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Abbath: Abbath - 88%

Never_Enough, June 22nd, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Season of Mist (Limited edition, Digibook)

I have a weird relationship with black metal. I don't quite consider myself a fan of the genre, especially the Norwegian variety of it. Even though I admire the primitive nature in the instrumentation and the incredibly fast tempo, I'm turned off by the inaudible production, shrieked vocals, and complicated song structures. My contempt for this music also carries over to the first wave which many of my peers consider that movement as a force to be reckon with. However, I find myself increasingly becoming a fan of its many subgenres. Not the stillborn abominations like blackgaze or symphonic black metal, oh hell no. But subgenres like blackened death metal and black 'n' roll. The latter of which is what we'll be tackling today.

The most striking thing about this album is that there's not a single bad song on here. At worst, you have "Fenrir Hunts" which, although it has a nice drive to it, suffers from being average filler. When compared to the astounding tracks on display here, this average song gets easily shunned. Such a sad fate for a song whose only crime was being ordinary. Those astounding tracks being songs like "Winter Bane". Arguably the best song of this album. Once the song begins, it is headbanging central. That is until the last quarter of the song where Abbath's screams fade into a tranquil acoustic guitar with a spoken word passage. The transition is not that jarring, actually. It's sort of a break after the brutality that preceded it. Overall, it serves as the perfect tune to a battle during the bleakest, coldest storm of the century. Does a better job at it than "To War" which has too much build up and isn't concise enough. You'll be doing yourself a favor by skipping to the 1:27 mark.

While this album is unmistakably black metal, it has this indescribable feeling of bravado. I assume that comes from the simple, hard-hitting, drumming by Kevin Foley (brother of Matt Foley). What an excellent drummer. He knows exactly when to employ rapid double bass and then do a complete 180 to a simple hard rock style. He'll be keeping that simple rhythm on "Count the Dead" and then immediately start pounding on the bass drum. There's no flash or "intricate" fills. Just straightforward drumming.

Now, how can I go this long without going into detail on the man of the hour? Abbath is flat-out wonderful on this album. He provides the missing element to the encompassing sense of bravado. Although, he's not too encompassing. He deservedly gets the most focus yet he also passes the attention onto his talented companions. Guitar-wise, he's pretty solid. He crafts these heavily distorted riffs built around the strong rhythm section. He doesn't care to provide any fancy solos, but this album isn't about that. Vocal-wise...okay, that's a different story. It's not distracting, but it certainly needs improvement. His performance is akin to clearing the phlegm out of your throat in the morning, but with an alien's voice. The biggest problem is that his vocals lack power. He sings at the same mezzo forte level throughout the entire record. What should be yells of defiance, turn into Abbath just projecting more towards the listener. Then again, no one will go into this album looking for exemplary vocal dexterity nor are they asking for that. This isn't that big of a grievance and it doesn't snuff out Abbath's personality.

Overall, I strongly recommend this album. This is certainly a different direction for Abbath. A direction that I such as many others approve of. This album produces many fast and memorable songs that are highly accessible to those unfamiliar to the genre. It's definitely a strong debut for this band and leaves me excited for what the band has to other next. On top of that, it's a strong contender for album of the year.

Bonus: The limited edition comes with two tracks; both of them are covers. The first is a cover of Judas Priest's "Riding on the Wind". Now, I actually really like this cover. It captures the spirit and charismatic attitude of the original. Even in a subgenre as dark as black metal, it still conveys a feeling like no one can stop you. The more heavily distorted instrumentation works rather well. Hell, Abbath even plays K.K. Downing's solo. Speaking of Abbath, I know how contradictory this will sound, but his vocals are perfect for this song. He does less of the phlegm predator style and utilizes something more akin to shrieking. His vocals mimic Rob Halford's, but are more twisted and sounds like the cries of terror from a banshee. I mean, he still isn't singing from the diaphragm and has no power, but it's a step in the right direction. Actually, he manages to pull off this wicked screech, so you can tell that he's really trying to improve. Still, I prefer the Judas Priest version, but this certainly gives it a run for its money. The other song is frankly pointless. It's a cover of "Nebular Ravens Winter" by Immortal. You may be thinking to yourself, "Why would you cover your own song?" Well, I don't fucking know. Why don't you ask Abbath, because I can't see the logic behind that. The song really has no point in existing. It doesn't do much to stand apart from the original except for the improved production. That and the omission of a couple screams which again, I don't know why Abbath wouldn't do those screams. I guess if you liked the original, but hated the lo-fi production, then this would be for you and your vagina. For me, I'll pass. In conclusion, I'd recommend the limited edition just for "Riding on the Wind".