Before we dive headlong into a review of Mesa, the new album by German death/doomers Abyssous, there’s something we should discuss as a metal community: interlude abuse. Sure, we all have favorite albums that feature an intro track, or a brief instrumental just before a knock-down, drag-out closer. In moderation, such things are fine. But surely I’m not the only one noticing a sharp rise in superfluous, often effects laden interludes. Ostensibly, these serve to build atmosphere. But if atmosphere isn’t being built in your songs, small chunks of pulsating static are unlikely to help. As a habitual interlude skipper, I’m of the mind that unless your name happens to be Brian Eno, that ambient sound experiment you’re thinking of plopping into your album just as likely belongs in a folder on your desktop titled “Donkin’ Around.”
As you may have guessed, this is pertinent to the second album—following a six year gap—by Abyssous. Mesa consists of ten tracks: five songs, each preceded by an intro/interlude. But before we fill up on bread sticks, let’s talk about the entrees. Abyssous play death doom with an emphasis on the former, eschewing mournful melodies in favor of punishing riffs that oscillate between rapid fire brutality and a leaden, persistent throb. In this way, they’re contemporaries of Temple of Void and Spectral Voice, who each set tongues wagging with their respective albums last year. Unlike Spectral Voice, however, Abyssous never toy with passages of maudlin funeral doom. Indeed, doom elements of any kind are merely hinted at until the back-half of the album, where they erupt into full, satisfying view.
After “opening” with the mid-paced—yet instrumentally vibrant—death metal of the title track, “Impelled” bursts forward behind a clattering drum blast and scorches the listener for the next four minutes. The song pitches and careens, but is anchored by a solid backbone of riffs. Two thirds of the way through, a nimble guitar solo interrupts with its own controlled chaos, making “Impelled” an early highlight. After brief flirtations with doom in previous tracks, penultimate song “Aerosoils” brings it fully to bear, with a lumbering riff that turns menacing 30 seconds in. This slower tempo doesn’t release the tension built to this point so much as change it to something darker. The Incantationanigans continue apace until spidery guitar lines weave and wail above a ritualistic rhythm that takes its sweet time bringing “Aerosoils” to an end. Closer “Congealed Lores” molds the molten slag of everything before it into the true album highlight, a nine-plus minute juggernaut that never feels ponderous.
Ah, but those interludes, tho. Looking at Mesa’s brisk 35 minute runtime, one wonders if after six years between releases, the gaggle of interludes is a way to stretch an EP into, as the promo materials call it, a “mini-album.” Maybe Abyssous just liked the conceptual symmetry. Whatever the reason, the listening experience could be improved by dropping three entirely. Those ethereal undulations perforating the album feel overly produced when compared to the cavernous death metal. Speaking of, I wouldn’t call this “caverncore,” but it edges that direction. The low end is slightly clipped, the drums sound dry, and the guitar tone is like walking face-first into a mass of spider webs. Production aside, the interludes dampen the natural momentum of the songs. The most integrated track, “Vesspense” pulls its own weight, but could just as easily be absorbed into “Aerosoils.”
So what’s a reviewer to do? Each full song on Mesa is good to great death-forward death/doom. And yet, Abyssous are flagrant participants in one of the more irksome trends in metal album composition. I have no choice but to apply demerits to an otherwise impressive release. If interludes are your thing, by all means have at it. If you’re like me, download the album, delete a few tracks, and enjoy one of the strongest EPs of the year.