(Andy Synn has had the chance for an advance listen to the next album from Abigail Williams — Becoming — which is not due in stores until January 24. As you’ll see from Andy’s review, it made quite an impression.)
Very much an album of music put together as an individual artistic statement, Becoming effortlessly embodies that central paradox of black metal; the more the bounds and prescribed rules of orthodoxy are stretched, the more the central tenet of the genre, “do what thou wilt”, is given shape and form.
Throughout the 55+ minutes of music contained on this disc, the group weave a tapestry of their influences together into a sound that, whilst still woven through with slender, gossamer threads which tie it to the past, is fuller and more realised, yet at the same time more dream-like and unearthly, than anything that has gone before.
The venomous ire of the vocals remains undimmed, each spiteful tirade and scornful diatribe spat forth with vehement fury like flames from the mouth of hell itself, raising them above the empty cascades of hollow invective that spill from the mouths and minds of so many of their so-called peers.
The scathing incandescence of the guitar work melds restrained technicality with devastating, brazen intensity, the guitarists thrashing, scratching and clawing at their instruments like those possessed, underpinned throughout by serpentine bass-lines which flow and undulate seductively through the warp and weft of the music and by the towering drums of Zach Gibson, who gives a varied and multi-faceted performance whose monstrous speed and colossal power is matched only by its unyielding grasp of the many intricate subtleties and nuances of performance and restraint required to give breadth and depth to the lengthy and complex structures of each piece.
In addition to all this, however, it is the group’s use of real strings and piano work that is one of the strongest and most distinctive elements on the entire album, manifesting in a manner which eschews the predictable “symphonic” approach in favour of more subtle and refined compositions. This more classically inclined ideology sees a wealth of keyboard tones and stringed accompaniments employed as singular instruments in and of themselves, each designed to contribute in a specific and precise way to each song, adding another voice to the choir of rapturous instrumentation without ever succumbing to the devilish temptations of symphonic pomp and excess.
A captivating and sombre atmosphere permeates opener “Ascension Sickness”, its teasing opening strains of stark melody painting a bleak portrait of the majestic night sky, from which descends a raging torrent of pitch-black riffage, entwined with shining peals of ringing melody, piercing the veil with their phosphorescent glory, while tortured screams echo through the great silence, pulsating with equal parts frailty and ferocity.
Quiet and serene, the song’s middle section features a steady build-up of reverent, pagan clean vocals whose longing spirit comes to vie with the eruption of fearsome guttural growls for prominence, burning with strength and stained with crimson emotion. The closing of the song sees an array of influences come to work as one, the relentless drums of Zach Gibson providing the backbone to the stately procession of desolate guitar chords and the melancholic strains of a single violin.
The opening of “Radiance” bears the genetic fingerprints of Cult Of Luna, its shimmering guitar lines and monolithic, reverberant riffs floating through the vacuum and void, coated in the ashen stains of malice and misanthropy that their blackened roots have left indelibly upon them. Ravenous guttural vocals snarl with almost inhuman vehemence, their wrathful and demonic countenance acting as perfect counterpoint to the restrained and melancholy guitars that form the crux of the track. At the half-way mark the metamorphosis of the song takes on a fresh, transformative frenzy, becoming a cataclysmic chorus of chaotic instrumentation, which builds in tempo and intensity before culminating in a cacophony of crashing drums and agonised screams.
Beginning as a soothing requiem, “Elestial” swiftly transforms into a sonic cathedral of titanic chords and thunderous drums, as waves of immortal rage and alchemical power crash down with merciless fury. A hymn of transfiguration and metamorphosis, the second half of the song spreads its wings wide to embrace the calm aftermath of the storm, the quiet resolution to the pain of being reborn, descending into a series of soporific chords whose burning shadows slowly fade out to the sound of waves breaking on an unknown shore.
