Death metal is all about bludgeoning with extreme prejudice, but it also used to coincide with great songwriting. While the former has never been in question, I can’t consistently say the same of the latter. In an effort to cohesively combine the two, modernity has mutated penmanship into an almost grotesque caricature, often mistaking style for substance. Sometimes, however, proficiency and profusion meet in the middle to summon a storm of genuine portent. The Maltese death dealers, Abysmal Torment, have embarked upon a run of sustained quality and their fourth full-length, The Misanthrope, shows no sign of slowing. A bluster of tech-savvy brutality is contained within, with a level of craftsmanship sure to appeal to anyone with a mind for mayhem and an appetite for destruction.
There are plenty of bands more than equal to the task of marrying technicality with crippling density, but The Misanthrope might have just cemented Abysmal Torment‘s status as modern Olympians capable of overturning their titanic forebears. The band’s equivalence of Cryptopsy and Dehumanized continues to savage, but this time with enhanced prowess. In fact, every facet of the album seeks to improve upon its predecessor. The Misanthrope is half the length of Cultivate the Apostate and its contents are similarly edited. Each song clocks in at just under 4 minutes of torrential tyranny, accentuating the efficacy without testing the attention span.
The real devil in the detail is the bold sense of dramaturgy that qualifies the material’s musicality. The vortices of wrath and rhythm the band revel in are potent, not just because of how expertly wrought they are, but rather how seamlessly they are established. “The Misanthrope” thrills with a bilious thunder-riff that eventually modifies with a tirade of perfectly placed sweeps, while “Squalid Thoughts” effectively personifies the genre with perhaps the best brutal death metal song I’ve heard this year. Guitarists David Depasquale and Kurt Pace ply “Dread” and “Second Death” with enough bloody-minded tenacity to truly pummel the storm doors, and for a while all is well. And therein lies an issue. The Misanthrope is tellingly front-loaded. Although none of the songs are even close to bad, the album’s second wind is noticeably less dynamic than its first. With the exception of “Strains of Brutality,” which intimidates with a burly squall of slams, the album, like auto-erotic asphyxiation, threatens to end in disaster after a fun start. Fortunately, this isn’t the case, but the strength of the first half does retroactively overshadow the remaining tracks.
Abysmal Torment are quick to embrace excess, as all good death metal bands should. While this is evident in the hyper-modern production, it also infects the vocal department. Dual vocalists are a novelty, and rarely an effective one, especially in death metal. Nick Farrugia’s seismic growls are more than able, yet somehow share a credit with Melchior Borg. While I’m sure Mr. Borg is individually talented, I had no idea he was even present and defy anyone to tell me otherwise. His contribution seems to be the addition of more fevered screams, which I assumed were the product of a layering effect of Farrugia’s own vocals, as is the modern standard. Unless he features more prominently on future releases, I’m not entirely convinced he’s necessary. Fortunately, drummer, Max Vassallo, is on hand to shift the attention with his inhuman skill. “The Pessimist” — a pseudo-instrumental intermittently narrated by excerpts from Matthew McConaughey’s character from True Detective — deviates from his cyclonic pace by focusing on more deliberate riffs. The relative respite draws Vassallo’s more restrained nuances to the fore and enhances his omnidirectional wave of rhythm.
Some might quibble at my criticisms, but the quality on The Misanthrope is such that the material demands to be held to an equally high standard. Abysmal Torment have breathed life into a golem of sublimely destructive intent and while that sense of creative dynamism doesn’t permeate the entire album, the recoil certainly does. Under no circumstance is The Misanthrope to be underestimated. If the next record can better pace its content and the band either divest themselves of novelty or fully utilize their commodities, then an aural apocalypse may well be on the horizon. Until then, Abysmal Torment have more than proved they deal in cataclysmic fare, only.