Released: 2009, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
In the early ‘90s, Believer was one of those bands that all of the critics commented highly on, but never seemed to catch on commercially. Part of that may have been attributed to the “Christian Metal” stigma that always followed them, part of it may have been because musically they were ahead of their time. Alongside bands like Sadus at the time, Believer delivered technical thrash metal with just enough death metal credibility to find audiences in both genre circles. After 16 years of inactivity, founding vocalist/guitarist Kurt Bachman and drummer Joey Daub return to the scene with GABRIEL, their fourth studio release and possibly the best in their catalog.
If you’re a stranger to Believer, don’t let the “Christian” tag spook you off before giving it a fair chance – it’s not a Stryper record. Sure, the band name and lyrical themes have certain spiritual overtones, but so did plenty of Black Sabbath songs. If you’re a fan of Believer’s previous work or even peripherally remember their impact in the good old days, the opening salvo of “Medwton”, with its start/stop timing and discordant harmonies, will have you grinning from ear to ear. Stylistically, GABRIEL picks up where 1993’s DIMENSIONS left off, lots of progressive influence and layers of complexity in the arrangements. To Bachman’s credit, there’s just enough nostalgia in the riffs to keep the old schoolers content, while managing to avoid sounding dated.
“A Moment in Prime” has some interesting keyboard effects that fade in and out from each stereo channel as the verses build around staccato guitars. “Focused Lethality” has been available as a teaser track for a while and as the most aggressive track of the 10. This track sums up why Believer was so good the first time and why they deserve a second chance a decade and a half later. “The Brave” features an appearance from Killswitch Engage vocalist Howard Jones. Jones’ soulful voice creates an engaging dynamic as it contrasts against Bachman’s rasp as the two trade off and complement one another vocally throughout the song. “Nonsense Mediated Decay” is my personal favorite of the collection, an almost 9 minute fusion instrumental piece that acts as the soundtrack to a random storyteller recalling his encounter with other worldly beings. It’s a little off the wall, but it works all the same.
Though Bachmann and Daub are most prominent in the mix, the supporting band is rounded out by keyboardist Jeff King, second guitarist Kevin Leaman, and bass player Elton Nestle, each plays their role amiably. Much of the texture created throughout the album is due to King’s keyboard effects. Rather than just adding traditional keyboard fills, the effects introduced are more abstract and unusual – such as the off key ragtime-esque piano rolls in “Stoned.” It helps to set the mood for GABRIEL and enhances the already captivating song structures.
During the initial rise of Believer, the death/thrash scene was a brave new world without much precedent for their style of metal. Hopefully their new relationship with Metal Blade Records will give GABRIEL the attention and audience deserved this time around, as it would be disappointing to see the band lost in the shuffle again. GABRIEL is a challenging and powerful thrash disc that should please longtime fans of the band and open the doors for new ones.