I remember being impressed with Belgian band Saille’s debut album “Irreversible Decay” in 2011, since when they’ve released two more epic black metal albums and now a fourth in “Gnosis”.

This album is a concept album based around “Prometheus: Poem of Fire”. This seems ideal territory for this band. The fact that it was mixed and mastered in Poland at the Hertz studio systematically gives it a Polish feel of twirling malevolence. “Benei ha’Elohim” starts the adventure off. It is uncompromising, symphonic and dark as you’d expect. The keyboards sound like fluttering bats before a swell of all-pervasive darkness takes over on “Pandaemonium Gathers” – there are shades of Emperor and Behemoth here. Emperor is appropriate as a comparison as this is imperial, majestic and scornful. The spoken words in the background don’t impose themselves in the breath-taking yet melodic fury. It’s hard to tell whether they are deliberately distant. In any event this is imperious black metal. Symphonic sounds and a lightly haunting choral voice lull us for 30 seconds, then Saille brew up the magnificent storm of “Blôt”, snaring us with a break in the middle before returning to lands of fury and fire and feeling, as the track builds up epic atmospheres and heights. Sinister sounds accompany this ever-expanding Luciferian scene of chaos and violence. A skill that Saille have is to creep up as they do on “Before the Crawling Chaos”, where croaking funeral tones give way to inevitable thunder and harshness. The guitar plays a powerful riff, but the scene transforms into one of symphonic scorn and after another ferocious attack, into symphonic sadness. But there’s no time for sympathy or mercy as “Prometheus” immediately swamps our brains irresistibly with technical, violent and advancing black metal, recalling the great days of “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk”. “Prometheus” of course is the name of another Emperor album, and a theme of this one, so it’s not unreasonable to make the comparison, I think. The stormy turbulence continues with “Thou, My Maker”. The drums provide the battering ram while the guitar provides the sophistication in this blackened death soundscape of twists and turns and gnarly growls. A strange instrumental piece with grandiose pretensions finds its way into the proceedings. “Magnum Opus” isn’t as grand as its title suggests. It acts as the prelude to “1904 Era Vulgaris”, as classic a black metal piece as you’ll find on this album. Barring a couple of short breaks, it is fast and forward-driving with pulsating melody and power. Symphonic sounds add to the drama as “1904 Era Vulgaris” batters its way to its conclusion.

To say this is proper black metal would suggest there is improper black metal. If there is such a distinction, there’s no doubt which camp this album falls in. “Gnosis” is not just an assault, but a carefully structured and transforming series of powerful and dark scenes.

(8/10 Andrew Doherty)