Review Summary: With three current members of Atheist you might think you know what to expect, but this is still a surprise.Atheist
’s first two albums are considered by many to be classics within the technical death metal genre. They were more technical than their peers in Pestilence
but also heavier and more aggressive than Cynic
which allowed them to inhabit a niche that was largely unoccupied. A lot of the heavy and technical characteristics of those albums can be attributed to the raw, chaotic nature of Steve Flynn’s playing on the drums. Despite the historical significance of those albums, that doesn’t mean that Steve Flynn can just re-appear eighteen years later and just automatically be relevant again – thankfully he seems to realize this. His new band Gnostic (which also contains two other current members of Atheist) is an overwhelming exercise in technical metal that, once again, manages to occupy its own niche despite the abundance of other technical bands around.
While other technical metal bands seem to make a conscious effort to add the occasional melody or hint of actual song-structure, Gnostic does not. Instead, Gnostic are content to simply bludgeon the listener with constant shredding, death/thrash riffs, random bass-runs, and jazz-influenced percussion. In fact, the songs all seem to be built around Steve’s free-form style which allows them to progress in the most jarring and unpredictable of ways. This blatant disregard for structure combined with the frenzied assault of the rhythm section sometimes makes it seem like the band could spin out of control at any moment, but they manage to narrowly avoid that result. That doesn’t mean that they don’t straddle the line between technicality and chaos at all times, though.
The threat of pure anarchy is always present because Gnostic craft songs that serve one purpose – to batter the listener with equal parts technicality and heaviness with all else being irrelevant. This makes for an album that can be exhausting the first few times it is played; a reaction that doesn’t lessen until a certain familiarity is achieved. Dealing with the constant fluctuation between high-speed shredding and death/thrash riffs is hard enough, but it’s really the unpredictable nature of the rhythm section and the sudden stops that result in drum and bass interludes that push things to the edge. If there are those that aren’t already worn out by the music, the vocals are there to finish things off. The vocals come across like Jens Kidman (Meshuggah
vocalist) if he had a sore throat. They’re delivered in a constantly raspy, hardcore shout that simply increases the aggressive nature of the music.
The description of the band’s music might make the old “style over substance” criticism come to mind, but they’re not really worried about style or substance. The band is only worried about creating an unrelenting and challenging metal album, and the surprising thing is that it works. While this does mean that there won’t be any songs that are memorable at the album’s conclusion, the enjoyment and challenge these songs present while they’re playing more than make up for it. This is technical metal for those that love challenging rhythms and heaviness and aren’t worried about little things like structure, direction, or purpose. The anger is directionless, the technicality is for technicality’s sake, and the aggression is constant but this is still one damn fine album.