For those with a strong taste for the soul-shuddering power of atmospheric black/death/doom metal, one of the best albums of the year so far comes in the form of the split that it’s our privilege to premiere today. Joining forces in Apanthropinization are two striking UK bands, each providing their own distinctive and terrifying musical explorations of the void that lurks within us and that looms from without: Carcinoma and Abyssal.
This album-length split will be released on CD and as a digital download on March 30th by Goatprayer Records, and it is a record that absolutely should not be missed. Still caught up in the throes of what each band has done here, I’ve chosen to spill many words about this split, but of course no one would blame you for skipping to the bottom (where you’ll also find a pre-oirder link) and pressing Play without delay.
Carcinoma (from Plymouth, England) made their first appearance through a two-track, self-titled demo in 2015. On this new split they’ve furnished four truly harrowing tracks, braiding together strands of black metal, death metal, and doom to achieve sensations of fracturing sanity and apocalyptic destructiveness.
In its sound, the drumwork (which is really riveting throughout the four tracks) comes across with explosive power, while the stringed instruments vibrate with toxic levels of distortion, their abrasive potency augmented with torturous pick slides and poisonous radiations of feedback. Dissonance reigns supreme across all four tracks, fueling the music’s atmosphere of murderous, inhuman lunacy. Chaos also reigns supreme, although Carcinoma have wisely chosen not to make their four tracks simply 20 minutes of non-stop nuclear vulcanism.
The opening track, “Silent Master”, provides perhaps the most complete example of the methods in Carcinoma’s madness. It becomes a gradual progression, ascending in stages from a slow, calamitous stomp to the shuddering power of an earthquake, to a full-on hurricane. Gloomy, echoing bass notes and enormous drum booms create a feeling of ominous eeriness in the song’s slow opening; when the double-bass drive kicks in, the music becomes more catastrophic; and then the band crank the intensity into the red zone through an eruption of racing tremolo abrasion and blazing blast-beats, reaching a crescendo of boiling dissonance and percussive brutalization that brings to mind a hail of meteors.
The vocals don’t appear until more than halfway through “Silent Master”. They range from scarring shrieks to raw howls — manifestations of agony and vicious rage.
There’s no gradual build-up in the next two tracks — “Marching Legions” and “Servile Performance” — which flow together in a way that makes them sound like a single piece of electrifying barbarism. The first one erupts in an immediate onslaught of chaos and savagery, a cannonade of thundering drums and seething riffage right out of the gate, laced with peals of dissonant, deranged guitar agony and vitriolic vocal extremity. The attack is segmented by brief, slower rhythms and doomed chords, and the short, sharp shock of “Servile Performance” deploys bursts of pneumatic hammering as breaks in the torrent of slashing guitars and pummeling drums.
“A Light to Pierce the Void” is more multifaceted in its development. Launched by huge drum detonations and maniacal guitar flurries, it includes a bridge composed of feedback, grinding riff-work, and massive, groaning bass notes. On the other side of that abyssal piece of gloom, Carcinoma move into a juggernaut rumble while venting swarms of feeding-frenzy fretwork and bleak, heartless bass lines. Before the song is over, it delivers neck-cracking rhythms and enormous, pounding jolts that splinter the cranium and run right down the spine.
This split will undoubtedly put Carcinoma on the radar screens of a lot more fans, because what they’ve done here is really good. If you’re in the vicinity of Plymouth on May 5th, you’ll get a chance to see them on stage with Primitive Man and Bismuth. With a trio like that, one wonders whether anything will be left of Plymouth by the time the show ends. (We’re also told that a Carcinoma tour of the UK with Vacivus is in the planning stages.)
Carcinoma is a promising new discovery for this writer, but Abyssal are a known (and terrifying) quantity, having released three full-length albums so far, the most recent of which was the stunning Antikatastaseis in 2015. The four tracks from Abyssal on this new split make for an equally stunning follow-up to that remarkable album.
The forces that Abyssal bring to bear in these four songs are each, in their own distinctive ways, truly apocalyptic, but when combined, those elements both fog the mind with nightmare visions and seem to fracture, disjoint, and crush the listener’s skeletal framework into a pile of splinters. Yet while Abyssal are master craftsmen in the sorcerous creation of void-faring atmosphere and the infliction of war-zone levels of destructiveness, the music here is also persistently dynamic, and even surprising.
There’s probably no better word than “titanic” for the weight and impact of the music’s rhythmic components — a combination of mountainous drumming and pavement-fracturing chords. And there’s probably no better word than “terrifying” for the atmosphere that Abyssal create all around the plundering grooves and decimating percussive assaults. They lace the songs with swirling, spiraling, spectral leads and psychotic soloing that range high above the… abyssal… depths of the music’s low end. They end each song with eerie ambient music that conjures vistas of a hostile vacuum. They make the music’s atmosphere even more unnerving through the use of gargantuan, echoing, cavernously deep vocals, which also boil over into ghastly howls and yells.
Much of the time, Abyssal shroud the music with cyclones of dense, swarming riff abrasion, so thick and impenetrable that it becomes claustrophobic. To be sure, the intensity of the riffs changes, along with the music’s tempos and with the degrees of violence in the rhythm sections’ performance. And so Abyssal move among earthshaking, lurching stomps; pounding marches; bouts of metronomic jackhammering; and explosive eruptions of devastating ferocity. The chords moan, yowl, blare, seethe, and squall. The changes make this staggering music even more riveting. And while the music is legitimately characterized as atmospheric, Abyssal are also adept at doing things that will get heads banging hard.
Moreover, the variations aren’t limited to those summarized above. “Sinews Weave Vicissitudes” becomes a surprisingly infectious track when the band lock into a punk-like episode of back beat rhythms and head-moving riffage, while “Chaos Anthropomorphism” generates a feeling of hellish grandeur. And the transfixing intro to “Veins of Satiation”, with its anguished, reverberating dual-guitar melody, reaches an epic level of drama before the music grows both more devastating, more majestic, and eventually, more utterly unhinged in its channeling of pandemonium.
In short, Abyssal have made a triumphant return on their side of Antikatastaseis, and what a welcome return it is.
Like Carcinoma, Abyssal will themselves soon be taking the stage around the release of this new split. They will be appearing at Oration Fest (March 7-9) in Reykjavik, Iceland (where I will get to see them!) and at North of the Wall Festival (April 27-28) in Glasgow, Scotland. Abyssal will have exclusive advance copies of this split available at Oration Fest.
And with that wordy introduction behind you, now please immerse yourself in the music stream. The pre-order link is below. IMPORTANT NOTE: This is the sixth anniversary of Goatprayer Records, and to celebrate the occasion, they’ve made their entire digital discography at Bandcamp on sale (at 70% of regular price) — including the pre-order for the Carcinoma–Abyssal split.