Not every Celtic Frost doppelgänger is good,1 but Totengott made sure their Doppelgänger was. This Spanish trio’s 2017 debut took great pains to emulate the sound of Monotheist and Triptykon, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom G. Warrior applied for a restraining order after its release. Nonetheless, the album was still enjoyable, in part because it had one of the best production jobs of anything I’ve ever reviewed on this site. Given that Totengott began life as a Frost cover band in 2013, it’s unsurprising that second album The Abyss largely continues to worship Warrior like he’s a god in human flesh.
In fact, at first glance Abyss seems like little more than a remake of its predecessor. Both albums are comprised of three main tracks: a fast thrashy track, a slow doomy track, and an even slower, doomier, and longer title track. Abyss only breaks from this template with its extended intro “Ceremony I: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” a six-minute burner which begins with windswept clean picking before teasing its way into something heavier through the use of orchestral strings and intermittent distorted chords. Finishing with some echoing and commanding clean vocals, it’s an effective scene-setter that does a good job dragging the listener into that abyssal cover art.
The main tracks have some pretty good ideas as well. “Ceremony II: The Way of Sin” is the album’s “thrashy” track and is easily the best song here, with beefy, chunky, and groovy riffs delivered via a guitar tone so massive that it makes things sound like Electric Wizard gone thrash.2 Complete with the gruff Warrior-esque shouts of vocalist and guitarist Chou Saavedra, it’s a terrific six-minute banger that sounds like the heaviest version of Morbid Tales imaginable. “The Spell” and “Doppelgänger II: The Abyss” slow the tempo with fat resonating chords and big bludgeoning chugs, the latter of which pack a lot more wallop than similar moments from the debut. Complete with eerie cleanly picked choruses and mellow passages where the strings take center stage, they’re dynamic songs that arrange their ideas well.
Sadly these doomy tracks lack the payoff needed for songs of their length. “Spell” delivers an interesting passage of ritualistic drumming and death growls3 near its ending, but that’s far from the climax that a 13-minute song deserves. Likewise, while “Abyss” occasionally employs a nice slithering melody, its 22-minute runtime causes the song to stagger along without purpose in its final minutes. A few more leads and melodic moments definitely would have helped. Likewise, considering how good “The Way of Sin” is, it wouldn’t have hurt to add some thrashy sections to the album’s second half (or even a second thrashy song altogether). Though I don’t love the production quite as much as Doppelgänger‘s, there’s little to complain about on that front. The drumming is lively, the bass is thick, and the guitars feel like a boulder being dropped on one’s eardrums. Garnished with the occasional string accompaniment and even some choral vocals, the overall effect is a suitably dense and brooding atmosphere.
In the end, I’m pretty conflicted about The Abyss. While the riffs and songwriting are slightly improved, I actually find myself enjoying Abyss slightly less than I enjoyed the debut when it came out two years ago. The album follows virtually the same template as its predecessor and while that worked alright the first time around, it’s time for Totengott to start mixing up their approach. As it stands Abyss starts out strong but begins to drag during its doomy tracks and never really regains its initial strength. I still think this is a neat band that’s sure to be appreciated by fans of Triptykon and Celtic Frost. But if more albums like this are all they have in them, I’m not sure how much I’ll want to join them for another go round.