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Soaring and Doleful - 90%

Slynt, March 16th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Osmose Productions

Abyssic is a new constellation in the Norwegian night sky, but throughout the insanely long four tracks of this debut album, they never sound remotely like anything made in Norway before. I may be exaggerating; there certainly are more than enough Norwegian bands mixing death in their doom (or was it the other way around), but none sound quite like A Winter's Tale.

When I say 'insanely long', I mean songs that you'd probably skip when they showed up in your party playlist (as opposed to "Angel of Death". There must always be "Angel of Death"). The title track alone is as long as Slayer's Reign in Blood. It feels like a hassle putting this album on, but once I do, I'm quite enjoying the listening experience - but the moments where I have time for half-hour songs are precious few.

Speaking of that song, "A Winter's Tale" is simply put a fantastic, epic, dark, magnificent, must-be-heard symphony of tragedy that rivals the very majesties of doom/death (and so, it turns out, is the rest of this masterpiece). The music is simple but extremely effective, and while slooow, does not veer into funeral doom (though they are quite close, perhaps attending from a distance). And just when you think it begins to plod, a new segment takes the song to a new place. Ten minutes into "A Winter's Tale", you've been treated to classic mournful twin leads, old Anathema-style (anathemes?), My Dying Bridal elements, and indeed, there's certainly something akin to fellow Norwegian doomsters Funeral in here, and washing over it all main man André Aaslie's luscious keyboard work. But don't believe this is an album in the vein of these classic doom/death acts just yet. Hold yer horses and all that. Abyssic have, you see, a special ingredient.

I know for a fact that Aaslie is more than a little enamored of the works of the criminally underrated Bal-Sagoth, and this affinity for soaring, epic melody shines through, giving the album a wholly different expression than, say, a Serandes or a Turn Loose the Swans. No, don't worry if you're not into the highly stylized fantasy black metal of Bal-Sagoth; there are no sword-wielding barbarians in sight. I'm rather thinking of Bal-Sagoth's ambience. That being said, if you don't like keyboards, you'll probably have a hard time with Abyssic. They are absolutely key to the overall sound, creating dark and forlorn landscapes in the mind. I would agree that the keyboards perhaps sound too warm, though. They are often employed as almost soothing, drawn out cascades of star-tingling mystical beauty draped over the simple, pounding riffs - but not only; take the ghost-like sounds that occur several times during "A Winter's Tale" as an example, which hearken back to the Bal-Sagoth classic "Star-maps of the Ancient Cosmographers" (gods, what an amazeballs song that is!), again laying bare one of Aaslie's main influences. Elsewhere, other stylistic approaches are made with the tangents, as well, creating a varied sonic landscape across the album.

For all the Bal-Sagoth comparisons I'm spitting out, it must be said that the album leans mostly to early to mid-nineties doom/death metal, don't you worry. *Saves draft to listen to Bal-Sagoth*

The guitars, bass and drums are all bare-bone and bleak, never veering into experimental territory. It does feel as if they're all playing supporting roles - but not to the keyboards, but to the overall ambience of the album. I think it was a wise choice to keep it simple and serve the atmosphere, which is always a must on a project like this.

Right, I haven't mentioned the vocals. They are exactly like what you'd expect from a doom/death band. Deep growls, which could use a little more reverb. As it is, the vocals sound oddly sand-papery dry compared to the incredibly lush soundscape. They do their job, though, aside from the small disconnect in the overall sound. There are some grim, black metal-like vocals employed occasionally as well, as if to remind you you're listening to Norwegians, and I actually find them more compelling and fitting.

Another reminder of Abyssic's northern heritage is found in the third track (they are really more like short symphonies), "Sombre Dreams", where the band goes into overdrive, giving us some blastbeats and double bass drumwork. It works like hell, both in creating contrast to the slow dirges before it, and on its own. There's an excellent part buried toward the end of the song that evokes the decadent grandieur of classic (and by classic I mean sinister and rotten) My Dying Bride. Coupled with the Sagothian moods provided by the keyboards, I find myself salivating at it all; Abyssic is essentially invoking two of my very favorite bands, even as they stand on their own legs.

This is a work of art that needs to be heard. This is a very, very large improvement on Aaslie's last attempt at producing symphonic extreme metal (Gromth's "The Immortal", which I nonetheless enthusiastically rated 87% at the time; I'd give it around 70% now that I'm older and more critical). If you're into any of the bands I've mentioned in this review, A Winter's Tale is a no-brainer.

Anything else left to mention? Well, the album is quite polished production-wise, while the music perhaps could benefit from having a murkier production. That's a nitpick, though. Those minutes just fly by once I put it on, and that's quite a feat considering the genre. What remains to be seen, of course, is its longevity. Will these incredibly long songs keep on entertaining after the twentieth, or fiftieth, listen? For now, A Winter's Tale is an extremely atmospheric release, dark and haunting (just check out those church organs in "The Silent Shrine", so appropriate in the context of the lyrics), and this is for now the best metal release of 2016, regardless of genre. Yeah, it's still only March but metal albums are spewed out at an alarming rate these days.

Oh, and if you're into any of the bands that the members of Abyssic have played in before, don't expect the same music! Well, except Gromth - there's some overlap due to the lush keyboards, but even Gromth is a far cry from this aural orgasm.

Speaking of orgasms, I feel like I'm holding back with a score of 90%, but I'm going to err on the side of caution.