I will award no prizes for guessing what kind of music Abythic play. A name like that is tell-tale enough, and releasing their debut on Sweden’s Blood Harvest, a label perhaps best-known for their work with bands like Impetuous Ritual, Triumvir Foul, and Tomb Mold, doubles down on any preconceptions you might have. The order of the day is doomy, dirty death metal, an ever-welcome houseguest at the home of Kronos. Keep your coat on and track mud all over the place, I don’t give a shit so long as you brought riffs to the potluck and are prepared to serve them. Judgment comes after the meal.
Nothing about Beneath Ancient Portals challenges the consumer, and it’s that familiarity which makes it so easy to add to your plate. A power chord here, a blastbeat there, a mid-tempo blastbeat, all poured into five- to six-minute-wide molds. The band didn’t learn how to make this shit at some fancy school; it’s the age-old recipe handed down from their elders, modified through the ages as more and more ingredients became available in canned form. On a certain level, it’s very comforting. The guitarists never try anything fancy, sticking to the basic trem-picked and palm-muted patterns that trve death metal established for itself in the early ’90s, and it’s easy to imagine this coming from the same stock boiling up through classics like Onward to Golgotha.
But those classics are classics for a reason – that reason being that they don’t sound like Beneath Ancient Portals. While the tones and production are spot-on, you can taste hardly a hint of the danger and the madness on which death metal thrives. The base is all prepared as you’d expect, but not a single new ingredient was added. Where is the flavor? Where is the challenge? These songs move at such a slow pace, and not a dramatic one, that hardly a second passes by when you don’t wonder when Abythic are going to do something. A great death metal band will drag you at a torturous pace and grind you into anxiety, or rip you away from yourself and into their blistering inferno. Bands willing to do this bring life to the party; they are the interesting person you drink with until it’s suddenly tomorrow. Never does a great death metal band stroll along and nod as you walk past.
No part of Beneath Ancient Portals breaks the barrier of polite society. On occasion, Abythic acknowledge your presence with a tempo change or even a lead, but for the most part, they content themselves with an unobtrusive existence at the corner of the room. What’s going on in Abythic‘s head? Are they biding their time, learning the dos and dont’s, so that one day they can deploy a dazzling display? Or is it not clear to them what they now lack – a sense of ambition or accomplishment, a whiff of personality and a glint of originality? Towards the end of their stay, they seem to come out of their shell a bit, but when Beneath Ancient Portals is gone, so is any memory of what was once there.
This album lacks pungency, nuance, and vulgarity. It offers something we can eat, but nothing we can savor. Every riff, every drum pattern, and every growl on this record has been recorded and forgotten a half dozen times in the past thirty years. Why repeat the cycle? This is an album I enjoy as background music – it has all of the requisite death metal albums to send feet tapping and heads bobbing – but the second I pay attention to it, I’m left disappointed by its stalwart simplicity. If you’re a meat-and-potatoes, leftover spaghetti, bland-ham-sandwich-death metal over, it might be difficult to grasp why anyone needs to stake out a path away from the tired and true. But if, like me, you crave just a little something you’ve never sampled before, Beneath Ancient Portals has little to offer.