Usually when we review albums, our readers have only our flimsy prose to rely on in order to make an informed purchase. Sure, we’ll embed a Bandcamp single or music video into the review in almost all cases, but those pre-release tracks are typically selected in order to quickly hook the listener, rather than to give a broad overview of the record in question. So then, what we’re doing with Grand Abominations, the debut LP of Philadelphia black/prog/thrash metal act Botis, is a bit of a treat: you not only get to endure my flimsy prose, but you also have the opportunity to explore the entire record ahead of its release. Believe me when I say that we would not have agreed to do this had Botis‘ material not been up to snuff.
At the bottom of this review you’ll find an embedded stream of Grand Abominations in its entirety. You might as well click play on that before scrolling any further, because this record speaks for itself better than I ever could, through both its dizzying complexity and top-notch songwriting. I’ll let my review do the rest of the talking, just in case you need my armchair expertise to help you decide whether or not you should like this record.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out in the black metal scene, and fucking hell if I’m not sick of saying that. It feels necessary to say, though, because so many black metal acts don’t come across as particularly innovative on first exposure. That’s what makes Philadelphia’s Botis so refreshing. While many new bands merely represent the latest derivation of current black metal trends, Botis, which shares three members with AMG hall-of-famers Lör, opts for a sound removed from any established era or sub-subgenre. The building blocks used to get there are recognizable, but the way Botis rearranges those components into a highly progressive and distinctly American sound makes Grand Abominations an uncommonly confident debut.
Botis describes the music on Grand Abominations as a mathy blend of black and thrash metal. While opener “Descent” exhibits crunchy, mid-paced thrash stomps to complement its blastbeating thesis, don’t go in expecting something like Skeletonwitch. Rather, Botis operates like a primal, efficient take on Enslaved at its riffiest, packing an impressive array of ideas and time signature changes into tracks averaging around five minutes apiece. Regular tempo breakdowns and the tom fill heavy performances from drummer Greg Bogart lend Grand Abominations an underlying aesthetic much closer to hardcore than thrash to these ears. This unique rhythmic approach, coupled with guitarist Erik Levitsky’s firm handle on traditional black metal and prog stylings, makes for an intriguing sound that has remained fresh for me over close to a dozen listens.
While Botis‘ sonic language is refreshing in its distinctness, the band’s songwriting chops make an even greater selling point. Levitsky has an amazing knack for constructing songs around a single riff, morphing said riff throughout in a way that carries the composition through unprecedented tonal and rhythmic shifts. From here, the band branches off into more isolated ideas before circling back to the central hook. These tangents can occasionally feel disjointed, but they excel in providing a great deal of in-track variety without ever abandoning the core riff. I do wish Grand Abominations‘ melodic personality was somewhat more pronounced, as most note progressions fall into serviceable if predictable second wave grimness. Even in this area there are still standout moments, though, as exhibited in the melancholic, piano-underscored outro of “Gullet,” or the unsettling yet gorgeous tremolo riff at the center of “Serpentine.”
Though Botis rarely unveils the full potential of its melodic chops, Grand Abominations is bolstered elsewhere by atmospheric background elements. The eerie backing choir in “Rodente” and the cavernous ambient noise found in “The Magus” are great examples of these effects, but they are utilized sparingly so as not to detract from the excellent performances. This balance comes courtesy of vocalist Peter Hraur, who handles all aspects of production. From the creaking, biting guitar tone to the natural, thundering drums, Hraur excels at grounding Botis‘ heaviness in reality. I’m not a fan of all his engineering decisions, as his vicious death rasps are saddled with heavy reverb and mixed far too loud, but the vocal mixing isn’t bad enough to mask the instrumentals. Much like his work in producing Lör‘s debut, Grand Abominations‘ sound is charmingly DIY – and I do very much share his affinity for thick, crunchy bass guitar presence.
I’ve gone on about how Botis is a standout act in terms of execution, songwriting, and talent; all of these things contribute to making Grand Abominations a standout debut, but its true means of success is more intangible. Botis‘ sound is not particularly “catchy” in any sense, yet the music on this debut is utterly addictive in its complexity. The way the band’s progressive personality imbues its relatively accessible black metal base with rewarding depths is of a quality I haven’t heard since last year’s Infera Bruo LP, and it’s remarkable that Botis is damned close to matching that band’s quality only one album in. I’m beyond intrigued to hear Botis‘ sound evolve in the coming years, because it’s not hard to imagine them becoming one of America’s great black metal acts with the smallest bit of refinement. If I haven’t made it clear already, you shouldn’t allow the minor blemishes to keep you from diving in.