Abigail Williams
In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns

Doubtless you’ve heard the name Abigail Williams by now – some of it hype, some of it curiosity given the band’s former incarnation as brutal-yet-melodic death-metal act Vehemence. A constantly rotating line-up, several moves around the country and a brief break-up have likely put the band through a number of trials (those of you familiar with The Crucible get two points for recognizing that pun), but their full-length debut is finally here. And it’s on Candlelight, no slouch for signing quality acts.

Some reviews have denounced Abigail Williams‘ sound as nothing more than an attempt to wed black metal with the popular ‘core movement that’s infected many a US death metal act, but I don’t hear that at all. This is straight-up symphonic black, delivered at blazing speed and with a heavy dose of keyboard orchestration. The keys are going to be the most talked-about element here – more on those in a bit.

Although the Cradle of Filth/Danny Elfman intro fails to surprise or excite, the main riff of “World Beyond” does quite the opposite – it’s a genuinely vicious assault, sampling from blistering black/death like Zyklon and Myrkskog as much as expected acts like Anthems-era Emperor or Dark Funeral. More impressive, frenzied riffs await in tracks like “Into the Ashes” and “Empyrean.” Combined with a pulverizing blizzard of percussion and Ken Sorceron’s terrific vocal performance (halfway between Naglfar‘s Jens Ryden and Ihsahn), they’re enough to wipe away any shouts of Hot Topic pandering. The album even strikes a touch of unexpected class by enlisting what sounds like Solefald‘s Cornelius for some clean vocals on the title track; if this is actually Sorceron again, even more impressive.

However, despite all these successful elements working together, it’s the keys that frequently reduce the album to yet another Dimmu Borgir clone, albeit a good one. It’s not that the orchestration is poorly played – quite the contrary. When symphonic swells are used, usually as an undercurrent to the storm raging on the surface, it’s fine. There’s a lot of piano though, and so what is supposed to come off as grand, majestic and terrifying winds up feeling cute and cliché instead. In slower interludes the piano is acceptable, and when it switches up to a sci-fi warble (“A Thousand Suns”) or kitschy haunted-house organs (“Acolytes”) it sounds a bit fresher too. However, given the ferocity of the riffs, I think the band would do well to stick to a more urgent and chaotic symphonic attack. See Anorexia Nervosa‘s Redemption Process for a great example of a more maniacal and feverish orchestration – it makes the tinkly piano here sound precious by comparison.

While it’s true that Abigail Williams may be many fans’ initiation into black metal (rather than recommended gateway drugs like Anthems or Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism), I don’t hear anything that trendy about this. What I hear is a group of very talented musicians who obviously love the genre and wanted to pay homage to some of their favorite acts (right down to the Necrolord-inspired cover art). Now that they’ve gotten all that out of the way, I look forward to hearing an album which tosses out some of the more tired elements and works at forging an even stronger identity.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
November 8th, 2008

Comments

  1. Commented by: swampthang

    I Absolutely hated their ep but this is magnificient. A trve piece of art.


  2. Commented by: xBenx

    Sweet, sweet review Gaba, its actually the first ‘balanced,’ one I’ve seen, they have tended to cry that this is shite or that it’s the best thing since ‘Anthems…’Will pick this up for sure though!


  3. Commented by: Redstar

    All the ‘core’ influence people mention comes from the EP when they were still an Arizona local band.

    This is a whole different beast than they were a year ago.


  4. Commented by: James Murphy

    the clean vox are indeed Sorceron himself.

    regarding the band’s origins, AW is not “Vehemence reborn”.. in fact Vehemence are still at it. this misconception is likely due to the fact that on the first demo, Sorceron hired 3 ex-Vehemence members to record his songs with him. only Bjorn has made it to the actual AW line-up, though he also rehearses and writes still with the currently unsigned Vehemence.


  5. Commented by: Dimaension X

    This is actually a really good album. Not the least bit new or original, but it’s still a very good symphonic black metal album. Far more energetic and intense than Dimmu’s last one, these kids prove they can keep up with the rest of the over-flowing pack of Dimmu or COF wannabies.


  6. Commented by: gabaghoul

    James – thanks for the info Murphy – sorry I didn’t give you a shout in the write-up – the album does sound great.

    maybe one day we’ll get a Sorceron/Solefald duet. sounds exactly like him.

    also looking fwd to hearing more from Vehemence, glad they’re not done with.


  7. Commented by: xBenx

    Got this too, tis top notch


  8. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Production’s top-notch. Music is pretty good except for those keys. Highly distracting. But, the girl’s quite the looker, so I can see why she’s there.
    Don’t like the vocals, if he was halfway between Ryden and Ihsahn he’d be one of my favorite vocalists ever. This band’s not for me, but I can certainly respect what they’re doing.

    Great review, gaba.

    Shh, don’t tell anyone, but it’s Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. Hehehe.


  9. Commented by: gabaghoul

    ah shit musta had a brainfart on that one


  10. Commented by: Cynicgods

    No biggie, man. Keep up the good work.


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