Gnosticism shows up every now and then in alternative music circles. Sometimes, in black metal, it is in the form of a kind of life-denying satanism (“Chaos Gnosticism”), sometimes it’s used as a poetic spice. Rarely is a systematic Gnostic theology, such as it is, placed as the thematic core. On Machina Coeli’s album Gnosis, recorded quite long ago (no-one seems to know when) but not released until now, gnosticism is the name of the game. Interestingly, it seems to be a rather well-researched attempt to represent Christianity’s once-mighty competition, and no simple matter of thinly veiled anti-clericalism. There isn’t even a reference to the Demiurge among the song-titles. Instead, they seem lifted straight from the most central ideas of Plotinus and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, as far as I can recall them at this time. If anyone would be offended by this, it is perhaps worth remembering that St. Augustine himself began his career as a Gnostic.
So much for the extra-musical, conceptual framework. Moving on to the sound, these days this could and perhaps should be described as dungeon synth. The music is based around a variety of electronic instruments, more or less (often less) faithfully reproducing various classical or traditional counterparts. Early Mortiis is one band to mention, early The Soil Bleeds Black another. True to the album theme, Machina Coeli has a more sacral, airy and perhaps transcendent vibe, which gives Gnosis a character of its own. The organs, synth choirs and faint timpani beats are not quite what you would hear in a church or cathedral, though quite close. At times, like in “Creation”, more ritualistic and experimental elements take over. Even then, drones and straight up melodic work is almost ever-present. This ain’t no industrial album.
The material offered here should generally go over well with the new generation of dungeon synthesizers – it’s primitive enough to appeal to the traditionalists, but there are also more complexity and variety than you’d find in some of the first generation of dungeon synth bands or their contemporary imitators. The production is also quite spot on: organic and basic, but also allowing for dynamics and decent clarity. To my ears, some tracks have a bit too much high-end in the mix, but that may also be my speakers/headphones/ruined ears playing tricks on me.
All in all, this is a great piece of Gnostic dungeon synth/experimental atmospheric music. At the time of writing, there is only one physical copy left from label Masked Dead, but the download version is at this point free (you’re not even allowed to pay for it). Recommended.