Vinyl Review: Abyssal – A Beacon In the Husk

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It took me a really long time to compose my review of the newest LP from mysterious cavernous death-metallers Abyssal. Aside from life getting in the way; I wanted to hunt down the vinyl release, give it multiple listens to sink in (as I didn’t trust my initial evaluation), and take the time to carefully compose a review as intricate as the release itself. Here are my thoughts on A Beacon In the Husk, an incredibly anticipated release from a band who completely blew me away with their 2015 masterpiece Antikatastaseis.

Note: attention must be paid to the physical release itself, which is certainly going to assist in increasing the quantitative score given at the end of the review. The quality of the packaging reflects the detail-oriented composition of not only the individual songs but of the entirety of the album. Before we delve into each movement I will provide you with a guidebook for this journey, detailing each of its twists and turns.

Dialogue

Serving as a precursor to our three-phase journey through… a story which I don’t fully understand, we are treated with a track that could have easily fit onto the previous LP which we at the Toilet loved so much. The biggest change from that record to this one is its classification as a concept album: each individual track on A Beacon In the Husk serves as a chapter to an overarching story line, whereas Antikatistaseis felt like a collection of disparate songs. I can’t claim to have a preference of either approach to the compositions, it’s all about the songwriting; and their 2015 album had some of the best in the scene. “Dialogue” is a self-contained epic in its own right, with a discreet beginning, middle and end. Upon listening to that track alone one might think the band has given us a similar product. Alas, it is simply as I have described above, a “precursor” to a behemoth of a follow-up.

Part I: Recollection

Following what we might call an introductory track (albeit a monster of one), this is a bit of a let-down. The one-two punch whimper of “Awakening / Metamorphosis” and “The Cloister Beneath” sure do take their time in establishing a mood, simply dripping with layers of ambiance upon atmospheric doom. This is the kind of move that was less prevalent in the preceding LP and a hurdle which frequently caused me to stop going further (to be fair I’m not a big doom person). I suppose what they accomplish here, they do well; but it’s still not my cup of tea. I imagine that people who enjoy this pace of music are simply going to love it. Your mileage may vary, so please listen and evaluate on your own.

Part II: Discernment

Recollection may not checked all the boxes of what I love about this band, so I hoped it was just a glacial build-up for some chaos to come… fortunately it serves exactly that purpose and segues into some music that leans heavily into the more death aspects of their cavernous-flavored take on the genre. Discernment hits hard and with immediacy, the first track being a short assault of high-speed riffage accompanied by plentiful blast beats on “The Cloister Beneath the Grime“. Abyssal accomplishes a lot in that sub-five minute runtime, but the intensity doesn’t let up for long in this mini-trilogy of headbangers. Each of the next two stepping stones features instances of the band’s trademark combination of melody and brutality, the first being utilized as a sort of verse between bouts of chaos in the gorgeous head-spinner “Kyphotic Suzerians”. The second when it masterfully transitions to a melody-infused crawl towards the end (good doom). This is my favorite song on the whole suite, it embodies everything that I love about the band:

Part III: Descent

In an expected move, the third movement finds the band slowing down just a bit. It’s not as droning as Recollection, but think of it as more of a stylistic combination of that and Discernment. Here is also where I feel obligated to point out one small flaw in the record: the drums that cannot help but sound like they’re programmed, especially during times of furious blast beating. What I mean to say here is that the drums might not have stuck out so much if the band hadn’t pushed them to the forefront as heavily as they did with the final moments of the title track. Sure it’s a minor criticism, but a necessary one when discussing a band as prestigious as this one.

Conclusion

I have listened to A Beacon In the Husk at least 20 times in preparation for this. Upon its initial release I was quite let down and wanted no part of writing a review; but I persevered. It was a combination of factors which kept me invested in the album: the higher price of the vinyl release, admiration for the meticulously crafted package, and a built-in love for the band’s previous works. I’m extremely glad for the time investment, because after about 15 listens something clicked and my disappointment turned into appreciation. A month ago my score might have been a paltry two out of five; but now it’s a completely different story. And it truly helps that listening to this monster of an album on a format as crisp and clear as vinyl – on a respectable home theater system – is immensely rewarding even when the songs aren’t immediately gratifying. All of the minute details are as vivid as the vibrant riffs and melodies, the band’s hard work wonderfully illustrated in a way that might have been missed whilst casually listening to a BandCamp embed at work or on an MP3 player in the car. It literally demands the listener’s attention, but also rewards it with aplomb. Donning a few minor criticisms, this is a highly intricate release that will easily be in any death metal fan’s top 10 of 2019.

4 / 5 hooded figures in the candle-lit darkness

A Beacon In the Husk was released earlier this year on Profound Lore records. Nab the digital at BandCamp or pay whatever price to order the amazing vinyl package.

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