November 15, 2019

Abigail Williams - Walk Beyond the Dark

By M.A. Spiro. The enigmatic extreme metal collective that is Abigail Williams once again marshals forces to produce a fifth, and likely their most blistering, full-length recording yet. Walk Beyond the Dark, has been released on the group’s new label, Blood Music of Finland.
By M.A. Spiro.

Artwork by Mariusz Lewandowski

The enigmatic extreme metal collective that is Abigail Williams once again marshals forces to produce a fifth, and likely their most blistering, full-length recording yet. Walk Beyond the Dark, has been released on the group’s new label, Blood Music of Finland.

Championed by lead guitarist, vocalist, and primary composer Ken Sorcerson, Abigail Williams’ new recording delivers a massive dose of rage-tinged pathos. The seven-track album spins a glistening narrative with themes of despair, longing, and destruction. Prepare for songs like “Black Waves” to tear your heart out and hand it back to you -- still beating. Brace yourself to be swept away by songs like “Born of Nothing,” which harkens back to the most unforgiving sections of the group’s 2012 offering, Becoming.

I reached out to Ken to talk about the album’s creation in detail. He composed most of the songs on Walk Beyond the Dark during the last five years in between contributing his talents to other musical endeavors, such as Cobalt, The Faceless, and Lord Mantis. Some of the songs reflect the black metal intensity derived from the places where he’s been spending much of his time: the otherworldly beauty found in the Pacific Northwest and the arid desolation experienced in the Texan outback.

I wrote all the songs except “The Final Failure,” which was a song that Ian Jekelis (Aborted) brought to the table back in 2014 when he was in the band. It morphed into what it is now after I fucked with it for years.

The everchanging lineups for Abigail Williams have always featured some of the most phenomenally talented musicians around. Joining Sorceron this time are drummer Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy,, Raven); bass player Bryan O’Sullivan (Altar of Plagues, Mortichina), and classically trained cellist Christopher “Kakophonix” Brown (ex-Empyrean Throne, Hvile I Kaos). Not since the album Becoming have the talents of a cellist been featured so prominently. In addition, Justin McKinney (ex-The Faceless) provides a guest guitar solo on the track “Ever So Bold.”

Unlike The Accuser (2015), which included guest vocals from Neill Jameson (Krieg) and Charlie Fell (Lord Mantis, Cobalt), Walk Beyond the Dark features Sorceron singing every tune. Listeners may be surprised at the fair amount of clean vocals employed here, but they don’t overpower the riffage.

Recording for Walk Beyond the Dark took place in Washington, New York, and Dublin, Ireland. Mixing and mastering were accomplished by Lasse Lammert of LSD Studio in Lübeck, Germany. Where the last two albums demonstrated a transition and maturation of the group’s sound, could one say that Walk Beyond the Dark most closely represents the Abigail Williams’ sound? Ken seems to think so.

It really has elements of all four previous albums in my opinion, so in that regard it’s the most ‘Abigail Williams’ sounding album to date. I think it’s a good culmination of everything I’ve done. All those sounds come together to create this album. The production is top notch while still retaining raw qualities. It’s dreamy and atmospheric when it needs to be and punchy and clinical when the song calls for it.

Like the master craftsman that he is, Ken never expresses complete satisfaction with anything he’s accomplished, and the evolution of Abigail Williams is no different. As a musician, he says, he’s

gotten shittier at some things but better at others. I’ve stopped listening to other bands, for the most part, and I’ve just been doing my own thing.

Has Abigail Williams attained its final form? Not likely. For now, Walk Beyond the Dark presents fans with the most accurate snapshot of the level of excellence that American black metal can achieve today. I am pretty sure this will be my album of the year or at least close to the top.

November 11, 2019

Vastum - Orificial Purge

By Matt Hinch. When I wrote about Vastum's 2015 effort, Hole Below I name-dropped Bolt Thrower, Atheist, and Death. Don't ask me why because I don't really listen to those bands. I should but... whatever the case the death metal created by these Bay Area bashers fills the void created by my lack of OSDM listening with new album Orificial Purge.
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Laina Terpstra.

When I wrote about Vastum's 2015 effort, Hole Below I name-dropped Bolt Thrower, Atheist, and Death. Don't ask me why because I don't really listen to those bands. I should but... whatever the case the death metal created by these Bay Area bashers fills the void created by my lack of OSDM listening with new album Orificial Purge.

That title sounds like the prep for a colonoscopy. Pain, suffering, enslaved to the agony and in the end, there's no shit left. There was nothing shitty about Vastum to begin with and these six tracks should silence any doubt about the matter.

The other thing lacking here is light. Listening only brings an aura of darkness. Whether it's their “spooky” intros or ghastly atmosphere, or everything in between, Orificial Purge plunges the listener below the surface into a hellish existence where the sinister reigns in hues of black and red.

Black metal may inform the beastly death Vastum is so good at but their right-hand demon is doom. Thrashy cadence and twisted screaming solos mold the album into various tortured and twisted shapes but the heaviness and their slowing down to a lurching place brings the whole world down upon you. No matter the pace – ripping speed, lurching doom, or mid-paced pummelling – Vastum leave nothing on the table. Full-spectrum death metal.

As if the sonics weren't enough, the coal-breathing vocals grab hold and turn your spine to ash. What's left of it anyway. This is the kind of death metal for which furious headbanging will not be denied. It's a primal instinct activated by primal terror. The lyrics are themselves tortured and twisted but also uttered in an equal foul way. Discerning ears are required.

