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I’ve got to be honest: I’ve been thinking of this review the whole damn week. I mean I know everybody has a life and stuff to do, as a matter of fact that’s the reason why I must wake ‘ntil Sat night to start writing. And no, I won’t even try to sell the cheap lie of me planning my writing for days, still it’s true I had tried to mentally highlight the points I wanted to get across. And everything was clearly and neatly ready for being started, except I ran into last Abigail William’s effort.
I truly felt like reviewing this one before anyone here, for my previous plans had already fallen apart when listening to it. And there are strong reasons for that to have happened, I can tell you that.
Now, after the HUGE disappointment that “In The Absence Of Light” was, my expectations were low, really low. And before that? Well, you got a couple core releases I couldn’t have cared for any less, and a symphonic black metal album that managed to catch the attention of many. Include me there. Yes, “In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns” was a fine album. Believe me. Also notice I said fine and nothing else. Indeed, it was the little hope and curiosity for finding any remains of those technical guitar riffs, killer drumming and real symphonic not-only-simple-keyboard-chords-held-up-to-eternity accompaniment that brought me to listen to “Becoming”. I found nothing of’em.
So, what on earth is there to be found here? A couple reviewers have even dared to label it as atmospheric or ambient black metal. Labels and classifications are often misleading; I know, but in this case, those two are quite illustrative. It’s official: Abigail Williams have again veered on their path; at least musically.
The album opens with “Ascension Sickness” and no, is not one of those ball-kicking riffs that’ll make you go wild and head bang since the very beggining; au contraire, it’s calm dark guitar notes that brake the silence. Some wind in the background announces something is awakening and the rest of the instruments join almost delicately, if you like. Then it hits you; next thing you know you’re squared in the eye of a storm, defenseless. It’s epic tremolo riffs that surround you and won’t let you go for a couple minutes. Right after your are to admit they got you with your pants off, and also you started to arrogantly believe you had learnt everything that there is to in this first track, calm comes back and strings make their appearance. Yes, I’m talking’bout cellos and shit; and they rock. Shut up. The song takes its leave leaving behind a trail of folk guitar arpeggios. Hell, this jewel takes little more than eleven minutes out of your miserable existence, and every single second is worth it.
What about the vocals, uh? As they occur in “Radiance”, Ken Sorceron’s singing is the same during all the record: raw, dark and quite little. I really enjoy when instrumentalists who make throat work for their super badass bands (notice the italics, please) are able to keep their mouths shut and focus on the music. There are also several moments when speaking female voices step up to accompany the most minimalistic spots, but as you can imagine, they ain’t meant to outstand in any way.
Let me state plainly: absolutely NOTHING in this work is meant to take a leading role, but to be merely another element in the complex construction of the whole. There, dear readers, is where the greatness of “Becoming” lies; it’s a solid set of elements wisely brought together. Needless to say this shit is hopefully becoming one of many highlights to come this year. Haters, fans and others come and contemplate contemporary forms of disturbing music!
Originally written for www.globaldomination.com
“Becoming” is the third effort by American black metal band Abigail Williams, a band who have repeatedly changed their sound from one release to the next. Their debut EP was littered with metalcore influences, while their first actual album was full-blown Dimmu Borgir worship with grandiose, orchestral layers laid over the songs. Their second album once again saw them change, removing most of the orchestral parts and reducing it to a more simple, stripped back black metal album. However “Becoming” sees the return of the orchestral segments, but put together in an entirely new way. Reaching nearly an hour in length with only six songs, most of the songs are long, with three going over ten minutes. This album is shockingly good, provoking wonder at when this band got so damn good.
Rather than having a metal song and shoving the orchestral bits over the top, the songs on “Becoming” have the two areas fused far more convincingly, as if one part can’t work without the other. And rather than being over the top like their debut, the classical influences are integrated far more atmospherically, resembling bands such as Wolves In the Throne Room more than Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir. Opener “Ascension Sickness” is a perfect example of this, beginning with a calm and soothing intro before crashing into a wall of guitars and drums. The production is fairly low-fi, reminiscent of early Scandinavian black metal, and the vocals are pretty low down in the mix, Ken Sorceron’s screams sounding far away and ghostly, adding to the atmosphere. Frequently moving into darker and slower sections where the orchestral parts really come into their own, the song progresses in a way that all ten minute plus songs should. Around nine minutes in orchestral strings sit atop double bass drumming, while everything else is silent. No screeches, no vicious guitars, just double bass and strings, and it works far better than most would have expected.
