I’ve never been an Abigail Williams fan. Their debut was lackluster and derailed by metalcore underpinnings. In the Absence of Light had some actual potential but was far too generic. Needless to say, I had modest expectations as I sat down to examine their new album. Well, Steel Druhm was nearly knocked from his stately Chair of Metal Judgment [Metal Chair of Judgement? – AMG] by what he heard on Becoming. Gone are the tepid attempts to recycle left-over Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth riffs and horror movie symphonics. In their place is raw, shoegazey, post-rocky, contemplative blackness, loaded with doomy atmosphere, close in spirit to Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch, with elements of Aurvandil and Emperor mixed in. It’s a startlingly major change to be sure (even more so than their previous shift from black-core to Dimmu-worship), and proves there’s no wagon they won’t gleefully hop onto. Surprisingly though, their newest disingenuous switch works well and they may have found the style they can excel at. That is, if they can stop pursuing every new fad and trend (the technical term is “chasing their own fail”).
Long-winded opener “Ascension Sickness” immediately showcases Abigail‘s new wardrobe and stylish accessories. Beginning with gentle, sedate acoustics before roaring into blast n’ burn blackness, it’s a study in moods and shifting dynamics. Over the next eleven minutes, they treat you to some highly atmospheric punishment, with a strong undercurrent of melody and beauty that references the golden age of Emperor. Some of the riffs are quite interesting and I’m especially fond of the doomy, navel-gazing segment around 5:45 (peaking at 8:15 when the bells/chimes come in). Hell, they even toss in violin/cello accompaniment as things wind down. “Radiance” (and to a lesser extend, “Elestial”) channel Agalloch, especially in the way the songs build and flow, but they ultimately fail to capture Agalloch‘s innate magic and some moments just drag.
The big one-two punch comes with “Infinite Fields of Minds” and “Beyond the Veil,” both being huge set-pieces of atmospheric blackness that throw everything possible at the listener. “Infinite Fields” meanders between tranquil new-agey strumming and vicious blasting and does a good job of keeping things interesting. The sudden, out-of-place lurch into a vintage Mercyful Fate-like riff at 6:05 is the highpoint to my ears but the whole thing works and sounds like a grandiose nightmare. “Beyond the Veil” features tons of mood-drenched violin and soft, understated orchestral pieces that feel very chamber music-esque (especially at 8:11). This is all wrapped around morose but melodic guitar-work and some sporadic blasting. It’s a pretty diverse ditty.
Across the length of Becoming, Ken Sorceron and Ian Jekelis craft some of their best riffs to date as they blend hostile with morose. Ken’s vocals are more bleak and despondent this time and he sounds quite suicidal on most tracks. The biggest props are reserved for how the symphonics are incorporated. Instead of being cheap, throw-away theatrics, they use them much the same way Septic Flesh does. The orchestral instrumentation is at the core and they work outward from it and layer in the heavy stuff. It works.
The downsides (besides the obvious “ripping everybody off” and “we have no identity of our own” issues) include a tendency to repeat ideas a bit too much within each song and a chronic case of Metallica-itis (inability to self-edit). As interesting as “Beyond the Veil” is, seventeen minutes is about three minutes too much. The sound is somewhere between low-fi and legit. You can hear what’s going on but it has a raw, unrefined edge. It manages to feel somewhat chilly but something is missing sound-wise and I can’t figure out what. [Could it be dignity? – AMG]
Despite the good quality of the material here, the cynic in me still struggles to respect a band which so desperately leaps from one bandwagon to the next, blindly chasing some kind of “scene” acceptance. Their contemptible scramble from metalcore to Dimmu-core and now Throneroom-core, pretty much cements their reputation as pretenders sans integrity. However, I can’t argue with the results this time. Abigail is shoplifting from better stores these days and the latest stop on their front-runner tour is well executed. If they keep exploring this soundscape, they may find their own identity and grow into something kinda special. If not, there’s no telling where the winds of trend will take them next. Japanese anime pop? Lithuanian mountain-jazz? Nothing is sacred if they think its in vogue and the “new black.” You see, Abigail Williams is the most fickle of mistresses.