posted on 4/2009 By:
Believer have always been one of those second-tier-but-still-renowned metal bands who, despite their semi-venerated status, I’ve never bothered to check out. My failure to investigate Believer largely has to do with the nature of their reputation; they were one of the first thrash bands to incorporate symphonic elements (not a huge fan), as well as one of the first Christian metal bands to be taken seriously by the underground (couldn’t care less). After three longplayers, Believer broke up in 1994, only to announce an impending reunion in 2005. It would be another four years before they released Gabriel, thus ensuring some significant anticipation amongst their longstanding fans. Considering my lack of familiarity with their back catalog, I considered myself in a good position to give Gabriel a fair, impartial shake. And, for the most part, it was a pleasant surprise, albeit a flawed one.
Aside from the symphonic/industrial touches, Believer basically play technical thrash metal. That said, Gabriel has none of the noodly showoffishness common to bands like Watchtower and Coroner. Instead, they generally take a more angular and disorienting approach—riffs come very close to grooving along like traditional thrash before suddenly stutter-stepping into weird time signatures and tangents. In short, those looking for the missing link between Forced Entry and Contradictions Collapse-era Meshuggah need search no more. Gabriel comes out of the gate strong; opener “Medwton” leads off with an instantly-memorable ear scorcher before detouring into a long, prog-flavored bridge. Most of Believer’s best cuts adhere to that same format: tasty opening riff, lead-and-keys-laden digressions, return to opening riff, conclusion. Keyboardist Jeff King, for his part, is generally content to provide support for main man Kurt Bachman’s guitars. Just as well—like so many metal keysmen, he does fine in a supporting role, but tends to throw things out of whack when he draws attention to himself, as on “Red Shift.” Nonetheless, he’s an integral part of Believer’s sound, and Gabriel is a way more engaging listen than any of today’s retro-thrash clones can deliver.
Unfortunately, Believer’s ambition can get them into trouble. Though Gabriel easily seizes the listener’s attention, its grip starts to falter down the line (somewhere around “The Need for Conflict,” in my experience). “Focused Lethality” manages to bring some urgency back to the proceedings with its Kreator-flavored aggression and Howard Jones’s (Killswitch Engage, Blood Has Been Shed) guest appearance on “The Brave” might wake some folks up, but the fact remains that Gabriel’s lengthy tracks ramble on a bit too much for their own good. Things really begin falling apart with “Nonsense Medicated Decay,” a nine-minute collage of samples, industrial sounds, and a few random riffs and drum patterns whose purpose I can’t begin to discern. Following it are an additional six minutes of even more disjointed bits of pointless musical apocrypha. In short, Believer could’ve left off the last quarter of this album and lost absolutely nothing.
There are a few other problems with Gabriel—Bachman’s not the world’s greatest vocalist, and the albums clanging, hollow production doesn’t do the tunes justice. On the whole, though, Believer have delivered a pretty convincing entry into the great late-aughties reunion album sweepstakes. These guys aren’t gonna be upstaging Suffocation or Cynic any time soon, but Gabriel certainly delivers some lessons that certain white-hightop-clad youngsters would be remiss to ignore.
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