“Radiance” and “Elestial” follow a similar route, crammed full of atmospherics and dare I say it, beauty. “Infinite Fields of Mind” is the next song to eclipse the ten minute mark, and actually manages to top “Ascension Sickness”. It once again blasts its way into the wall of black metal noise after a two minute or so intro, and features the same atmospheric ambience before unexpectedly breaking into a fist-pumping, classic metal riff around six minutes in. “Three Days of Darkness” is a short, two minute instrumental played on some wind instrument that sounds strangely beautiful in an alien way. Then when “Three Days of Darkness” winds down, the epic finale of the album begins. “Beyond the Veil” clocks in at over seventeen minutes and upon looking at the length of the song you'd be forgiven for worrying it would just be a pile up of random, unconnected riffs put together to make a long song. In contrast, it serves as a fantastic conclusion to everything the other songs on the album had been threatening to do. Every minute that goes by is perfect. A tom intro on the drums combines with wailing guitars and strings to form a magnificent introduction, before once more crashing into the blast beats and the black metal aggression, but in even more glory and brilliance than “Infinite Fields of Mind” or “Ascension Sickness” before it. Again featuring purely symphonic sections, not only is the traditional black metal on this album fantastic, but the symphonic parts are incredibly engaging and spectacular. “Beyond the Veil” serves up this area of the album best, featuring an almost Celtic sounding section around eight minutes in before the guitars and drums once again worm their way back into the sound, as it builds up and up until reaching an extremely elegant melody almost reminiscent of the music from The Lord of the Rings. Eventually everything winds down, but it’s not over yet. The last three minutes of the song, and with it the album, are superb, as the drums and guitars slowly build up alongside the symphonic part but are left low enough in the mix not to take focus away.
Rather than the over the top bombast of their debut album, the band and the orchestra on this album compliment each other perfectly, resulting in an absolutely fantastic fifty-five minutes of music. Don't write this band off because of their past; "Becoming" is amazing.
Abigail Williams have undergone a major style change with their third full-length studio effort, Becoming. Previously the band made their debut with In the Shadow of A Thousand Suns, which most disregard as simple Emperor style worship, but their second album, In the Absence of Light, showed more potential than its predecessor. In 2011, when the single "Radiance" hit the internet, audiences everywhere were stunned with what they heard; raw atmospheric black metal. Something completely different than the previous two records, and something completely unexpected. Has this new path revealed success for Abigail Williams?
Right from the moment that the cd begins playing the listener is hit instantaneously with raw black metal quality, however something sounds off. Rather than being recorded in true black metal style, with authentic lo-fi production and equipment, the entirety of this album sounds like it has been edited to take on the raw qualities and that it may have been originally recorded in crisp, clean quality. Throughout the album, Becoming tends to waiver in these raw qualities and never quite sticks to one sound. Sometimes the guitars sound clean and well produced, usually during the long alternating picking pattern sessions, other times they are a muffle of dampened mess, generally during power chord riffs. The drums also carry the same muffle... varyingly. The hi-hat and snare are heard with crisp enforcement, the snare even taking on a nice reverb echo that makes it sound all the more powerful, but the bass drum sounds as if it has a pillow or two shoved inside which is a shame because there are some rather decent double bass drumming sections to be heard.
From the start, the vocals are so distorted that any hope to recognize lyrics is abandoned, even when reading along with a lyric sheet. The distortion that surrounds the vocal track is reminiscent of a megaphone effect, though this could be for the better since the lyrics tend to be just as mind numbing as the overall song composure. Bass is also something that isn't heard often within this material, "Radiance" has an area where the bass comes to the front of the mix for a bit and then diminishes. It should be noted that Bryan O' Sullivan plays bass on this track and not Ken Sorceron, who does the bass, vocals and rhythm guitar on the rest of the content.
The content in Becoming is soaked in raw black metal worship and bleeds with excess, unintentionally poisoning itself by trying too hard. When taking in the material at hand, one must think to themselves how any of the tracks from this album would ever be pulled off live and be kept interesting. Half of the songs drone on for over ten minutes, the longest being "Beyond the Veil" which comes in at a hefty seventeen minutes, thirty one seconds. "Beyond the Veil" showcases a decent array of arrangements and compositions which flows tight and fluidly throughout the near twenty minute audible display, starting out with a cello solo. This track also sounds the cleanest of the six song track list. "Three Days of Darkness" is an instrumental in which the first minute and a half is comprised of synthesizers and horror effects that create a suitable atmosphere, however this is torn away during the latter half of the song which turns out to be drastically different, unnecessary, and kills any sort of mood that the band attempted to set up.