Cold and beautiful, the introduction to “Infinite Fields Of Mind” is an oneiric stream of sub-conscious melody, reflections of a vast and forlorn divide, an unknowable void from which is born new genesis and infinite possibility. The loss of reverence which comes with the sudden rising of the tides of chaos is only temporary, new equilibrium being reached as the song truly comes into being, scornful vocals licking at existential wounds with a tongue of fire and flame, the furious guitars and gale-force drums forming an impenetrable shroud that swallows all light and hope. Bursting from this cocoon, the song is reborn in a new form, all muscle and sinew, chugging guitars and brittle tremolo lines overlain with unsettling keys and corrupted, snarling vocals, evolved to perfection, devouring all in its path.
Adding further credence to the sense that the album is meant to be experienced as one vast, sweeping composition, multiple parts combined to become a greater whole, the short interlude of “Three Days Of Darkness” tells a wordless tale of forgotten centuries and ageless oblivion, a time before time from which all life springs eternal — light born from darkness in an endless cycle of death and rebirth.
On an extremely ambitious album, final song “Beyond The Veil” is easily the most ambitious of the bunch, a 17-minute odyssey which attempts to capture the primal nature of order and chaos entwined, the eternal process of creation and destruction through which all things grow and change to become known. It builds from a procession of gorgeous, sweeping strings and ambient guitars, conducted and contained by the steady metronomic pulse of Gibson’s drums, into a fire-storm of almost unconstrained and berserk blast-frenzy. Fearless and relentless, it races unheedingly through a great, vast forest of soaring melodies and earthen, primordial rhythms, pillars of jet-black riffage reaching upwards to pierce the heavens and drown the stars in darkness.
When all light has faded away, and the void is all that remains, still the ethereal strains of the classically arranged strings ring out, a symbol of life in a graveyard of broken dreams. Piece by piece, these shards are picked up, a guitar line here, a snare beat there, the track resurrecting itself through sheer force of will, clawing its way back from the edge of that endless, faceless silence in increments, building into a marching rhythm that echoes the heartbeat of this newborn cosmos. The swirling infinity of thoughts and feelings conjured by the symbiosis of black metal guitars and exquisite, almost intangible, strings creates a hypnotic, transcendent atmosphere, the drawn-out conclusion of the track a slow giving up of life and breath, a relinquishment of spirit and flesh, becoming something unknown and unknowable.
A triumph of both intellectual creation and artistic merit, this record goes beyond its own boundaries to have more far-reaching effects than those which stem simply from its creation. It successfully puts both previous albums in a new light, giving them retrospective context as the seeds of inspiration from which this work has sprung. From the shadows, in the absence of light, something has arisen, whose roots can be traced back into darkness and a world beyond.
Even so, the name of the album, so simple yet so evocative, is as misleading as it is revealing. Rather than reflecting a band changing their sound, it instead acknowledges the hidden truth that the progression of their music, their growth and development, is a constant process, not one which occurs in leaps and bounds, but a continuing evolution of form and function, endlessly changing and always “Becoming”.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Becoming is scheduled for release on January 24 by Candlelight Records and features album art by Metastazis (Morbid Angel, Watain, Ulver). To pre-order the album, visit Candlelight’s official webstore at this location. There’s still time to catch the band on tour with Mayhem, Keep of Kalessin, and Hate. I saw the show in Seattle last week, and it kills. Here are the remaining dates:
11/28 Tempe, AZ – The Clubhouse
11/29 Salt Lake City, UT – The Complex
11/20 Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater
12/02 Dallas, TX – Trees
12/03 San Antonio, TX – Backstage Live
12/04 Austin, TX – Emo’s
12/05 Houston, TX – Scout Bar
12/06 New Orleans, LA – The Hangar
12/07 Orlando, FL – The Club
12/08 Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade
12/09 Louisville, KY – Phoenix Hill Tavern
12/10 Charlotte, NC – Tremont Music Hall
12/11 Springfield, VA – Jaxx
After that tour ends, Abigail Williams will play a series of headlining dates before embarking on yet another tour in late January, this time with Dark Funeral and Belphegor — and after that, yet another tour — with Deicide, Jungle Rot, and Lecherous Nocturne. Check this page for the band’s current tour schedule. If you’re lucky enough to see one of these shows, check out the merch table, because the band is giving away download cards for a free download of “Ascension Sickness” off the new album. And speaking of “Ascension Sickness”, it has inevitably surfaced on the internet. Here it is: