rather beautiful intro and tentative female vocal...which is then smashed to pieces by front man Dennie Grondelaers screaming up an absolute storm, not to mention a rare guitar solo. It's a powerful number that showcases the band's diversity brilliantly.
Trying to choose a highlight proves a difficult task. Is the old/new school black metal combo of 'Blow Your Trumpets, O Gabriel'-esque 'Genesis11; 1 -9'?
The absolutely majestic, epic in every way 'Before the Crawling Chaos', complete with throat singing, elements of doom/death/power AND black metal, and a delicately lush strings-led finale? Or is it album closer '1904 Era Vulgaris', with its racing, pulsating beat that ebbs and flows like the blackest of tides, which slides breathlessly into an outro featuring, of all things, a rather dolorous sounding trombone? Decisions, decisions!
The truth is, Gnosis is an album packed with highlights. An altogether sturdier and sterner album that they've previously released, it still manages to pack a punch both audibly and emotionally. Classic black metal fans will love it for it's faithfulness to the black metal ethos, and new school fans will love it for the band's willingness to step outside of those often restrictive boundaries.
Any way you look at it, Saille have ticked all the black metal boxes here, and created an album that's exciting and - equally as important - interesting.
Review by Melanie Brehaut