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Francis Wayland Thurston, Lovecraftian demons & Deathgrind - 85%

TheNotrap, September 13th, 2021

Sven and the Aborted lads have been playing a key role in the extreme music industry for two decades now. The undeniable impact that classics like Goremageddon have had on the deathgrind landscape, coupled with the band's distinctive trademark sound, have placed the Belgian collective at the forefront of metal's most brutal spectrum, alongside world-class acts like Cattle Decapitation or Dying Fetus. Their horror-centric hybrid formula, fusing techy death metal and grind, bedecked with brutal deathcore overtones, gives them a rather peculiar style that sets them apart from the rest of the pack. However, despite this stylistic amalgam, Aborted has shown a strong personality throughout the years, much due to the omnipresence of its vocalist, founder, and leader Sven de Caluwé, who ensures the bridging between releases and their respective mutations, as subtle as they may sound. Personally, despite loving the band's early period, namely Goremageddon, it was from Global Flatline onwards that I became a devoted fan. The consistency of Aborted's full-length releases over the past decade is quite impressive, to the point where I have a hard time picking my favorite. I would say that each of them shows a willingness to broaden the spectrum without losing touch with the band's creative core. And even though this is a common goal for many bands, Aborted does it particularly well. Another particularity across the board is the technical detail imbued in each release, namely the tasty guitar work (both lead and rhythm) and the always solid rhythm section, which mirrors the value Sven places on technique, despite the gore concept surrounding each work. Like a George A. Romero-like meticulous director who wants to ensure that every drop of blood has cinematic value.

As expected, ManiaCult orbits a creepy horror concept, namely the story of H.P. Lovecraft's fictional character - Francis Wayland Thurston, who attempts to summon Lovecraftian demons to bring about the end of the world as we know it. All wrapped up in an aesthetic that harks back to 80's horror movies like 'From Beyond' (1986), also based on a short story by Lovecraft. The narrative, however, is a metaphor about madness, irrationality, intolerance, and religious fanaticism; a distortion of reality produced by mental illness. The central character, Wayland the Maniac, is thus a slasher-type figure who embodies the many faces of madness, such as dementia or personality disorder; issues sometimes overlooked by today's society.

Musically, Aborted's new chapter is somewhat of a continuity with the past, more specifically with the band's last three releases, which includes the recent La Grande Mascarade EP. Although the band has always shown a very particular predilection for fusing extreme styles, Aborted’s signature sound since Retrogore has taken on greater dynamism and fluidity, expanding its musical spectrum even further, as mentioned earlier. The black metal-ish tremolo picking present in songs like 'Portal to Vacuity' and 'A Vulgar Quagmire', or the industrial-tinged backgrounds in the latter, are good examples of this greater three-dimensionality. The catchy and groovy 'Dementophobia', which blends Carcass-ish textures with thrash elements, also adds a degree of surprise to the mix, alongside the pronounced deathcore layers featured in songs such as the title track or 'Drag Me to Hell'. While deathcore isn't exactly a surprising piece in Aborted's stylistic puzzle, I don't recall seeing it so clearly, or at least in such a prominent way. The greater accessibility surrounding ManiaCult is another aspect that drew my attention, whether due to the plethora of mid and slow-paced tempos or because of the groovy segments present throughout much of the album. I would go so far as to say that ManiaCult is a strong contender for the band's most accessible album to date, and probably the one that hardcore fans will have the hardest time digesting since Global Flatline.

While there is a great deal of consistency on ManiaCult (including the brief but very effective 'Verbolgen' interlude), I would single out five songs for different reasons - 'Dementophobia' for its aforementioned catchiness; 'Impetus Odi', 'A Vulgar Quagmire', and 'Grotesque', for summing up Aborted's DNA while featuring the album's best moments; and the sinister cinematic opener, 'Verderf', which serves as the perfect introduction to what's to come, by injecting just the right dose of drama and suspense. ManiaCult is thus a product of undeniable quality that not only respects the band's legacy but also opens new horizons, however subtle they may be. Nevertheless, these attributes are not necessarily synonymous with greater creativity or artistic achievement. If, on the one hand, the quartet's high caliber remains unaltered, with musical performances well above average, on the other hand, I cannot confidently assert that ManiaCult is better than any of the post-Strychnine.213 releases. Not because it exhibits anything particularly unpleasant or disappointing, but because of an ambiguous sense of deja-vu that springs up occasionally, as if ManiaCult hadn't been created in the right place at the right time, either for the band or for me as a listener. It's one of those things that fall within the realm of time and senses, with a rationale too abstract for words.

Only time will tell if Francis Wayland Thurston (aka Wayland the Maniac), and his Lovecraftian demons, will be able to take over the world, or in other words, if this new horror chapter will rank among the major highlights in Aborted's rich portfolio. For the time being, ManiaCult is certainly a most worthy addition to 2021's already impressive extreme metal playlist, if only for the classy, and rather elitist, name of its central character.

Originally written for www.sputnikmusic.com