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Cesspool Recordings (2009)
Rating: 7.5/10

Even as a longtime Believer fan (I picked up a cassette of their debut release, 1989’s Extraction From Mortality, years ago via a mail order catalogue!), I never once entertained the idea that they may be back someday. But, nearly 16 years after their last release, the critically acclaimed Dimensions album (1993), they are back though.

The Pennsylvania-based band partnered with Killswitch Engage vocalist Howard Jones’ Metal Blade Records imprint Cesspool Recordings to release an all new studio album entitled Gabriel and, to be honest, it’s as if time stood still. Believer is still one of the most creative bands in metal music and this release proves it.

Once deemed “thinking man’s metal”, Believer are as intricate and interesting as ever here. One needs to only look to the album’s inaugural track ‘Medwton’ to realize this fully. Opening like a scene from a horror movie (medical sounds, weird clicks, and assorted noises heard best when you turn your stereo up real loud) it quickly breaks into some great guitar riffing and signature snarling vocals (think Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine only pissier and more strained sounding). It’s a bit disconnected from the rest of the album, but it will pull in fans of Dimensions rather quickly. Fans that prefer the band’s first two albums (Extraction From Mortality and 1990’s Sanity Obscure) may take a little while to warm up to it, as it leans heavily towards the progressive aspects the band became known for by the time they decided to call it a day the first time.

After the initial epic concludes, Gabriel starts firing on all cylinders. The more straightforward ‘Stoned’ and ‘History Of Decline’ recount the days of Sanity Obscure without necessarily reliving them. When you include ‘Focused Lethality’ alongside the prior two songs, you start to realise that the band pay homage to their past rather well but never forcibly drag it into the here and now. The “retro” sound of Gabriel sounds very natural, something most reunion bands don’t accomplish so well these days.

What hinders Gabriel is twofold. First off, its weak ending, ‘Nonsense Mediated Decay’, is probably the most fitting title on the whole album and the untitled tracks of noise that follow cheapen the sound of a magnificent comeback album. The other sticking point here is the track that features Howard Jones (Killswitch Engage), ‘The Brave’, in a dual lead vocal role. The song is excellent for all intents and purposes, however it pulsates like a sore thumb here as it sounds like Believer writing a song for Killswitch Engage, rather than Jones participating in a Believer album.

Overall, the surprise of the excellence of Gabriel is second only to the surprise that Believer has returned. Fans that loved Believer’s other works will also love Gabriel. With that said, I think Gabriel stands mightily on its own as well and the band stands to gain a whole new generation of fans from it. Few bands stand so expertly on their own two feet, sounding familiar but completely unique all at once, and Believer have done it on every single album, including Gabriel.

Mark Fisher

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