Thursday, January 28, 2016

Abbath - Abbath (2016)

I'm probably in the minority of folks who hoped against all hope that the eponymous Abbath solo album would be far more geared towards the stylistic choices of I's Between Two Worlds rather than Immortal itself. Not that I've got much of a problem with this duo's mainstay; beyond the drama generated within the 'brand' over the last few years, they're an ace group and I've enjoyed nearly every single full-length they've released dating back to when I had just gotten out of high school. But that I album was really a grower, to the extent that I'm far more likely to break that out for another spin than anything else Abbath has participated in throughout his career, including monsters like Sons of Nothern Darkness, Pure Holocaust and At the Heart of Winter. To that extent, I've had to come away from this s/t mildly disappointed, because while Abbath and King don't wholly ignore that transcendent, moody epic/heavy metal sound here, this is far more of a spiritual successor to All Shall Fall, Immortal's last, somewhat divisive album.

Now, I happened to skew heavily towards a positive reaction to that, so this might have proven a win/win either way, but I came away with mixed feelings. Half the tracks here are great, the others just alright. It's about 50% inspired by Sons of Northern Darkness and that effort's simpler, more mighty songwriting structures; another 25% giving passing nods to the more extreme, older school wheelhouse the band used to dwell within, and that final quarter definitely captures the more shining, airy, windy heavy metal feel with the higher pitched chords, flashy leads and immersion. As you can imagine, this produces a pretty wide swath of dynamics, and indeed the tunes can range from blasted arctic gales to measured sojourns across the ice-fields. Abbath sticks largely to his snarled voice, which works well in conjunction with the chords and atmosphere but doesn't resonate with me nearly as much as that gritty Quorthon-like clean from Between Two Worlds. The drums are performed by Creature (aka Kevin of Benighted) with thunderous aplomb, at any pace necessary, with strong use of the toms and double bass rumblings suitable for the perceived Norse warfare inherent in all the band's ambiguous lyrics, and King's bass lines are at worst subdued beneath the rhythm guitar; at best grooving along with classic, infectious heavy metal pacing on tunes like "Root of the Mountain".

The rhythm guitars strongly resemble a hybrid of Sons of Northern Darkness and Between Two Worlds, with some higher range, less predictable choices of notation. Not a ton of tremolo picking used here, the emphasis is very often on solid chords and cleaner accompanying lines to give it that vast, folksy feel I so enjoyed on the I debut. There are a few riffs I would not expect, such as the opener of the album, which feels like a mesh of Chaos A.D. era Sepultura thrashing groove with some Voivod dissonance, but after a few minutes it all seems to fall in line and Abbath is trampling over well-trodden ground, making safer songwriting decisions that genuinely pan out into solid if rarely remarkable material. Leads are spurious and sensible, never too wanky or misplaced, and often functioning the greatest when they resolve to very simple melodic lines. Lyrics evoke the belligerent 'catch-all' wintry mythological violence and glory the band is lauded for, but not without entertaining imagery that any fan of their mid to late 90s material will wax nostalgic over.

The mix is really well balanced, permitting the ballast of the rhythm guitars to shine without obscuring any other component, drums delivering a Sleipnir canter. Gallop. Trot. Charge. Abbath's ugly but often monotonous snarl seated well above the fray with appropriate reverb sending some of his lines to bounce off the roiling storm clouds that the listener will conjure up internally. At least three tunes I thought were excellent..."Root of the Mountain", "Winterbane" (which sounds like it could have been a Northern Darkness outtake) and the intense "Fenrir Hunts", which was my fave mirror to the older Immortal on the record. But there were certainly a lot of give or take riffing sequences throughout the remainder of the material that I hesitate to call this truly great. I think it's more loyal to his alma mater's theater of sound than the Demonaz solo album March of the Norse, to be honest, but I liked the pacing and aesthetic of that more. Abbath is an effective entry into the band's overall canon, but I feel like these guys might be squandering their creative impulses on too many samey projects to the point it could get confusing for the uninitiated. There's a lot of crossover of ideas, so I wish they'd just rein it in to Immortal and I, legal issues be damned.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (swoop and pluck the Hero's eyes)

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