Wednesday 20 March 2024

Aborted - Vault of Horrors (2024)

Country: Belgium
Style: Technical Death Metal/Grindcore
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Mar 2024
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I guess Aborted should still be listed as a Belgian band, given that sole founder member and lead vocalist Sven de Caluwé is Belgian, but they're a pretty international bunch nowadays. What blew me away from moment one is the drumming of Ken Bedene, one of two Californians in the line-up, his fourteen year stint with the band making him the longest serving member who wasn't there at the beginning. The others hail from Iceland and Italy, but the latter is bassist Stefano Franceschini who left in 2023 after seven years on board. I don't believe he's been replaced yet but he does play on this album for presumably the last time.

Aborted are usually listed as technical death metal, which is entirely appropriate, but Bedene is a grindcore drummer when Dreadbringer kicks off the album. He doesn't stay there, but damn, he's fast. Of course, everyone else has to be totally on top of their game for this to hold together and I would be failing at my job if I didn't point that out, but it took plenty of effort to tear myself away from what he was doing, whatever anyone else was up to at any particular moment. I remember a gig in Bradford way back in 1988, with Carcass headlining during their demo days, at which I found myself hypnotised by the drummer of Intense Degree. He was so fast that I couldn't see his arms when he was in full flow because they were just a blur. That came quickly to mind here, though the majority of the speed seems to be in his feet.

After Bedene, it was de Caluwé who grabbed my attention with his vocals. He mostly delivers in a guttural death growl that's somehow clear enough for me to be able to tell that he sings entirely in English. However, like Bedene, there are points where he shifts up to grindcore speeds, others where he moves his pitch up to provide more of a black metal shriek and still more where there's some sort of post production done on his voice to give it a weirdly echoing effect. It's almost like he's inside such a small box that he'd have to be crushed into a cube to fit but which somehow lets his voice remain as huge and resonant as ever.

At least, I believe most of that is de Caluwé, but it's hard to actually tell, because there's a guest vocalist singing with him on every single track. Most are North American, with four from the USA and four from Canada, including Oliver Rae Aleron from Archspire on The Shape of Hate and Alex Erian from Despised Icon on Death Cult. However, there's also a Brit, Jason Evans from Ingested, on Insect Politics, the most overtly grindcore song here, and an Italian, Francesco Paoli from the mighty Fleshgod Apocalypse on Condemned to Rot. No wonder that one has a particularly dense sound. Generally speaking, the multiple voices helps this album considerably, adding a diversity that might not otherwise have been there.

The guitarists are Ian Jekelis and Daníel Konráðsson and what I found fascinating about what they do here is that they never seem to solo in genre. During the majority of these songs, they play at a quick pace because that's what everyone else is doing, and they add depth to the music. However, there are points where they play a lot slower, or at least whoever's handling lead at any particular moment does, and that adds a fascinating dimension. There are long sustained notes in The Shape of Hate and Hellbound, even though everything else around them is fast, and the solos, in most of these songs, tend to be almost traditional heavy metal solos, hardly extreme at all.

While those solos can be rather engaging, this is the exact opposite of easy listening. It's not just that it's very loud and very fast, it's that we have to pay a lot of attention to what's happening. It can be easy to get lost in some of these songs, like Condemned to Rot and Brotherhood of Sleep. Hellbound may the most immediately accessible. Death Cult has an almost singalong chorus, merely a simple and brutal one. The Golgothan is an attention grabber, because of electronic pulses as part of the beat, and there are deeper keyboards later in the song which add another element to the sound.

My favourites are the ones that are complex but not impenetrable, ones that I can grasp within a few listens but still have hidden depths that I can explore on further runs through. Dreadbringer has to be the most obvious, but The Golgothan is close and Malevolent Haze has an emotional arc to explore. It seems bigger than anything else here, perhaps appropriately as the closer, only the single that hinted at the album, Infinite Terror, after it as a bonus track. That's a good one too.

It's just hard to call out tracks after only five listens, though. This is material so dense that we just can't judge it properly until we've enjoyed its company for a while, bought it dinner and visited its parents. We have to dive in deep and explore it to find what it's truly offering. The whole album is still growing on me and I'm a little wary about only giving it a 7/10. I have a feeling that, in a week or two, I'd give it more, but I have to let it go right now so I can move onto other albums by other bands. C'est la vie.

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