If you’re looking to check out Abigail Williams for the first time, don’t let the name mislead you. You won’t find a female-fronted outfit like Nightwish, Arch Enemy, or Unleash the Archers. Hell, you won’t find a female-fronted group at all. Or anything that might resemble the musical styles of the three bands mentioned. Instead, Abigail Williams seems to be everything else—core-ish black metal (In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns), traditional black (In the Absence of Light), and post-black (Becoming, The Accuser, and now). Manned by the dark mind of Ken Sorceron, Abigail Williams has come a long way in the last decade. Surviving lineup changes, relocations, and changes in musical directions—as well as fandom—Sorceron pushes on, refusing to settle on a path created for him by others’ expectations. Up ahead is another bend in this path. So, take my hand and let’s Walk Beyond the Dark together.

What I discovered when I first listened to Walk Beyond the Dark—which had me doubling back to find when I realized I missed it—was that it was fantastic for no particular reason.  The only way I can describe it is with the old right-place-right-time argument. This is not a common scenario in the frenzy of putting together a top ten list. That time remains for the albums I’ve already listened to and there’s rarely time for any new music in the final weeks of December. But, closing out the year without giving Walk Beyond the Dark a listen was not an option. It took one minute of one track to convince me that this new record deserved a spot on my year-end list. Had I more time to absorb it—as I do now—WBtD would have been more than an honorable mention. Regardless, that one minute turned into fifty-five and that single track turned into seven. Then, once it ended, I started it all over again.

Like The Accuser, Walk Beyond the Dark is a dense outing that seems to grow darker and thicker as one progresses. “I Will Depart” opens with power and emotion that helps to orient you to the sharp rasps and bludgeoning riffs that’ll act as your shadow throughout the trek. It’s a riff-fest that combines second-wave chaos with the modern chuggery of Satyricon. It’s so packed with riffs that you’ll mistake the introduction of “Sun and Moon” as another transition. That’s until you feel the tribal drum work and moody tromping that is the livelihood of bands like Tool and Cobalt. The opener and “Sun and Moon” are an unbeaten duo. That’s until you arrive at “Black Waves” and “Into the Sleep.”

While the previous two tracks unleash a riff-laden aggressiveness like none other on the album, these latter two change the wind. Out of the blue, strings strike up a tune akin to the nightmares of Nick Cave‘s The Road soundtrack. While there’re hints of clean chorals in the opener, they spread like blood into “Black Waves” and “Into the Sleep.” It’s the kind of combination most “symphonic” bands would kill to achieve. But many never will. But this black richness only grows from here, combining all the dark emotion into a mighty conclusion. That conclusion being the eleven-minute masterpiece, “The Final Failure.” This thing holds more melodic passion within it than all The Accuser combined. It has rasps, deathly barks, and powerful cleans, supported by barraging riffs, thick strings, and some of the best bass/drum work on the album. It’s a gorgeous pay off to a journey that’s as draining as a therapy session.

Walk Beyond the Dark is the outcome I’ve been waiting for since first dipping my fingers into the fires of Abigail Williams. It’s a massive achievement that many will agree with and others will not. Such is the nature of a band that has evolved and reinvented itself as many times as Abigail Williams. Side with Grier, or not, this is an outstanding release from Sorceron, with songwriting and instrumental prowess that no one can ignore. If I were to start 2019 over, Walk Beyond the Dark would be in my top ten six months before its release.

Tracks to Check Out: “I Will Depart,” “Black Waves,” and “The Final Failure”