(Andy Synn lavishes praise on the new album from Sweden’s An Abstract Illusion)
This Friday is a big day for Death Metal fans, especially fans of the more Prog/Tech side(s) of the scene.
We’ve got new records from Fallujah (an even flashier version of The Flesh Prevails, for better or worse), Warforged (a much more coherent and consistently rewarding record than their debut, albeit one which still doesn’t feel like the band’s “final” form) and Revocation (which… I already reviewed and, spoiler alert, it’s great), as well as several more which I don’t even have time to mention here, let alone review.
But one album I feel compelled to write about is Woe, the upcoming second album from ultra-talented Swedish trio An Abstract Illusion.
Because while other bands might be getting the lion’s share of they hype and headlines this week, these guys could (and should) very well steal the show.
From the sombre, scene-setting introduction of “The Behemoth That Lies Asleep” through to the grandiose climax of “This Torment Has No End, Only New Beginnings”, this is an album which exemplifies so much of what is possible within the sphere of “Progressive Death Metal”.
More importantly, it demonstrates just how much can be achieved by progressing outside of the normal boundaries of Death Metal – whether that’s the prominent use of synths and keys to illuminate the album’s hidden depths, the frequent excursions into intricately melodic, yet never self-indulgent, instrumental passages (the second half of “Tear Down This Holy Mountain” in particular is a thing of rare beauty), or the prominent, but never predictable, use of Anathema-esque clean vocals at key moments – without sacrificing any of your intensity, or integrity, in the process.
Because, let me be blunt, these guys can really go when they want to, and there’s some serious power behind the diverse, dynamic riffs, deft, driving percussion (courtesy of session drummer Leith Ajob, whose impressive performance here will hopefully land him a lot more work of this calibre in the future) and impeccably lithe and limber bass-lines which collectively serve as the bombastic backbone to songs like the pulse-pounding, precision-guided “Slaves” and the rhythmically hypnotic, eloquently eclectic “Prosperity”.
But it’s not just the use of all these differing elements – the metallic and the melodic, the extreme and the esoteric, the calm and the cathartic – which makes this album so great, it’s the way that they’re used – carefully woven together so as to flow seamlessly into one another – which ultimately makes this record far more than just the mere sum of its parts and (in my opinion at least) far superior to, say, the increasingly formulaic work of a band like Ne Obliviscaris (to whom An Abstract Illusion have sometimes been compared in the past).
This is particularly apparent during the album’s longest, most intricate, and most demanding compositions, especially the climactic pairing of “In The Heavens Above, You Will Become A Monster” and “This Torment…”.
The former track is just under fourteen-and-a-half minutes of electrifying riffs, shimmering synths, and sublime compositional shifts that constantly keeps you guessing without ever losing its sense of cohesion or forward momentum, while the latter is a moodier and more atmospheric number whose marriage of dense riffage and haunting ambience (replete with ethereal clean/acoustic guitar melodies, melancholy clean vocals, and indulgently proggy keyboards) captures a similar vibe to The Work, last year’s highly-praised progressive opus from Rivers of Nihil.
That being said, while there are certainly certain sonic and/or spiritual similarities between Woe and The Work (although, whisper it, I might actually prefer this album to its more famous predecessor) a better comparison would be In Vain‘s masterful Ænigma album from 2013, as both that record and this one share a fearless flair for the dramatic and an adventurous sense of songwriting that doesn’t seem to follow any rules but its own.
Despite, or perhaps because of, all this, however, An Abstract Illusion have still found a way to capture their own distinctive voice, to curate and cultivate their own carefully crafted vision, on this album, and while it may not be as immediate, or as infamous, as some of its cohorts (or competitors, depending on how you look at things) I’m going to hazard a guess that it will ultimately prove to be a richer, more rewarding, experience overall. At least, for those willing to give it a chance.