An Abstract Illusion – Woe Review

OK. Let’s take a minute to step back and breathe in that gorgeous Adam Burke artwork. What do its dark hues conjure for you? Hidden depths and barely concealed beauty? Perhaps. A sense of unease and something slightly unsettling, coupled with almost unbearable amount of sorrow? Certainly. A feeling that, for all the abstract, organic chaos, it’s also somehow carefully calculated and brilliantly composed? No? It does for me. Oh well, all art’s subjective, isn’t it? But, personally, I think all this and more is what Swedish trio An Abstract Illusion were going for when they chose, or commissioned, this piece for Woe. The band’s second album, Woe is the follow-up to 2016’s Illuminate the Path. A slab of progressive death metal with hints of black metal bleeding in from the edges, Illuminate the Path was a very good record. Does it bode ill, however, that it’s taken An Abstract Illusion over six years to pen its successor?

As the title might suggest, Woe is a record packed with bleak soundscapes and drenched in misery. Sprawled across almost an hour of beautiful depression, An Abstract Illusion’s latest work feels like a single flowing composition, rather than the seven tracks it’s presented as. Heavier and channeling a more blackened and atmospheric edge into the progressive death metal of its predecessor, there is a swirling sense of barely controlled chaos that lies just beneath the surface of Woe. The interweaving of progressive death and atmospheric black metal is done with a skill that recalls Iapetus’ The Body Cosmic and Wills Dissolve but with the added razor edge of early Ne Obliviscaris (“Slaves”). In just a few of the techier moments on the record (back end of “Tear Down this Holy Mountain”), there’s also something of the confident swagger that defined last year’s First Fragment.1 In its more progressive moments, however, as Karl Westerlund’s guitar soars into the heavens, there is an Opeth-like quality to An Abstract Illusion.

Throughout Woe, whoever the drummer is—no credit is given in the promo materials or anywhere else that I can find—instills a metronomically precise canter to the record, both propelling it forward and adding a rich layer of technicality that allows Westerlund, who handles both guitar and bass, to focus on delivering rich, textured riffs. This is not to suggest the guitar work is simplistic but the percussion means Westerlund doesn’t need out-and-out technicality. Instead, his riffs give An Abstract Illusion a melodicism that belies the heaviness on show on Woe. On potential song o’ the year, “In the Heavens Above, You Will Become a Monster,” the shifts between atmospheric death, blackened and batshit crazy progressive death metal that Devin Townsend would be proud of come thick and fast but also seamlessly.

Former drummer, Christian Berglönn, is now billed solely as vocalist and is joined on mic duties by keyboardist Robert Stenvall. The harsh vocals that dominate and, I assume are, Berglönn, are a gravel-edged, rasping roar torn straight out of an aching chest. These work incredibly well, adding still more depth to An Abstract Illusion’s sound. Peppered across the record, however, are a few sections of cleans. These are of wildly varying quality, with those on epic closer “This Torment has no End, Only New Beginnings,” for example, sounding like Morningrise-era Mikael Åkerfeldt and working well. At the other end of the spectrum, is what happens early on in “Slaves” and right near the start of the slightly djenty “Prosperity,” which are both out of key and out of time. I don’t know which singer to point the finger at for this but they are, thankfully, rare blips in an otherwise near faultless record. Stenvall’s keyboards are excellent, both in tracks likes “In the Heavens Above …” and on percussion-free interlude “Blomsterkrans” (and perhaps he is also responsible for the unexpected but most welcome clarinet, that appears in “Tear Down this Holy Mountain”).

Sporting excellent production and fantastic pacing, Woe is a great album. The only things holding back An Abstract Illusion are a few of the clean vocals and a very slight feeling of bloat. If I were trying to put my finger on exactly where this lies, I would point to “Prosperity,” which is decent but of lesser quality than the rest of Woe, and perhaps the last few minutes of closer “This Torment has no End …” These are very minor gripes, however. Woe is, for the most part, an album of incredible consistency and great vision, that is both well written and beautifully executed. Everything you hope for and expect from that cover art is here in spades.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 9th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Which also sported an Adam Burke cover, it should be noted.
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