Tuesday 19 November 2019

Abigail Williams - Walk Beyond the Dark (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Nov 2019
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Of all the many subgenres within heavy metal nowadays, I'm starting to grasp that atmospheric black metal is one of the most versatile. That's because it isn't really one sound, it's a combination of two very different sounds, the harsh of black metal with its blastbeats and shrieks and the soft of melodic ambience that often sets a scene. The key is that the balance between these two ingredients can be shifted either way to any degree.

Abigail Williams does much the same thing as Saor, another fundamentally one man band, but with a wildly different effect because the two bands mix those two ingredients very differently. Saor play up the atmosphere, so whisking me away to the Scottish highlands, where I stay even when their harsher side kicks in. Abigail Williams play their black metal fast and brutal, with the atmosphere layered in.

They (by which I mean mainstay Ken Sorceron and the musicians he brought in for this album) try to resist dipping into atmosphere at other points but I think they fail more often than they think they do. Fortunately, they do it very well indeed. The introductory few minutes to Black Waves are delightful and the outro to Born of Nothing, which segues nicely into the intro of the closing track, The Final Failure, is pretty damn good too.

It's also neatly different. Most bands dipping into atmospheric black metal use synths to conjure up their atmosphere with maybe some ambient samples. Sorceron, on the other hand, hired a cellist called Christopher Brown, who goes by Kakophonix when playing black metal for bands like Empyrean Throne, Black Reaper and Through the Thorns, not to mention his own "black ritual chamber musick project", Hvile I Kaos, which will release an album called Black Morning, Winter Green in a couple of weeks.

Like any atmospheric black metal, this is music to immerse yourself into and I haven't given this the 3am headphones in the dark treatment yet. I'm sure I will because I like it rather a lot and I'm delaying the next album on my list because I keep replaying it. The songs trend long, two of the seven on offer coming close to eleven minutes each, but they're more effectively seen as classical compositions with titles changed to things like Op. No. 7 with Blastbeats and Shrieks.

I'm particularly interested in how much the cello will emerge in the dark. I found that it became more and more prominent as the album ran on. It doesn't show up until a couple of minutes into I Will Depart and it sounds more like an exotic guitar solo with the music hardly slowing down to acknowledge it. The more I listen, the more I hear cello lurking underneath everything else adding to the textures, but the opening songs aren't too atmospheric.

By the middle track, Black Waves, it's impossible not to notice because it's up front and centre. By the last, The Final Failure, it's dominant. I wonder if this is because the guest guitarists are restricted to the opening twenty minutes, which means only three songs. Atmosphere on them is evoked more by competing shrieks or sections of almost tribal drumming. The point at which I heard the cover art most was the moment midway through Sun and Moon where the tumult drops to just tribal drumming and an ominous bass.

There's some good stuff in the first half, especially on Sun and Moon, but the album comes alive for me with the eerie intro to Black Waves and refuses to let me go after that. That's almost appropriate for a band named for the girl whose claims (with those of her cousin) helped to start the Salem witch hunts and refused to let the people of Massachusetts go. What did go was Ken Sorceron, who used to be a local here in Phoenix, but he moved to New York, then Los Angeles and is now based out of Olympia, WA, which sadly makes it a little harder for me to see him live.

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