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Stretching Skyward – Gnoss.

Apr 28, 2023

Difficult third album syndrome. What do you do when as much as you respect tradition, you’ve pretty much ascended the ladder with nominations, awards and recordings that win sales galore and stacks of glowing, eminately quoteable reviews, concerts too? You either do the same thing again over and over or you try to do something different. Gnoss chose different… not too different mind you, they’re canny, always work from what you know, with Gnoss that means roots. Home and history are high on their agenda, so turning their minds to writing material the game plan was to create music which was packed with character and endemic influence. As they admit in the publicity material ” change itself is the only constant, the one thing you could depend on.”  Folk as museum pieces? Not here mate.

With a verve and cunning which defies their age they’ve created an album which cannily pushes into new ground without essentially changing who they are in fundamental terms but certainly has its eyes on wider horizons. This has been achieved by filtering in electronics, samples, bass, layered swathes and rhythms as well as more obvious electric guitars. Take a bow then James Lindsay who bouys them with heavy rythmic runs and producer Scott Wood who’s used to the noisier end of matters when he pipes with Skerryvore.

Music on ‘Stretching Skyward’ falls into two types, the tunes and songs. The first the band have already mastered, as ‘Stroma’ which opens the album in fine fettle proves conclusively, the folksy instruments skip and twirl around like new born lambs, whilst the electronics bubble and glide under all the dancing. A mighty opening and all written about the abandoned island which these days attracts more wildlife than people! Elsewhere ‘Vore Tullye’ is a funky reel which centres on a juiced up guitar line which splinters into melody and rocks out in splendid fashion.

The songs which are primarily the work of vocalist/guitarist Aidan Moodie are not as fully developed as the instrumentals but hey, you can’t have perfection every time you try something new, so whilst some do need further work, others are right up there already. ‘ Honey Wine ‘  is a belter with overtones of American Heartland rock amongst all the Scottish allusions to travelling people and the prejudice they suffer. It opens on a circling guitar figure before loping easily into a gorgeous melodic chorus with twanging undertow, a synth counterpoint widens the arrangement and it gallops home. Similarly ‘God’s Land,’ which references those opposed to religious reform introduced by Charles II, the Covenanters and a ship wreck which prevented a substantial number being sold into slavery. The cutting lyrics float on gentle electro washes which amplifies the invective and the sad poignancy of the subject matter to fine effect. The fact that all the heavy stuff is interlaced with simple acoustc airs reminded me no end of Canada’s excellent Spirit Of The West who Gnoss would be well advised to lend an ear to as they’d find a familiar type of Celtic crusading.

Gnoss admit this is an album of change in most respects, I’ll add to that by saying what they’ve conjured here is far more than promising, it’s a huge step forward in their development and potential. So you need this – got it? Revel in the prospect that if they follow the signposts suggested here that their next recording will be something to flip your wig.

Simon Jones.


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