Review Summary: A triumph in the face of adversity.
Abigail Williams exploded onto the scene with their EP, 'Legend'. A refreshing mix of metalcore, deathcore and black metal, projecting them into the limelight. Rarely does an EP make so many in the metal community stand up and take notice. Personally, I wasn't completely sold but this album is a whole different animal. Gone are the core influences of their EP, essentially leaving a symphonic black metal album to rival and sit along proudly with the best.
Some may say that this direction away from a core and towards a more traditional black metal sound has made them lose what was unique about them in the first place. But it just seems a logical progression and the songs benefit from this. Obvious parallels will be drawn between this and works by bands such as Emperor or Dimmu Borgir. This album is for a whole new generation of metal fans. It's even accessible enough to make it an excellent starting point for anyone not usually into black metal. To label this simply a copy of Dimmu Borgir or Emperor is like being stuck in the 90s, believing everything was better back in the day. Considering the turmoil that preceded the release of this album makes this cd even more remarkable.
Simply put, it's symphonic black metal at its best. Forget Cradle of Filth and their new album. It's immediately apparent from the first listen that despite its complex arrangements and flurry of riffs and keyboards, it's surprisingly easy to get into. The melodies are accentuated and some of the choruses are drilled into your head immediately. However, despite having large amounts of groove and melody, the songs don't have a regular structure to them. They veer off spontaneously, and you often think it's about to go off the rails but somehow it's tied back together. This is a showcase of the excellent songwriting skills on the album.
The drumming is insane, the guitar good and the vocals typical of the genre without being special, but it's the keyboards that steal the show. They make the album what it is. They create mesmerising interludes, which allow the songs to meander along, and complement the guitars perfectly giving each song a strong melodic backbone on which the songs are based. This is particularly true in the chorus of "The World Beyond", the section at 2:25 in "Empyrean", the piano intro to "Into the Ashes" and the chorus of "Floods".
Another feeling I get from listening to the album is that it is essentially an album and not one with a few good songs and the rest filler material. It really does have to be considered as a full entity rather than each song individually. There simply isn't a duff track on here. "i" is about as good a 40 second intro as you'll ever find. "The World Beyond" is simply fantastic. The piano keys playing over the top of the main riff are outstanding and the chorus is majestic. This is also the case in "Floods" whereby the constant tempo changes make it a real keeper. Even the usually pointless 2 minute interlude in the middle of the album is a worthy addition to the album. Even a song such as "Acolytes" which may not have the catchy chorus or over the top symphonic element is more than worthy. In fact, all songs are pretty much just as good each other.
So far, one may wonder how this is 'just' a 4 seeing as I've praised it as though it's going to change the face of metal forever. It can't be a 5 because that implies perfection and nothing's perfect. The vocals are sometimes a bit too croaky and could do with a bit more 'substance' to them. Secondly, although consistently great, there are few moments on the album that are really epic or incredibly brutal, as indeed a black metal should be. "Empyrean" is the closest to achieving the latter while "The World Beyond" the former. In other words, it has lots of groovy parts put together but there aren't enough passages whereby a melody defines and underlines a song. It's therefore sometimes difficult to remember a song, but as soon as it starts, you know exactly what's coming next. Another consideration to make is the possible lasting power of such an album. I usually find that the harder it is to get into an album, the more rewarding the listening experience. This album, at times, seems almost too direct and therefore I worry about how it's going to stand up in 6 months time, 6 years time.
Only time will tell but this is without a doubt a fantastic debut album. One which will surely (and deservedly) project them to the forefront of the genre. I'm sure the best is still to come from them, as the band are still finding their feet following their reformation. One thing is certain though; if this album is anything to go by, they're going to be huge.
1. The World Beyond
3. Into the Ashes