Vinyl VVednesday – Abysmal Dawn’s Phylogenesis
Abysmal Dawn is one of my favorite modern death metal bands: with five albums under their belt and countless live shows performed, they have yet to disappoint. Quite the opposite in fact, as I am continually impressed by each new release. Their newest LP Phylogenesis continues that pattern, so let’s examine all the reasons why whilst listening to it on vinyl.
The first thing to keep in mind is that their artwork could use an entire article all its own. Each album cover contains exquisite detail best appreciated in a larger format, such as with the decades-old format I’m discussing today. Viewing any of them through a small window in BandCamp or Spotify just doesn’t do Par Olofsson’s amazing work justice. And what’s particularly cool about Abysmal Dawn’s discography is how each album cover contains, in some form or another, their signature black hole. It’s no mystery why our parents would purchase a new vinyl album and take some time examining the artwork of a new Yes record, combing over every detail of Roger Dean’s amazing work while listening to the album for the first time. Abysmal Dawn presents to us a similar experience:
In case you aren’t familiar with previous works, I’ll go ahead and include an image of their previous album (signed by lead vocalist and guitar player Charles Elliot) Obsolescence, here for your viewing pleasure:
Artwork aside, how does Phylogenesis stack up in the context of their entire discography? I could summarize this entire review with one sentence: the band won’t surprise anybody with some incredibly different ingredients to their repertoire of death metal. But it’s clear that the Los Angeles quartet keeps honing their craft, continually sharpening an already sharp blade using the same ingredients that they’ve always used, becoming more and more precise with each iteration. The bottom line is this: if you like Abysmal Dawn, you will either like or love Phylogenesis. Their ability to continually churn out interesting compositions is respectable in its own right, but to improve upon each album released prior to the current one is downright impressive. They don’t deviate very far from the core formula and perhaps that is their key to success in the death metal community. (We don’t like huge deviations very much, do we?)
If you’re unfamiliar with Abysmal Dawn, I can give you a quick run-down of what to expect. Most of the songs loosely follow the common pop structure: a trade-off or two with a verse and a chorus (many times with accompanying tempo changes), a bridge consisting of generally faster riffs and a string of blazing solos, and at the finish line a return to the “chorus” to wrap it up. Some of their most crowd-pleasing songs in the live settings are the slower ones with impeccable groove, namely “Inanimate” from Obsolescence or “In Service of Time” from Leveling the Plane of Existence (rarely will you see so many heads banging in unison during a death metal show as with those two monsters). While I don’t think there’s any one song as instantly accessible and therefore an obvious choice for classic as those, the closest is probably “Soul-Sick Nation”:
Because this band has a sort of limited palette of ingredients to use when concocting their music, the quality of the songs lives or dies based on the songwriting; and the songs on this album, like all of their previous, live! Phylogenesis consists of 8 expertly-crafted death metal tunes, each distinct from the others in their composition (in contrast to someone like Cannibal Corpse, whose every song feels like the one that came before it—not necessarily an insult). There are pockets of groove interspersed with passages of blazing death metal riffs and double bass kicks, topped with Charles’s effortless ability to switch between a deep growl and a high-pitch shriek. One might suspect the formula to get old after a while, but they don’t show any signs of running out of steam, even 5 albums into their career. If anything, they keep getting better at it, as I alluded to earlier.
Regarding the mixing/mastering: yes I have heard the complaints about it. When listening to this album on a set of cheap desktop computer speakers or low-cost earbuds, it doesn’t sound that great. The double bass kicks feel neutered and the bass is hidden way in the back. I can safely say that none of these issues are present when listening on a home stereo system with adjustable EQ and general receiver settings. Turn up the subwoofer a little bit and you’ve got your foundation-rattling double-bass. Tweak the mid-range frequencies a little and the bass guitar comes to life. I would describe the mix (which was produced and mixed by Charles himself) as warm, organic, balanced, and quite good at emulating the live setting.
I waited 6 years for a new Abysmal Dawn record… plenty of time for a fanboy like me to really miss having them around. And after that long wait, I can confidently tell you that Phylogenesis was extremely worth it. One might call this a dish of “comfort food”, in that it’s pretty darn similar to the high quality output we’ve been receiving from the band since their inception. Having said that, I am continually blown away by the band’s ability to expertly craft technical, yet catchy, death metal songs that get more interesting with each new release. I adore this album on vinyl, the experience eclipses listening on my desktop computer or even my car’s stock sound system. The artwork is phenomenal, but to do it justice you need this on the larger canvas. Lastly, I believe the record was mixed for a setting in which a few audio tweaks can truly make this excellent music shine.
(4.5 out of 5 emojis)
Phylogenesis was released April 17, 2020 on Season of Mist Records. You can find links for the digital, CD, cassette, and vinyl at their BandCamp page. They’re also active on Instagram with frequent updates and interaction with their fans.
(image via Distorted Sound)