(On February 4th Season of Mist will release a new EP by Abysmal Dawn, and today we present DGR‘s review of the record, accompanied by a full stream that premiered today.)
Nightmare Frontier, the newest release from death metal crew Abysmal Dawn via Season of Mist, is an odd duck. Like many single releases that have been expanded into smaller EPs over the past few years as groups dig through their archives for value add-ons, Nightmare Frontier is a thematic grab bag that, thanks to its second song, makes a wide journey across the band’s career.
Containing one new song in the form of “A Nightmare Slain”, Nightmare Frontier then reinforces its first track with a new take on one of the group’s earliest songs, “Blacken The Sky”, and then further adds to it with two covers from surprising corners for the band with “Behind Space” and “Bewitched” – one interesting choice and one massively iconic song – for a total of a little over nineteen minutes worth of music.
Now granted, were this release just the single and the badass cover art by Pär Olofsson, you’d have a solid recommendation off the bat. But the other fifteen some-odd minutes of music make this one an oddball journey at the least.
As a result of having “Blacken The Sky” as part of its lineup the first ten or so minutes of Nightmare Frontier are surprisingly blastbeat heavy for Abysmal Dawn. While they’ve never been one to shy away from the hyperspeed drumming aspect that death metal has long made its own, Abysmal Dawn are one of the more groove-focused bands out there, and often added to the ‘tech’-roster thanks to a love of mechanical-riffage and angular-groove.
As a death metal band, they are more of a steamroller than the often hair-on-fire completely out of control semi that the genre has launched in its nuclear arms race for speed. Thus, “A Nightmare Slain” and “Blacken The Sky” make things interesting from the start, because even though there’s an almost two-decade long gap between the two, both are relentless, shockingly straightforward, and fast-bombing-run style songs made to sound very much like they could’ve crawled out of the same recording sessions that gifted us 2020’s Phylogenesis. The pyrotechnics run high through both songs and the appeal is certainly there if you’re seeking music driven by sheer ferocity.
The two covers are where things get stranger. Mostly it’s just nice to have them there for the convenience of completionists. Abysmal Dawn play both of those songs remarkably straight, which works incredibly well in one aspect and strangely enough highlights just how primordial the other song was around the time it was written.
Initially, the group’s take on Candlemass‘ “Bewitched” was released in 2020, so it’s nice that it makes an appearance here. As mentioned before, the band play it remarkably straight. “Bewitched” is not really a song you fuck with in any sense and Abysmal Dawn really don’t, not even on the vocal front, which results in mostly clean-sung vocals and a slightly more buzzing guitar tone take on one of the more anthemic metal songs ever released. It also further reinforces the private working theory that a lot of talented death metal vocalists out there are really good singers as well.
“Behind Space” on the other hand is a lumpier track, which again… is played remarkably straight. Having been run through the Abysmal Dawn filter, “Behind Space” comes out sounding largely like “Behind Space” but oddly stitched together. It’s not something you think about as bands are finding their feet early on, or as new genres are born out of young kids and adults experimenting musically, but early songs often have this feeling of different parts just being rammed together by sheer force of stubbornness.
Many years and multiple takes later – even by In Flames themselves since they took on “Behind Space” again for their Colony release – and now with Abysmal Dawn adding to the body-pile, you can almost hear how the song is held together by having been shot together by a pneumatic nailer. Of course, with it showing up before the killer “Bewitched” cover, it finds itself being overshadowed and in the position of being an eyebrow raise.
Thus A Nightmare Slain is a pretty good single release with a small collection added to it for us completionists out there. It’s fun hearing Abysmal Dawn being an infernal blastfest for the first two songs and about ten minutes, and then after that it’s a weird and lumpy journey. With the two covers there’s some ‘your mileage may vary’ action in play for sure. “Bewitched” comes as a recommendation on its own if you haven’t somehow been able to find it in the time since its initial appearance in the middle of 2020.
Nightmare Slain is not the sort of release that feels forward-looking, like we tend to treat many EPs. It gives no real sense of where Abysmal Dawn might be looking for their next full-length, but they’ve also never struck as that sort of group. They tend to exist in the now, and you take them at face value as they are in that moment. Right now, it’s a higher-speed drum-kit wrecker of a few songs, and on Phylogenesis they were relentlessly sleek and precise. Where they go next? Who knows.
Again, right now you have an oddball collection of pretty good songs with some killer cover art attached to it and that is Abysmal Dawn at this particular moment. It’ll tide you over ’til the next full-length, which hopefully won’t have a five-and-a-half-year gap between them like its older siblings did.