Dissonant death metal is a polarizing style, one whose purposes are often unclear. While it encompasses a variety of interpretations, its beginnings in Immolation and Demilich can be summed up in its attempted balance of malice and menace. British death metal act Abyssal‘s fourth full-length A Beacon in the Husk is the perfection of this balance: a sunless journey into the depths of the abyss, guided by its philosophical lyricism and patient dynamics.

Much like its predecessor Antikatastaseis, 2019’s offering balances the heft and accessibility of debut Denouement with the murk of Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. The difference, however, lies in the cohesion: while 2017 provided a batch of well-balanced doom- and black-influenced disso-death songs, it ultimately felt like a compilation. Beacon, however, is an album guided by its esoteric storytelling, resulting in a more tightened, unified sound. Broken into three distinct movements with an intro and epilogue, this macro-cosmically chaotic album is furthermore distinguished by its intricate structures and nuances within the ambiance and noise.

Each piece of A Beacon in the Husk feels distinct, but ultimately connected. Intro “Dialogue” is the clearest Denouement homage, a straightforward death metal affair, while the two “Recollection” tracks revel in ominous ambiance, reflecting lyrical serenity. While the “Discernment” and “Descent” movements are relatively similar in their blackened Mitochondrion meets Ulcerate flavor, the difference lies in mood: the former relies on frantic songwriting, while the latter focuses on sprawl in its spiraling, madness-inducing eeriness. Each movement is held together by its dissonant melodies and overwhelmingly viscous riffs, suggesting sludge or drone proportions, while lyrics detail a personal journey into the core of futile human purpose and universal phenomenological transcendence.

Upon further listens, while each track stands as a deeper study into the universal abstract, each has its own flavors to unveil. “I – Recollection: Awakening / Metamorphosis” and “III – Descent: A Beacon in the Husk” feature suffocating monolithic doom riffs as centerpieces, the climactic and frantic “Discernment” trilogy sport blackened tremolo passages and percussive styles that offer eerie respites to the mountains of sound. Closer “Soliloquy” is stunning in its clean ambiance, offering a bleak yet undeniably beautiful conclusion to the album. The ability of sole member G.D.C. to craft death metal tracks, much less movements, that are stunningly unique yet adhering to a consistent style shows fantastic songwriting skills and devotion to theme.

It feels unfair to assign labels to Abyssal. While comparisons to other disso-giants are warranted, A Beacon in the Husk feels like an entirely different beast, one that evades description and transcends genres. It’s a profound listen, its lyrics a commentary on human nature and the immense blackness that awaits, while its sound reflects it. I felt winded afterwards, like I had learned some grave truth that I couldn’t vocalize–a triumph not just in disso-death but in metal as a whole. It may be a challenging album that requires multiple listens to breach its event horizon, but it ultimately feels like a journey: a beautiful yet terrifying, intricately constructed universe built into its density. This is the highest compliment I can offer a metal album this year. “A beacon in the husk of man indeed, but not a beacon of illumination.”

Tracks to Contemplate Man’s Futile Existence to: Each track is a piece in the universal jigsaw of suffering.