(This is DGR’s review of the new album by California’s Abysmal Dawn, a long-time favorite of our site, set for release on April 17th by Season of Mist.)
Upon the release of the first single from Abysmal Dawn‘s latest album Phylogenesis, there was a moment of surprised realization amongst the goofballs who comprise the NCS staff: “Has it really been five and a half years since their previous release Obsolescence?” And yet, with a late October 2014 release date for that album and a late April 2020 date for the group’s latest, that much time has indeed passed.
You wouldn’t know it though. For a few of those aforementioned goofballs Obsolescence was kind of lightning-in-a-bottle for the Abysmal Dawn crew. The disc quickly became something of a default resort — it was a constant go-to, so that the album seemed like it had always been there, and the passage of time quickly became irrelevant. If you were out of ideas of things to listen to, Abysmal Dawn had found a way with that album to land on a median among the varying degrees of modern death metal, kicking out a solid near-fifty-minute slab of solid groove and relentless blast.
The question with Phylogenesis then becomes, did the band seek to do that again? What odd twists and turns might they have taken? Hell, what sort of effect did the lineup-shifting that happened in between these two discs produce?
Phylogenesis marks Abysmal Dawn‘s fifth full-length release in an increasingly no-bullshit career. They have made themselves one of the least-pretentious modern death metal groups out there. Outside of the occasional cover song, Abysmal Dawn really haven’t dealt much in the way of EPs, and thus their career has gone from one dense block of an album to the next, quickly establishing a niche and burying themselves firmly within it. Other bands currently within their scene, many of whom chart a similar visual path of having gigantic monsters, alien worlds, or world-ending destruction depicted on their album covers, musically attempt to reflect the sound of that destruction: often hyperactive, very high-end focused, and almost non-stop on the percussive front, to the point that they’ve become musical assault batteries on their own.
Abysmal Dawn have dealt in a similar realm but instead make music befitting the world-ending monster itself: large and lumbering, often moving in big grooves, and while they can deal in the world-ending blastbeat realm just as easily, they use that more to augment the already large guitar-work that may be happening, a la a group like Hate. That approach doesn’t change on Phylogenesis. In some ways, the album feels like an alternate take on Obsolescence, one that has the band hewing away a tiny bit more of the fat from their sound than they already had done on that last disc.
Without its bonus track — a cover of Death’s “Flattening Of Emotions” — included in the overall track count, Phylogenesis is one of the more neatly packed discs amongst Abysmal Dawn‘s collection, not as short as their debut but significantly trimmer than its immediate predecessor. But as the band have expanded over the years, so too has their songwriting gotten larger and larger. Obsolescence saw them getting a little bit sleeker and going straight for the jugular from moment one. Phylogenesis continues that trend, and though it opens a little slowly with “Mundane Existence” — likely the most Abysmal Dawn sounding song on a disc that is so signature-ly “them” — Phylogenesis quickly launches into a near unstoppable one-two combo with “The Path Of The Totalitarian” and “Hedonistic”.
“The Path Of The Totalitarian” has a rapid-fire vocal approach whose constant assault is an early highlight of the album, and “Hedonistic” does almost the same thing, except its assault is a classic landslide of drumming that buttresses the whole song. The momentum those two songs builds up doesn’t really let off either until you hit the chunkier back half of Phylogenesis, which starts with the chugging and insect-like guitar rhythms of “Coerced Evolution”.
Though “True To The Blind” — a blast-heavy assault that shares a lot in common with earlier tempo-assault “Hedonistic” — lies within its boundaries, it’s hard not to think of the back half as being the bigger beast of the two-halves of Phylogenesis: a place for the rhythm section to really throw their weight around. Songs get longer, and in the case of ones like “Coerced Evolution” and closer “The Lament Configuration”, surprisingly drum-dominated as they shift away from the endless snare-hammerings to a lot more tom work that adds more slow-grinding movement to each song.
Even armed with some guest guitar work from Firespawn/Unleashed guitarist Fredrik Folkare in “Soul-Sick Nation”, Phylogenesis shifts gears from front-to-back and feels more massive than the initial high-speed assault that it seems like the disc was initially going for. Still, vocalist/guitarist Charles Elliot manages to get a lot out of mileage out of every song as he delivers a hefty collection of lows throughout the whole of the album and then just as quickly switches into a vocal high-shriek, often to punctuate the ends of lyrical sentences.
And so Phylogenesis finds itself in an interesting spot. It’s an album that hones Abysmal Dawn‘s sound even more so than before — chiseling away at an already “no bullshit” style of songwriting. It comes across a little slimmer and for the first time kind of blinks by you in a listening session up until the noticeable pace-changing that happens halfway through. It doesn’t quite achieve the same constant high that its predecessor did, but damned if there aren’t a handful of really strong songs within its bounds, both on the high-speed and blast-heavy front (seriously, that previously mentioned opening segment post “Mundane Existence” is spectacular) and on the slower-grinders’ side (closer “The Lament Configuration” will likely have you nodding along by its first chorus).
Phylogenesis fits in nicely alongside the fellow lumbering-beasts that make up the overall Abysmal Dawn discography, adding to an overall collection of music that still makes Abysmal Dawn a fantastic default death metal go-to.
P.S. At 11:00 am PDT today (2 pm EDT / 20:00 CEST), Abysmal Dawn will be hosting a full album stream and virtual chat. Go HERE at the appointed time to partake in that.
They always have such badass artwork, and the music to match it. A killer band.