Abyssal


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Denouement (2012), 6.5/10
Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (2013), 6/10
Antikatastaseis (2015), 7/10
A Beacon in the Husk (2019), 5/10
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Abyssal, the death-metal project of English singer and guitarist Gregg Cowell (aka GDC), started out emulating the post-death sound of Portal. Denouement (2012), a murky demo-like debut, contains compositions that are brainy and complex but not deep enough and certainly not performed too well. The full arsenal of brutal guitar riffs, breathless blastbeats, otherworldly growl and dissonant detours is on display in Celestial Dictatorship, which boasts one of the most galvanizing accelerations but it also one of the most convoluted songs, especially towards the end, and in Deus Vult, where seismic shocks are wed to inventive drumming. Building upon these experiments, the eleven-minute When Paradigms Supplant Gods (possibly the standout) opens with industrial clangor before launching in the dissonant mayhem. In The Moss upon Our Ruins the mayhem is moderated by quite a few melodic riffs. A melodic theme sneaks also into the elevated tension of the eleven-minute closer, Swansong of a Dying Race. The brief Detritivore wins the title of most granitic song on the album, but clearly this is not the future.

The more professional Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (2013), aimed for a more lugubrious atmosphere, with even less melody and a huge, cavernous sound that clearly references doom-metal, and, in fact, funeral doom. After the torrential opening, The Tongue of the Demagogue feels more mechanical, mostly because of the blastbeats replacing the nonlinear drumming of the debut. Under the Wretched Sun of Hattin, on the other hand, relies on pomp to erect a menacing atmosphere, the perfect soundtrack for a monster movie, and that truly sets the tone for the album. After a brief discharge of black metal, A Sheath of Deceit, we get more pomp and grandeur in the mostly instrumental A Malthusian Epoch, that seems to simulate a squadron of bombers. The cacophony of As Paupers Safeguard Magnates (possibly the standout) evokes a sense of catastrophe but is also tempered in the middle by quasi-jazzy jam. The ten-minute instrumental Created Sick Commanded to Be Well opens with a noise that evokes moaning multitudes followed by stately riffs over military drumming (but the rest of the piece sounds repetitive and trivial). The Last King is, technically speaking, the perfect fusion of death-metal frenzy and doom-metal horror, but, again, a rather mechanical one (except for the halfway break, which is almost noir-jazz). Overall the album sounds less original (and certainly less complex) than the debut. If the debut was avant-death, this is avant-doom, and Cowell seems more creative with the grammar of death than with the grammar of doom.

Antikatastaseis (Profound Lore, 2015), with Timo Hakkinen on drums, relies on variants and contrasts to make the Portal-like project stand out. For better and for worse, each song is "interrupted": the tension builds up and then is somewhat diluted in slower sections. The worst case is Telomeric Erosion, whose massive terrifying opening lasts only two minutes before melting in a very confused coda. A better result comes in the eleven-minute Veil of Transcendence, that manages to create the death equivalent of the atmosphere of funeral doom and then introduces five minutes of piano melody only to crucify it with monster riffs, blastbeats and growls. A classy work of mood balance, I Am the Alpha and the Omega, radiates a superhuman amount of ugliness and gloom both during the frantic first half and during the second agonizing half. The twelve-minute Delere Auctorem Rerum ut Universum Infinitum Noscas works the other way around: it takes four minutes of droning before an ominous martial leitmotiv creates the "funeral" atmosphere (the song also boasts the most melodic riffs so that at the end it feels like a testament of beauty, not horror). The project's forte is the way The Cornucopian transitions from shy military drumming to mayhem and apotheosis, or the way A Casual Landscape (possibly the highlight) flows smoothly from the opening shamanic choir to the frenzied crescendo and on to the apocalyptic rumble of the ending. Chrysalis is unusual in that it is a solid, cohesive, dense (and mostly instrumental) song that is almost symphonic, almost melodic, with a coda of almost jazzy jamming; but is also feels like a breath of fresh air. In general the sound of the third album is less cavernous and less huge than on the first two albums.

Cowell returned with A Beacon in the Husk (2019), structured into three multi-part suites sandwiched between an eight-minute Dialogue (which is itself a seven-minute mini-epic) and a brief Soliloquy. The first suite, Recollection, is his first venture into ambient doom, and not a successful one. Discernment begins with a more or less melodic theme that goes nowhere but, luckily, the second movement (Khyphotic Suzerains) explodes fireworks of guitar riffs. Unfortunately the third movement seems to be noise for the sake of noise. Descent intones a lugubrious singalong (We Who Beheld the Fall of Axioms) with pomp reminiscent of the second album, followed by a movement that sounds like a grotesque pagan dance (A Beacon in the Husk). All in all, Descent might be the standout of the album, but a far cry from the heights of the first and third albums.

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