Metal, as a rule, is an exercise in excess. Of the “popular” musical styles, it’s the loudest, the heaviest, the angriest, the most extreme. Thematically, topics of death and darkness are presented with superlative hyperbole. For non-fans, it’s all about as subtle as a volcanic explosion. We, of course, know better. Within each metal sub-genre, bands fall on a relative spectrum ranging from “tastefully restrained” to “over-indulgent like, whoa.” But what does the latter look like when the sub-genre is already known for being the -est? Say, funeral doom? It looks something like Norway-based Abyssic‘s second full-length, High the Memory. Starting with the template laid down by the likes of Skepticism and other pioneering acts, Abyssic add occasional touches of black metal and prog to their slow death march, but this is hardly unique. High the Memory has a daunting runtime of 78 minutes, but that’s not even as long as the single track of Mirror Reaper. So what about this constitutes excess?
Consisting of current and former members of bands as diverse as Suspiria, Funeral, and Dimmu Borgir, Abyssic‘s take on funeral doom would be pretty basic if it wasn’t for one Mr. André Aaslie. Handling all keyboard and “orchestration” duties, Aaslie is the ingredient that pushes Abyssic not only into symphonic funeral doom territory but to its outer edges of indulgence. Opening salvo “Adornation” fades in with a slow build of synthesized strings and brass to one of many crescendos found throughout High the Memory before a monolithic guitar riff hits. Keyboards that include mellotron choirs and echo-y Minimoog bloopy-woops continue to fill any pocket or corner not occupied by guitars, drums or vocalist Memnock’s deep death growls. At a scant eight minutes and twelve seconds, “Adornation” is easily the shortest track, but it’s a good stretch session before the marathon that follows.
So, is this heavy focus on orchestration and keyboards a good or bad thing? That question has been surprisingly difficult for this reviewer to answer. On the one hand, it’s certainly novel. Many bands playing this particular type of metal, from the aforementioned Skepticism to Shape of Despair employ keyboards to enhance the dolorous mood. Abyssic, however, take the most memorable swelling, symphonic moments from other funeral songs and string them together into an unbroken chain. All that swelling means the songs are perpetually, um, swole. This will no doubt energize what is normally considered ponderous music for many listeners, but others may find the constant turgidity tiring. For my part, I find it works more often than not, but it had to grow on me (these jokes just write themselves, honestly).
When High the Memory brings every component to bear equally, this is monstrous music that reaches cosmic heights. “Where My Pain Lies” is a 20-minute juggernaut of weeping guitars, massive riffing and weaving orchestration that progresses through movements nicely while still remembering to call back to earlier melodies late in the song. The Minimoog makes a return as woo-woos entwine with harpsichord fills that somehow fit perfectly with the giant guitars. On a side note, this is a great sounding record with a mix that gives each instrument the space it needs to keep long compositions texturally interesting. The album’s other 20-plus-minute song is more challenging. If the orchestrations are swept off the title track’s surface, only the barest of songwriting bones remain. A lovely melody emerges more than a third of the way through, but it’s not twenty-minutes-and thirty-nine-seconds lovely. Such a long atmospheric track would be better suited for the second half of the album rather than the second song, when respite from the highly saturated sorrow would be more welcome.
Speaking of saturated, each song on High the Memory by itself is like a piece of rich, sad, doomy cheesecake. I can eat the hell out of one piece, but if I had to eat the whole cake in one sitting, I’d get the sweats before the end. Abyssic have crafted an album that creatively stands out from the crowd thanks to its unbridled orchestral component, and I have no doubt it will click—and swell and crescendo—with a lot of people. In controlled portions, I’m one of them.