Everyone loves a good horror movie, and for years Aborted have given us the musical equivalent. Since vocalist and Belgian native Sven de Caluwé began the project in 1995, he’s taken everything from goregrind to Carcassy death metal to melodic groove experimentation and bludgeoned it into his grotesque sonic mold. If you want to know what Aborted sounds like, shove your fist into a jar of old mayonnaise while watching the grossest horror film you know.
Or at least, that’s what they used to sound like. Early works like 2003’s landmark Goremageddon were dirty and punishing, but since returning with a revamped lineup on 2012’s Global Flatline, Sven and friends have entered a new era where they’ve begun to sound decidedly more modern. 2016’s Retrogore was cleaner and more technical than the band had ever been, putting them alongside Benighted and Cattle Decapitation on the discerning metal fan’s shelf. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing — I for one loved Retrogore — but with tenth full-length TerrorVision, it’s clear Aborted haven’t mastered this style quite yet.
The biggest difference between this and Retrogore is density. TerrorVision sounds like Aborted raided the extreme metal mortuary and sewed together every body part they could find into one giant Frankensteinian monstrosity. These ten tracks1 are bursting at the seams of their body bag with every type of riff imaginable — grindy riffs, chuggy riffs, technical riffs, melodic riffs, atmospheric riffs, even black metal riffs that faintly remind me of Dimmu Borgir. Factor in all the tempo shifts, guest vocalists, and even air siren sound effects, and you have an album more stuffed than the victim of the ‘Gluttony’ murder in Seven.
At times it works. The first single “Squalor Opera” is one of the best songs the band has ever written, delivering a delightfully catchy chorus before exploding into blastbeats, wriggling riffs, and a chuggy tempo shift that hits like the mutated appendage of some B-movie monster. Likewise, the album’s varied riffing allows the group to stretch further into styles they’ve only toyed with in the past. “Vespertine Decay” and “Visceral Despondency” are built from genuine melodeath riffs that could have been pulled straight from The Black Dahlia Murder, while closer “The Final Absolution” sounds like Archspire Junior with its blindingly quick notes. Through it all, the drumming is tighter than a Chihuahua’s asshole, while the guitar solos are more melodic and extravagant than almost any they’ve written before.
Unfortunately, not everything fares so well. “Farewell to the Flesh” is an early misstep whose dizzying riffs and shifting tempos never come together into anything compelling. While nothing else is as bad, other songs suffer because the sheer number of riffs prevents the band from capitalizing on anyone in particular. “Deep Red” could have been a better song, for instance, if it actually returned to that great crunchy groove at the beginning instead of treating it merely as an introductory idea. On first listen TerrorVision’s 45 minutes are daunting in the sheer amount of stuff thrown at the listener, often making it hard to differentiate tracks or follow along. The production doesn’t help either. While the clear sound is a good fit for the style, the loudness makes it too easy to tune things out.
Luckily there are more hits than misses, and the band offers enough notable ideas to keep things engaging on repeat listens. Likewise, Sven’s demented gurgles are just as great as they’ve always been, sounding like a garbage disposal that’s gained both sentience and an unhealthy obsession with the Hellraiser films. Even the lyrics, which place the negative influence of the news and social media into a horror movie context, have a more thoughtful theme than you’d expect. It all makes TerrorVision tough to judge. While it’s an enjoyable album that clearly had a lot of effort put into it, it’s hard to get past the overstuffed songwriting. Fans of Aborted and similar acts like Benighted and Leng Tch’e are sure to revel in the gore as always, but I can’t shake the feeling that this TerrorVision suffers from a bit too much static.