Orificial Purge has it all. A varied pace, cavernous atmosphere, commanding vocals, and serious chops. The most notable change from previous albums, to these ears, is an uptick in production value. Yeah, death metal isn't supposed to sound clean but this does. The nastiness just sounds better. That's really saying something. What are you waiting for? Let the Purge begin!

November 6, 2019

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XIX - Pyroclasts

By Craig Hayes. Critics often point to drone’s snail-like momentum and supposedly flavorless ingredients as the genre’s major stumbling blocks. Obviously, there’s no getting around the fact that drone creeps and crawls rather than sprints or gallops, and drone can definitely be bland and unimaginative.
By Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Samantha Keely Smith.

Critics often point to drone’s snail-like momentum and supposedly flavorless ingredients as the genre’s major stumbling blocks. Obviously, there’s no getting around the fact that drone creeps and crawls rather than sprints or gallops, and drone can definitely be bland and unimaginative. Even worse, drone can be unbearably monotonous. Laboring at the same point, over and over again.

That’s why truly sublime drone should be treasured, which is where Sunn O)))’s enthralling synthesis of crushing metal and sound art enters the frame. Sure, the band’s music is slow moving and often comprised of minimal components. But all of Sunn O)))’s releases have traversed different audio terrain.

The band’s core creative duo, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley, have explored new and often inventive pathways with every Sunn O))) release. Sometimes those pathways have been shrouded in darkness. Sometimes they’ve been bathed in light. But they’ve never been featureless or one-dimensional.

Case in point, Pyroclasts, the latest colossal release from Sunn O))). It wasn’t that long ago that I was writing about Sunn O)))’s last album, Life Metal, which was the band's most rapturous release yet. It’s a testament to Sunn O)))’s forever-evolving nature that I’ve yet to exhaust my vocabulary about them. In fact, this is the 19th edition of this Monoliths and Opinions series, and I’m not remotely tired of writing about Sunn O)))’s adventures.

Reason being, Sunn O)))’s music always feels so ripe for interpretation, from myriad perspectives. In Pyroclasts’ case, one interpretation points to it being Sunn O)))’s most curious release yet. In a nutshell, Pyroclasts is unrehearsed but still heavily conceptualized and purposeful. It features immense mood pieces, as you’d expect, but they’re off-the-cuff drones, where musicians seek each other out on a higher creative plane.

In practical terms, Pyroclasts is the result of daily practice. Every morning or evening during the two-week recording sessions for Life Metal (at Electrical Audio), Sunn O))) and co-collaborators –– Tim Midyett, Tos Nieuwenhuizen, and Hildur Guðnadóttir –– would work their way through a 12-minute “improvised modal drone”. The aim was to (re)connect and focus energies, and everyone involved immersed themselves in oceans of sound and aligned their creative chakras via meditative means.

As a whole, Pyroclasts is a vast introspective and contemplative work. Digest the lot in one sitting, and you’re in for a transcendent treat. The album’s four lengthy drones merge into one monumental teeth-rattling suite, with gargantuan slabs of noise being channeled in deeply devotional ways. (And, as always, Sunn O)))'s inner space explorations are offset by celestial escapades.)

Of course, Pyroclasts is a companion piece to Life Metal, which is scrupulously assembled and arranged. Pyroclasts is far more impulsive, but both releases share a similar ambience, with molten riffs that are as dense, intense and heavy as collapsing stars. Mesmerizing tracks “Frost (C)” and “Kingdoms (G)” look to the heavens, but they also shake the membranes, memories, and anchors that maintain our place in time and space. Massive chords collide and coalesce, altering our perceptions, which is what Sunn O))) have always done at their best.

In towering tracks “Ampliphædies (E)” and “Ascension (A)”, huge shifts in sound spark equally intoxicating shifts in emotional states. Mantric musical movements see pulverizing tones rise and fall, with subtle melodies lurking beneath the crashing waves of trance-inducing drone. “Ampliphædies (E)” and “Ascension” also have a far more intimate impact, which is just as powerful as their earth-shaking presence.

Like its volcanic namesake, Pyroclasts is a slow-motion eruption. But for all the album’s brawn, Pyroclasts is one of Sunn O)))’s most reflective releases. Perhaps that comes down to the close connections forged as everyone involved sought to find common ground through instinctual and unscripted drones. Whatever the case, much like Life Metal, there’s a brightness and even euphoria to the heavyweight dirges here –– and a similarly mercurial sense of adventurousness.

Sunn O))) have noted that Pyroclasts can be viewed as a lens to “re-experience the complexity" of Life Metal, and you're free to press play and scrutinize Pyroclasts’ contextual (and textural) relationship to Life Metal. What's most interesting, though, is that Life Metal underscored that Sunn O)))’s ultimate creative destination remains unknown, while Pyroclasts highlights some of the experimental footsteps along the way.

In the past, Sunn O)))’s creative preparations have remained hidden from sight. But Pyroclasts grants us a view of the band and their collaborators bonding and scouting potential routes. In doing so, Pyroclasts becomes a profoundly soul-stirring voyage unto itself. Revealing a band eager to explore new artistic methods as well as new creative avenues. Sunn O)))’s artistic journey has made for an enthralling odyssey thus far. Long may their expeditions into the hinterlands of sound continue.


The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.