Listening to Gnostic is an interesting experience. They eschew anything resembling traditional rhythm and just go off on weird tech-death jam sessions that sound as chaotic and anti-melodic as it is inspired and calculated. My first time through, I am not sure what to think about it. Every time I take a stab at a band I have never heard in my ever expanding scope of metallic sub-genres, they challenge my ears and makes me question my taste.
There was I time when I would have just chalked this up as pointless noise not worth my time. Oh, how the times have changed, especially over the past few years as I have begun recording my feelings, thoughts, and impressions of the albums I listen to. I have found a lot of bands to like, love, and be impressed by. Add Gnostic to that growing list.
It is tough at times not having friends who listen to similar music. That means that if I am to discover and enjoy more extreme bands and move away from the mainstream I have to do it on my own. With limited time and resources this can be a difficult and daunting experience. This is a long way of saying I have not heard of Gnostic before listening to this album, although I have heard of Atheist, the band which, in a way, gave birth to Gnostic. Of course, I have not heard Atheist.
In my little bit of research, I have learned that the band was formed by Steve Flynn, former drummer for Atheist who left the band in 1992, not to be heard from for more than a decade. He returned to the music scene in 2005 with a new band in tow, Gnostic. Joining him are two current members of Atheist, guitarists Sonny Carson and Chris Baker, and vocalist Kevin Freeman and bass player Jonathan Thompson. This quintet have come together and crafted some insane tunes around Flynn's tech-death-jazz style, embarking on free form excursions that challenge the ear.
If you look for melody and the constraints of traditional songwriting, you are sure to give yourself a headache. Engineering the Rule finds these musical architects engineering their own way, creating plans, and executing them without regard for the standard idea of song structure. They swoop, dart, converge, and blast their way through 38-minutes and 10-songs worth of compositional nightmares.
Vocals are barked in a rather generic hardcore style, in fact, this is the most traditional aspect of the album, and my biggest letdown. It is not that they are bad, it is that they exist in stark contrast to what the other band members bring to the table. On the other hand, Steve Flynn delivers some insane jazzy, technical runs that are very impressive and make me want to track down his work with Atheist. The twin guitars of Sonny Carson and Chris Baker are pretty wild too. The come together in perfect sync, diverge into lead runs, and dance around each other in the erratic patterns of bumblebees in flight. Not to be left out is Jonathan Thompson on bass, much like Flynn, we often get random bass excursions which sound fantastic.
I have found this album to be quite easy to get into and find a way to groove to. Sure, the rhythm patterns have some odd time signatures and there is no melody to speak of, but there is so much to enjoy. The level of musicianship is high, the songs are all equally good, and as good as Engineering the Rule is, it feels like the beginning. It is like they are just beginning to feel each other out an become comfortable with each other. What they do next will likely far out do their accomplishments here.