Every song, in one way or another, seems to find an alternating picking pattern that it sticks to. "Radiance" is an example of this, as well as the first two minutes or so of "Infinite Fields of Mind", which turns out to be another decent but exceedingly long track. The content is undoubtedly chocked with filler and drones on longer than it should.
Becoming is purely and simply raw black metal worship at its worst. Unrecognizable vocals and varying production qualities are the biggest downfalls of this record along with lack of progression, skill development, or any sort of development. This is more than one giant step backwards for Abigail Williams, it's a fall down a mountainous staircase leaving much work to do to get back where they were. Becoming is a definite pass for old and new fans, those that do choose to see what lies within its depths will be met with long, drawn out, mind-numbing faux raw black metal. There is nothing to see here folks... move along.
- Villi Thorne
Salem; a small town in New England in the early seventeenth century. A child develops a strange behaviour. She shouts, screams insanities, climbs the wall, breaks objects. Panicked, her parents call a doctor, who detects a diabolical possession. The girl accuses of witchcraft citizens of the city, gives names and lurid details about black masses and other satanic rituals. In this environment stifled by faith, the judicial machine grows mad. Pyres are lit, women are sacrificed for having allegedly addicted to black magic. Then the young accuser mysteriously disappears without a trace or return. Her name? Abigail Williams.
This is also the name of an American black metal band led from the beginning by singer and guitarist Ken Sorceron. Its musical evolution is atypical. First, strongly tinged with core, Abigail Williams adopts amore melodic black sound over the releases, but win no more than limited success. I myself did not like In the Absence of Light (2010), finding it uninspired and monotonous. Now based in Los Angeles, the quintet is launching a third full length called Becoming (2012), taking at the same time an unexpected artistic shift.
Indeed, throughout the listening of this album, I wondered if it was really the group that I thought I knew. The change of style is amazing. This time, Abigail Williams takes the path of ambient/pagan black metal, in the vein of Wolves in the Throne Room or Falls of Rauros. The songs are long, strong and richly constructed with several changes of pace that break any linearity. From the opening track, Ascension Sickness, we perceive the difference: slow crescendo of sounds associated with a harp, followed by a few blasts and a voice shouted out beautifully. While Radiance is shorter and based on a desperate mood, Elestial surprises with its enthusiasm and its complex construction. However, the masterpiece of the album is without a doubt Beyond the Veil, which concludes the ceremony. More than seventeen minutes of beautiful music, steeped in classical instruments and a great atmosphere, interspersed with passages that magnify it. A pure delight.
My astonishment was immense when I first listened this album, produced by a group I do not expect much and whose reputation is fragile. Their merit is all the greater. The American black metal scene made surprising progress in recent years, thanks to groups that know how to innovate and renew the genre. I sincerely hope that this momentum continues. 8/10
Originally written for metalobscur.com
If you're a fan of Abigail Williams, turn away now and don't look back.
Or rather, look back. Look back at their entire discography up to this point. Hey even better, listen to it. Any randomly chosen track off any previous Abigail Williams album is superior to Becoming in its entirety.
It opens with the overly long and overly indulgent Ascension Sickness, which is repetitive, derivative black-ish metal. Clocking in at over 11 minutes, it is simply 6 minutes or so of song padded with black metal wankery. Sound of blowing wind, suspended tuneless guitar notes, all the little tricks to try to create a creepy atmosphere. The rest of the album doesn't get any better, so I suppose it at least performs the job of an opening track by setting up what's to come.
Take the third track, Elestial. (Skip #2, it's just boring.) Elestial is musically identical to the opening track. It's like they didn't even try to write a different song. It forgoes the whooshing wind noise, which is why it's shorter, but aside from that it's the same song. Is it supposed to be a thematic bridge of some sort? Don't you need a theme before you do that? Elestial then fades out reeeaaallly slowly, pointlessly padding the song length.
The fourth track, Infinite Fields of Mind, is again the same song. No atmospheric intro this time, but don't worry, some meandering guitar bit eats up the entire first two minutes of this alleged 10 minute track.
Three Days of Darkness is where Ken & Co. seem to have decided that since the song filler is working so well, why not try some album filler? The track is just whooshing sounds effects for 2 1/2 minutes. Inexcusable from any band.
In case you're wondering if the iTunes exclusive track Akasha can redeem this mess in any way, forget it. I don't know how to describe Akasha, but if you listen to the other six tracks you'll know that it fits right in.
