I first encountered Finns Saturnian Mist through their all too aptly titled Repellings EP in 2009, upon which they manifest an abrasive if admittedly original take on the black metal genre that was captured through the ungodly racket of their guitars and the barking enmity of their front man. The songs were a bit too long for my tastes there, especially with this particular style, but on its full-length followup Gnostikoi Ha-Shaitan they've done much to raise their stakes by focusing in on shorter compositions (5-6) in which their audio wrath is better cultivated, shaped and defined. At its heart, this is still raw and organ rupturing black metal carved of primal underpinnings, but the application of such angry lyrical accoutrements brings about a vibrant, theological sense of anger and dread.
This individual, Zetekh, is not the typical rasping creature that adorns the majority of black metal recordings from its cold, forest lair, but rather what might occur if a hardcore front man were to take a pulpit in opaque robes and shout out heresies against the lord and saints. He does gradually pick up a more bloodied, hoarse edge to his throat, but I like it best in a track like "Bythos in Quintessence" where it feels like an accusation of witchcraft or the prelude to some public burning. In further exhibitions like "Sacrifices of Faces Unbroken" or the climactic finale title track, the vocals reach a harrowing, bitter peak that is sure difficult to forget, even if the music supporting them is not always so distinct; and when they break into the ritualist cleans (or even the female guests), it becomes even more bewitching. That said, there are other songs in which the vocals are a bit more dry, monotonous ("The Watcher's Feast") and less interesting, and one discovers quickly how important they were to the band's overall aesthetic.
Fortunately, the riffs here are varied up enough that the tension is not Zetekh's alone, from the minimalist black/thrash intro to "The Regicide" or the ethnic, folksy escalation of "Consecration of the Temple", to the straighter Bathory or Horna influenced raw-bursts of fare like "Temps-des-Cranes". Brute yet textured mid-paced sequences with driving chords are the standard, but they'll also twine in some tremolo picking and airier resonance to the note selection that keeps the majority of the content from ever becoming dull. Alas, where they succeed in atmospheric support for the vocals, and shift their structure accordingly, I cannot say that there are really any exemplary guitars on the album that I felt like coming back for time and time again. Each riff moves along a predictable course, though in conjunction with the drums and barking they often cast the illusion of feeling fresh or novel.
The production is still efficaciously grating, but nowhere near so repellant as that last EP. I did not feel as if my ears had been harmed by this recording, merely scolded. The low ends are very blocky and wooden, but it's never in the way of hearing quite what occurs, even if the vocals are given the priority in the mix. I must say that this is a tangible, worthy improvement over the earlier material, and whilst Gnostikoi Ha-Shaitan not something to go raving mad over, it's a solid effort at attaining some individuality; and I'm certainly hearing a band canter along a path of development that might one day achieve great things.
Verdict: Win [7/10]