(What follows is Andy Synn’s review of the new album by the UK’s Abyssal, which is being released today by Profound Lore Records.)
Over the years only three bands have been deemed worthy of making repeat appearances in my end of the year “Critical Top Ten” list.
Those bands are Alkaloid (The Malkuth Grimoire, Liquid Anatomy), Cattle Decapitation (Monolith of Inhumanity, The Anthropocene Extinction), and Sulphur Aeon (Gateway to the Antisphere, The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos).
But, with the release of A Beacon In The Husk, out today via Profound Lore, there’s a very good chance that Abyssal – whose third album, Antikatastaseis, made an appearance on my 2015 list alongside several of the other records mentioned above – might just be joining them.
From a certain perspective …Husk is very much the album we all expected it to be, continuing as it does along the band’s already established trajectory away from the squalling, antagonistic noise of their debut towards a more methodical (though no less malevolent) form of musical madness, one which increasingly incorporates moments of menacing melody and alien atmospherics without losing the abrasive, uncompromising edge which has always played such a definitive role in defining who Abyssal is/are.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that this still doesn’t make for a particularly easy listening experience, nor is …Husk in any way a predictable album, for although its overall shape and direction may not be too surprising to anyone who has followed the band’s evolution over the years, its internal structure – its many tortured twists and cruel contortions, its unexpected undulations and chaotic convulsions – are anything but formulaic.
Whether it’s the ugly, churning riffage, disturbingly disharmonic leads, and feverish drum work of suffocatingly grim opener “Dialogue”, the guttural, groaning doom of “Awakening / Metamorphosis”, or the blackened melody and apocalyptic blastery of “Khyphotic Suzerains”, each of these songs (if that’s the right word for them, considering how flagrantly they ignore the tenets of standard structure and songwriting) possesses its own clear identity and sense of self, such that while every track makes use of many, if not all, of these varied elements to a greater or lesser degree, no two are ever quite the same.
Some of these differences of course are quite subtle in nature, while others are more substantial. Some songs are significantly longer than others, some are slower, some are more atmospherically inclined… and so on, and so forth… but, no matter what, they all possess that same morbid magic which has, over the course of three (now four) albums (and one EP), helped elevate Abyssal to the upper echelons of their particular scene, to the point where it’s not uncommon to hear their name mentioned in the same breath as such well-respected and highly-regarded acts as Portal, Ulcerate, and Incantation.
Now, I’m sure many of you will be wondering at this point exactly how A Beacon in the Husk compares to its phenomenal predecessor, or even if a direct comparison is possible, considering the constantly changing and mutative nature of the band’s sound. And while, on a personal level, I can’t say I’ve been as utterly enraptured by …Husk as I was by Antikatastaseis, to some extent this has more to do with issues of form and function, rather than any suggestion that this record represents a step down in quality.
Because this album definitely feels more regimented and more tightly constrained in how it’s been put together than its predecessor did – with more control to the chaos this time around – which some people will doubtless see as a major positive, while others will undoubtedly see it in entirely opposite terms.
And yet, much like its suitably warped and wonderful cover art, just being able to see the strange structure of the album, being able to perceive a consciousness guiding its construction, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to truly understand the mind behind it all.
But while you may not ever fully understand it, that shouldn’t stop you enjoying (or enduring) all that this album has to offer, as it will most certainly prove to be one of the densest, darkest, and most brutally compelling records of the year all the same.