Gnostikoi Ha-Shaitan ("Those capable of knowing the adversary") is the debut full-length from Saturnian Mist, a Finnish band that's previously released a demo, an EP and a split with Creatura. I was lucky and got to hear four demo-recordings of the songs (commented here) back in 2010, so I partially knew what to expect.
"The Regicide" is a good opener, as it sums up the album's main elements and core sound into an easily understandable five and half minutes. Fast-paced mixture of black- and death metal-sounds with heavily rumbling bass, sharper guitars (with a plenty of bolder leads) and organic drums. Simple rhythmics and blastings go hand-in-hand with more complicated riffs; death metal's heaviness meets black metal's faster sharper tremolos, and the natural and organic drumming is somewhere between the two. The production is good, but still harsh and organic. Song four is also one of the easiest ones to understand with its traditional Darkthrone-influenced black metal-parts, but it ranges into way more atmospheric spheres as well. The vocals range from growling and screaming to zealous preaching and other more dramatic styles to suit each of the the songs' lyrics and atmospheres, and boast a good amount of originality.
Yet, this is just the surface. The individual songs range into calm mid-tempo riffing of "Bythos..." to "Consecration..." with tribal/ritual percussions and eastern vibes in the riffs, until the song builds up to a faster pace with some tasty (and tasteful, thankfully) guitar shredding. "Aura Mystica" is an atmospheric, even melancholic mid-tempo piece with some female vocals, song six boldly ventures into death metal-spheres... and then there's "Sacrifice of the Faces Unbroken," which has already received quite a lot of confused feedback. The song's instrumentation is slowly evolving and almost jamming, and it progresses nowhere aside of its simpler mid-part. The main confusing factor has been the song's focus on the vocal delivery; it's built on a dialogue between "a magician" and "a thief." For me, this song has been the album's highlight. It is introverted, even perverse, but still sounds very natural. Certainly an intriguing piece.
I could go into more detail per each song, but I don't want to extend this review into ridiculous lengths nor rob you the pleasure of tieing together the songs' themes, nor searching for the connections between the songs' atmospheres, vocal styles and the lyrics. I'll just say I've spent quite a while with the album, making questions and searching for answers. The booklet has all the lyrics, along with some less cryptic and allegorical notes and pieces of journals that extend the lyrical side's understandability and depth. As the album title implies, the lyrics deal with god and godhood, the different faces of Satan, shackles and opportunities of mortality, and ways and purposes of searching for deeper wisdom, knowledge and purpose. How god relates to man, and vice versa. Soul's existence and nature, and occult philosophies' relation to the world today. There is a lot to read and study, at least if one isn't already well read regarding the explored subjects. I'm always glad to find black metal with meaningful lyrics, especially so when they seem to be important and personal to their makers. The booklet and digipack itself have a pleasing design, and the greyish dark print on harsher paper-material suits the music and themes.
The eight songs vary a lot from each other, but their sound and varying vocals tie them together, keeping the album from falling apart. "Gnostikoi Ha-Shaitan" is probably the best, most varying as well as the most well-matured thing the band's made this far, and shows SM's capability of changing their face while retaining the soul and personality. It's just quite a heavy and demanding album that takes time for it to grow on the listener; some instrumental and vocal parts are as they are more because of the lyrics than for their likeability or "catchiness." I found the experience rewarding, but I can't guarantee you'll feel the same.