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I can't believe that anyone hasn't reviewed this album yet, seeing as how it's been quite anticipated.
I'm not too familiar with Believer's past catalog, even though I have Sanity Obscure and Dimensions on cassette. What I do remember, was that Sanity Obscure always just kind of blew over me, despite having some awesome moments like "Dies Irae," and Dimensions was a little shizophrenic as far as ideas. There was just too much going on with both albums, and I think the songs themselves suffered a bit.
I'd say that Gabriel is a really good combination of the two. Most of the songs are centered around a strong main riff or two, and typically go somewhere strange in the midsections. This is really good, because it makes the songs instantly recognizable and memorable. There is even a bit of chugga-chugga groove on here, and simple, grinding down picking sections, but don't let that lead you to believe that the songs are boring; they usually feature some number of different time signatures, and several like the crushing opener "Medwton," feature it as part of their main riff.
My favourites are doubtlessly "Focused Lethality" and "Stoned," both of which have solid straight up metal elements. "Focused Lethality" is fast as hell, a total thrash dream, whereas "Stoned" leans almost in a death metal direction with punishing guitar and double bass work. There are some samples and keyboards jumping out here and there, used sparingly to add texture, and some of them are kind of unsettling, like the goofy orchestration in "Redshift."
And then there's the production. Wow. The guitar tone is blistering and heavy, with a bit of hollowness to give it a bit of a "desolate" feel. Everything else is mixed perfectly, with a nice fat bass tone driving the album along. That was something that I felt the other two albums missed: good bottom end. And that's a really good thing, because a lot of the interplay between the drums and bass is very well done, and actually adds another layer of groove to the music. Kurt Bachman has a really raspy delivery, and comprehensively belts out the lyrics.
The one thing that I really hate is the last track, which is about an 9 minute noise collage, followed by two other "hidden" tracks of outtakes from the album. I find this totally unnecessary, much like Morbid Angel's "bonus" tracks from Heretic. It ends a really strong album on a weak, watered down note. Me not happy.
Yes, Believer is a Christian band, but they sure have tuned that down quite a bit for this album. Instead of having lyrics blatantly praising the Lord and baby Jesus, the lyrics take a more poetic, personal slant on this album, something that will hopefully help them expand their fanbase in the secular scene. I'm sure that there are some inspirational lines in there, but they sure aren't obvious. Hell, this is less religious than the last Type O Negative album! And no, the music sure doesn't sound like gospel, either.
With a new Sacrifice album due in June (Joe Rico plays a guitar solo on here, I must add!), I'd say that post-modern thrash is looking up this year. I'm feeling that this could be an album of the year.