Review Summary: After sixteen years Believer are back with the strongest technical thrash of their career.
Long time fans might not agree with me, but I’m glad this band broke up when they did. I’m glad because a look at their progression from one album to the next seems to imply that they were headed for disaster. Here was a band whose foundation in technical thrash was quickly eroding in favor of unfettered grand ideas. This was a band that, by their final album, was delivering complex lyrical ideas based on philosophy and religion and combining it with increased musical technicality at the expense of heaviness. The album even featured a twenty-minute song composed of female operatic vocals, thrash growls, extended violin solos and dealt with the life of Christ (including direct quotes from the bible). Don’t get me wrong, the album was really good but where do you go from there besides up your own ass? Judging from the musical progression from one album to the next, the album following Dimensions
would have been one of the most convoluted, pretentious albums of the nineties. Again, I’m thankful they broke up.
I’m glad they broke up because they had sixteen years to consider the direction they were heading and were able to deliver the strongest album of their career in the process. In the time since Dimensions
they have dropped a lot of the extraneous bull*** that had started to clutter the music. Gone are most of the annoying sound-effects as well as a lot of the classical elements including the opera vocals. Instead, the songs on Gabriel
deliver the heavy thrash riffs of Sanity Obscure
and the technicality of Dimensions
in equal doses without sacrificing either element. This entire package is delivered with a crystal clear production that is better than anything the band managed in the nineties. Of course, taking sixteen years between albums also means that most are probably unfamiliar with the back-catalog, so at this point all comparisons to past albums will cease.
Believer has always played fast-paced thrash composed of heavy, groove-oriented riffs with complex rhythms and beats fronted by a high, spoken-word rasp similar to Atheist’s Kelly Shaefer. This album basically builds on that but it’s apparent that great care was made to make sure that it didn’t sound dated as well. While the tracks all feature the kind of chunky riffs that have been a thrash-staple for years, they’re interspersed with modern sounding progressions, pace-changing musical interludes, as well as a subtle layer of samples and industrial sounds. Even a song such as, “Focused Lethality”, with its reliance on a thrashy main riff still manages to avoid sounding dated by including supporting riffs that are heavy but have a modern touch. That is really where this album shines; in its ability to deliver the thrash fans would expect, but with modern enhancements that will keep it from being dismissed by the current generation of metal fans.
The other area it shines is in its ability to remain fresh by always including little extras such as backing piano, laid-back solos, clean guitar parts and groovy bass-lines. It’s this attention to detail that sets it above a lot of what is coming out lately. If I have one real complaint about the album, though, it is concerning the song, “The Brave” which features Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage
. I’m not going to try to theorize about why things went wrong but Howard’s clean vocals and the melody itself are just horrible. His clean singing during the verses just doesn’t fit the song and the only salvation is when he and Kurt Bachman trade growls on the choruses. Their contrasting styles (Kurt’s high rasp and Howard’s deep growl) sound excellent together and it only makes me wish they had maintained that vocal style throughout the song.
It seems ironic that the bands that really appear to be bringing about quality, unique music right now are the ones that have members well into their thirties or forties (Believer, Cynic, Pestilence, Atheist, etc), but it’s true. As odd as it might sound, this album is actually a breath of fresh air for a metal community that is becoming increasingly stagnant. With Gabriel
the band has managed to bring back that old-school thrash sound, but also mix in a large dose of technicality and originality while still sounding very current. The question now remains to be seen whether new listeners will welcome the band or arbitrarily dismiss them as their older brother’s (or father’s) metal. Hopefully it’s the former, and with that I say welcome back guys, hopefully you stick around for awhile.