Black Star Gnosis
Review by Benjamin on January 3, 2024.
It is something of a curiosity that, originating from the primordial soup of 1980s extreme metal, the strain of black metal that has come to define the genre in the minds of many is typically the blasting and sometimes symphonic tremolo attack of the Norwegian and Swedish bands of the mid-1990s. Curious because there are, of course, a number of alternative ways of ritually skinning this particular cat, even if these have typically remained resolutely underground, shunning the festival main stages and glossy magazine features now regularly occupied by the leading lights of the second-wave. Demoncy, a name perhaps referenced more often than listened to, might even make a cogent argument for their brand of black metal as being a truer, more devoutly satanic mode of delivery than the technical wizardry of Scandinavia, favouring instead the kind of churning filth, and pulverising low-end found throughout the spectacular and bleak violence of Black Star Gnosis.
Part of the reason for their alternative, berserker, take on black metal is, of course, down to the fact that Demoncy have been operating in this space since well before the European explosion codified the sub-genre, and can lay claim to being one of the very first US black metal bands, formed as they were in 1989. Never a prolific band, and with a stable line-up only truly crystallising in the past decade, this album is only their sixth across a 30 year existence. As they did on 2015's Empire Of The Fallen Angel (Eternal Black Dominion), Demoncy are therefore making up for lost time, ensuring that they are the owners of a back catalogue of recorded work that matches their lofty reputation as progenitors of a now thriving US black metal community. The most obvious reference points are Von, Beherit and Profanatica / Havohej, but although the band share something with all of these legends, as well as war metal more generally, they conjure a hell of their own across nine tracks, which mix metallic brutality with black ambient soundscapes. The album is, presumably intentionally, and possibly for occult purposes, bookended by ambient intro and outros, and is bisected at the halfway point by another soundscape, with two sets of three black metal offerings taking up the rest of the album. There is something delicious in this symmetry, and the sequencing adds some order and cohesiveness to something that could otherwise be unfocussed, throwing Demoncy's diabolic intent into even sharper relief.
If the above description leaves the listener expecting an onslaught of unlistenable murk, Demoncy in fact hit considerably harder than one might expect, with the feral aggression of tracks such as 'Ipsissimus Of Shadows' verging on old-school death metal at times, bolstered by a thick and tar-like low-end, a stark contrast to the treble-heavy screed of much primitive black metal. The band take the linear, chromatic approach to riffing of classic Von as a starting point, but what they do with it is deeper and arguably more disturbing, with Ixithra’s rasping whisper an authentically terrifying voice that exudes filth and depravity. There is no light, no hope and absolutely no redemption in Demoncy’s relentless darkness, the band utterly rejecting the classic metal melodies that are such a big part of the Scandinavian sound in favour of a queasy churn that is nevertheless totally compelling. Each track is as sulphurous as the last, the infernal riffs piling atop one another, paying tribute to dark gods and masters, and invoking black curses on the rest of humanity, humanity that the band so clearly despise. This listener is too enamoured of the various shapes that black metal has contorted itself into over the decades to suggest that there is a single way that it should be done, but as long as the genre continues to evolve, there should always be a place for the kind of single-minded horror that Demoncy are so adept at conjuring, and Black Star Gnosis is more than good enough to ensure that this will be the case for at least a little while longer.
Rating: 8.6 out of 10402