EDIT: In case you needed any more evidence that black metal is downright insane in its ingenuity, Inferno have informed us that none of the “synths” on this album are actually synths! They were all created with guitars, which is pretty incredible considering some of the sounds they make. Enjoy!
What is black metal about, when you get right down to it? That’s probably a misleading question to open a review with, since black metal is hardly one thing; perhaps more than any other genre, and certainly more than most, black metal is a splintered affair, tied together by a distinct yet disparate sound. Thus, it might be easier to tie black metal to its own fragmented parts by appealing to theme or concept. There, in a field more theoretical and pretentious, as befits the most pretentious of metal genres, we can find a more cohesive framework with which to understand black metal. This framework revolves around a milieu of ideas like the occult, forbidden knowledge, the striving mind, nature, personal willpower and more. In addition, the theme, the approach to all these ideas, is one of unsettling mood. Things cannot be straightforward, immediate or accessible; the listener is not expected to enjoy so much as they are expected to experience.
Thus it is with Inferno, a Czech black metal band in operation since the mid-90’s. On their latest release, Gnosis Kardias (Of Transcension and Involution) (hereafter referred to as Gnosis), they channel the approach of unsettling mood that permeates black metal. They utilize a vast variety of tools to achieve this purpose. That’s, perhaps, where the album’s appeal comes from; Gnosis can’t easily be cataloged into one type of metal since it uses several different sounds to achieve its thematic goal. The first is speed. Some of the tracks on this album, like opener “The Innermost Disillusion”, are incredibly fast. The vocals take a backseat as the drums and guitars deliver tirade after tirade of furious, abrasive black metal.
Producing this approach is always an important choice, and here Inferno have chosen to go with a robust and overwhelming approach to sound. All the tones are cavernous and echoing, enhancing the already massive sounds of the composition. This is further enhanced by the addition of down-right creepy synths throughout the album. These play an excellent role on the following “Abysmal Cacophony”, where they lend their sound to a much more avant-garde take on the ideas brought forth in the opening track, creating a tapestry which reminds one of Aenaon or Dodheismgard at times. This more sinister, avant-garde feeling is the second leg on which Gnosis stands. It is a clever counterpoint to the speed that otherwise reigns supreme, enhancing the unsettling mood and giving something truly black metal to the release.
The epic elements brought forth by the synths on the second track are then further developed elsewhere on the album. On “Gate-eye of Fractal Spiral” for example, these more spaced out ideas are picked up by the guitars to create sonorous leads that sit on top of large backing chords, backed once again by the synth tones. This is the third leg upon which Gnosis sits, digging deep into the concept of size and magnitude. This further amplifies the sensation of being unsettled, of a creepy vibe that is wholly black metal and, perhaps, the only thing is wholly black metal. At the very least, it goes a long way in explaining why black metal is so unique; whether you like it or not, nothing sounds quite like good black metal. Gnosis is exactly that, complex and well made black metal that manages to tap into the essence of what makes the genre so effective and interesting.
Gnosis Kardias (Of Transcension and Involution) was released on April 4th, 2017 via W.T.C. Productions. You can grab it via their Bandcamp above.