Ken Sorceron took over the production duties himself on this one, and if you ask me, really made a hash of it. It's deliberately lo-fi, deliberately atonal, and deliberately trying to sound natural. I'm reasonably sure that "deliberately natural" is an oxymoron. This is not my taste in black metal, this is tr00 kvlt kiddie stuff without the eyeliner.
Abigail Williams, a band that confuses me to this day. They started as a metalcore-ish tinged symphonic black metal band, then went to worship Emperor with their "In the Absence of Light" album. Now, they play what can only be described as atmospheric black metal with a lot of post-rock and ambient influences, and heavy metal passages. In short, this is an awesome amalgamation. This mixture creates an awesome atmosphere throughout the entire album. In fact, "Becoming" may be their strongest, best effort yet, I am indeed in love with this album because it almost brings me back to the early days of Agalloch. This album does indeed lack in one vital point (that is why it did not receive a perfect hundred) is because it lacks originality, and it's a bit loose, meaning that some of the passages in the tracks seem as if they don't belong, like that strange growl at about 8-9 minutes into "Ascension Sickness," I think I may have giggled. But everything else is indeed a masterpiece of USBM. It may not spark a "new wave of American black metal" but this record may solidify Abigail Williams and their importance in American black metal.
My favorite tracks on this record are "Beyond the Veil" and "Infinite Fields of Mind." I like "Beyond the Veil" mainly because of it's awesome length (epic standard), classical influences, and amazing instrumentation. This is the track where the post-rock/ambient influences shine. Epic may be overused, but I will use it here, this track is EPIC. I also think "Infinite Fields of Mind" is a highlight, because this is the track where the black metal shines through the bleak, darkened atmosphere of this album and pierces through your speakers. Blast beats and tremolo picking, the usual black metal elements just glisten here.
Pick this album up as soon as you can, it is a must for atmospheric black metal fans. That's how I got here, I heard about these guys a lot but never really enjoyed their stuff until now. At this rate, these guys will be some of the best black-metallers on the Western hemisphere, but let's not bite our tongues, they might have just got lucky.
I don't know what the deal is with me wanting to defend shit that no one likes. I already white-knighted Liturgy in an earlier post on here, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I really like Celtic Frost's notoriously shitty "Cold Lake" ("Seduce Me Tonight" fucking rules) and brain-dead guttural slam (Cephalotripsy, Devourment, Cemetery Rapist)- shit that makes internet metal nerds freak the fuck out. Maybe I feel bad for the artists for some reason? I don't know. Obviously there's shit that's terrible that I'll 100% agree is lousy (such as the latest Morbid Angel album, Cryptopsy's "The Unspoken King", "St. Anger", etc.), but I feel like there are times when you can tell an artist or band is super into their shit and really, REALLY want people to like it. This kind of desperation is a turn-off for most people, but at the end of the day for me it has the opposite effect. I guess I'm one of those "it's not THAT bad" kind of people, but whatever.
My point is that Abigail Williams is one of those artists that I feel gets a lot of hate for superficial reasons. I should probably preface this argument by saying that I haven't really done my homework on this, I haven't read too many interviews with these guys and don't know too much about them, so this might just be a stupid argument to make. Anyway, here's what I know about them:
1. They started out as a shitty blackened deathcore or whatever group (I haven't listened to their early shit, so I'm going off of metal-archives).
2. They tried to establish themselves as more legit by putting out "In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns", a more "symphonic black metal" effort which featured Trym drumming on some tracks.
3. Still not being taken very seriously and compared to Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, they decided to strip down their sound with a less-overblown, more "evil" atmosphere with their second album, "In the Absence of the Light". Still received mediocre reviews. At this point they've already gone through a shitload of lineup changes as well, and have been getting booed at live shows.
4. Recently put out "Becoming", which is one of the best albums that I've heard so far this year.
Seriously! I don't know if these guys started doing heavy-duty hallucinogens and/or just started listening to a lot of Wolves in the Throne Room or Altar of Plagues, but something's up. Whether or not these guys are totally ripping off this whole "post-black metal" trend or not is besides the point-- "Becoming" is an excellent album, and even though they've clearly jumped on a bandwagon, it's original enough to appreciate in its own way.
While there's plenty of "atmospheric" touches to Abigail Williams' new sound, conspicuously absent are the band's old trademarks of symphonic flourishes and polished production. Instead, while there are still plenty of gorgeous melodies and beautiful string arrangements, the album has a gritty production quality to it that goes perfectly with its "dark" BM riffs and ominous ambient moments (listen to the beginning of "Beyond the Veil"!) and well-placed psychedelic moments.
