If You Gaze into Abyssal, Abyssal Will Pluck Out Your Goddamn Eyes
Abyssal are the kind of band who set out to have articles about them start with “Little is known about UK blackened death metal blasphemers Abyssal.” (Though maybe something a little less overwritten…) Band photos consist of figures in long, dark druid robes. They’re a little reminiscent of the Ghost of Christmas Future in A Muppet Christmas Carol (the grimmest of all the Muppet movies until The Muppets Take Valhalla in 2014). They have a Bandcamp page, but that’s about it. It’s one thing for a tape-hiss-obsessed basement black metal band to engage in this kind of intentional obscurity; it’s another for a band this menacing and phantasmic to utilize it. Abyssal seem like they thrive in the unknown, dragging up souvenirs from somewhere you’d be better off not knowing about; as opposed to cranky Xasthur knockoffs, these guys seem naturally suited to mystery. Though I highly doubt that will last for long—a label snatching them up is probably imminent — the less you know about what’s behind music like this, the better.
Though the band have only been around for a few years, they already have two full-lengths. Denouement, which came out a year ago, is something to behold. Whereas blackened death metal is more often than not a watered down mash-up of the two, Abyssal come right out of the gate mining the most noxious elements of both. With ominous and epic Incantation/Morbid Angel-style riffs with the occasional splash of fractured and occasionally beautiful black metal chords, they seek to create a specific sense of place that just happens to require both the brutal and grim. Like Brooklyn’s Flourishing, the band aren’t opposed to major keys, either. There are moments on Denouement where the contrast between the OSDM darkness and the ambient black metal rays of diminishing light are downright breathtaking (on opener “The Moss Upon Our Ruins” in particular). It’s six songs of profoundly atmospheric dread. While other bands in either genre engage in an unending slapfight over who’s the heaviest or most obscure, Abyssal are quietly darker than them all on Denouement.
The problem with a band like this, though, is that theatrical Incantation worship is sort of already covered by this Australian band called Portal (if you’re on this site, you probably haven’t heard of them…) So while Denouement toes the thing line between the two bands, Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius, their sophomore album that came out a few weeks ago, ignores it altogether. It’s not a bad record; however, I like Portal, so hearing more music that sounds like Portal isn’t a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. But when listening to Abyssal’s two album’s back-to-back, the confidence and relative clarity of the first stands in stark contrast to the muddy ambivalence of its followup. The band hopefully can do better than sacrificing the definitiveness of their vision to sound like an admittedly excellent abstract death metal band.
But then again, maybe I’m hard on Novit because it feels like Abyssal, despite only have two albums out in as many years, are capable of more. Listening to Denouement makes their potential excitingly tangible; the next record is an hour-plus of hazy obtuseness. But this doesn’t diminish my enthusiasm for them. Abyssal are a band worth checking out and keeping up with. Maybe Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius is so densely packed that I’m missing something great about it. Or maybe their third record will be some truly next level shit. A band like this can’t conjure up this kind of evil by mistake. They’re deliberate, they’re planning, and we’ll probably all be dead by their hand.
(4 out of 5 horns)
Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius:
(2 ½ out of 5 horns)
Both Denouement and Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius are available via the band’s Bandcamp page.