I seriously would have never guessed this is Abigail Williams. I've listened to their two previous albums, and wasn't very impressed. I've read reviews of their live shows, and the general consensus I came across was that they were boring. My buddy told me that at the show he was at they got heckled by the audience. After putting out this album, I can't imagine these guys still sucking live since it's obvious that "Becoming" has the two essential ingredients for greatness the band has been lacking this entire time-- passion and inspiration. By listening to everything from Ken Sorceron's howling screams and growls (someone else mentioned Xasthur or Leviathan, I can see that) to the energy pulsing from the drums, it's obvious that these guys were FEELING this album. I have no idea what the lyrics are about on this album (I've noticed there's a significant lack of contemporary interviews), but clearly they're not phoning this shit in.
The musicians' performances are also all top-notch, and while nothing specifically stands out as amazing, it works to the music's advantage by maintaining the listener's focus on the music as a whole. I mentioned Altar of Plagues before, but that's who comes to mind most when describing Abigail William's musicianship. Personally, I didn't find "Mammal" to be a work of musical virtuosos, but they obviously don't suck either (the same could be said for Wolves in the Throne Room too). Saying they "get the job done" implies that they're kind of shitty at what they do, but that's not what I mean. When listening to "Becoming", you're not distracted by any musician in particular, just the "vibe" of the song. Eh, you know what I mean.
While I can see a lot of metal fans putting these guys down and not giving this album a chance (understandable, to a certain extent,) I'd say that by writing these guys off you're missing out. Obviously, I was blown away by "Becoming", and I hope by checking this album out you'll be as pleasantly surprised as I am. I can't believe I'm praising this album as much as I am, but as much shit as these guys have been through by internet metal nerds like myself, they definitely deserve it.
RIYL: Nachtmystium's newer stuff, Wolves in the Throne Room, Altar of Plagues, Deafheaven, Agalloch
(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/)
Hmmm... Metalcore? Melodic black metal? Symphonic black metal? What flavor will Abigail Williams scoop out for this year's ice cream cone, Becoming? Well, looks like they settled for post black metal, and to be honest, it's quite bitter. It sounds like Wolves in the Throne Room, so I SHOULD like it, but really it might be that very fact that I do not to a full extent. After all, a bar of solid gold and a bar of iron spray painted with gold paint may look similar, but one holds actual value and the other is a cheap imitation even if said imitation does look illustrious.
Quick note: never in this review or any other of mine am I going to use the term "hipster black metal". I've seen other people use it for bands like WITTR, but I do not like using it because 1) It's cliched; and 2) It makes the critic look like they can't come up with any good reason to criticize the album and simply settle with a derogatory, faux genre label.
Wolves in the Throne Room may be the dominant influence on this album as their type of transcendental atmosphere is obviously present, but they're not the only influence. Ken Sorceron's vocals frequently remind me of Malefic from Xasthur mixed with either of the vocal roles from the dudes from Summoning. In "Infinite Fields of Mind", there's wailing tremolo guitar starting at 7:05 that I'm sure I've heard in more than one Nightbringer song. After that section is over in the same song, we've got some Primordial sounding triplet riffing. I guess a good thing to point out is that at least Abigail Williams is for the most part keeping the tempo mostly on the down low so as to avoid looking like they're deliberately ripping on other bands, especially WITTR with their almost constant blast beating; the two exceptions of this being the first half of "Ascension Sickness" and the ending of "Radiance".
That said, there's still some creativity found in Becoming. Mind you, most of it is found in the album's closer "Beyond the Veil". This song, in contrast with the rest of this otherwise average album, is probably one of Abigail William's best. The utilization of the classical strings is excellent, and goes really well if Abigail Williams were trying to really go for the "transcendental" vibe that bands try to go for with this type of black metal. If they made a black metal album with more of this type of soothing string work, it would probably be some sort of spectacle.
As it stands though, Becoming is still rather lackluster when lined up with other black metal albums I've listened to. "Beyond the Veil" and other creative parts save the album from falling below the level of mediocrity, but it's still definitely not an album I'd buy. I am kind of worried for Abigail Williams though if they decide to jump on another bandwagon. Their metalcore days made them unpopular enough already, and there definitely will be people out there calling them bandwagon hipsters for their current transcendental style. For their sake, I hope they don't make a leap that will dig a deeper hole for them like turning into a dubstep band or something. With luck, they'll just go with the aforementioned calm classical instrument infused post black metal and make "Beyond the Veil II" or something.