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A New Level of Quality - 100%

martiansfromvenus, March 17th, 2023
Written based on this version: 2022, Digital, Willowtip Records

An Abstract Illusion made waves back in 2016 with the release of the stellar Illuminate the Path, a potent blend of death and black metal with strong progressive and atmospheric tendencies which recalled bands such as Ne Obliviscaris or Shylmagoghnar, but still managed to remain wholly unique. Though they set the bar impossibly high in 2016, I can safely say that An Abstract Illusion reached a new level of quality with Woe.

Woe is split into seven tracks where each song flows smoothly into the next, a concept that should be familiar to anyone who’s listened to any amount of progressive metal. No two songs on the album sound the same, from the breakneck rhythmic changes and dissonant chords on “Slaves” to the somber piano and spoken word vocals on “Blomsterkrans.” The band had truly reached a new level of songwriting with this album. Although the tempos, rhythms, and dynamics often change multiple times per song, it never feels like the band is forcing their songs to be unnecessarily complex. Even the 14-minute beast of a track “In the Heavens Above, You Will Become a Monster” feels as if it is half that length on account of how compelling and cohesive the songwriting is.

Woe is also positively dripping with melancholic atmosphere. The keyboards often mix with extended blast beat sections from the drums to create evocative soundscapes, complete with tremolo riffs that would fit in on any atmospheric black metal record. I should also note the incredibly high quality of the performances on this album. As I’ve mentioned, the drums are often found delivering lightning-fast blast beats for minutes at a time, but they also take time to show off pummeling fills and atypical rhythms. The guitar work is also stellar, with the solo on “Slaves” possibly being the best guitar solo I’ve heard in all of 2022. The bass and keyboards both serve as a rich foundation to the atmospheric palette of the album, while also providing interesting fills and countermelodies. The harsh vocals are a standout performance on this album, with primal growls and howls accentuating the most emotional moments in every song. The occasional appearance of clean vocals is also a welcome aspect, adding further to the dynamic range of the album.

Something else that struck me on Woe were the lyrics. They are certainly open-ended and up to interpretation, but themes of religious dogma, the evil of humanity, and loss of innocence are sure to strike anyone who hears them. Even after dozens of times listening through the album, I’m still not sure that I’ve truly digested everything that the album is saying.

Woe was easily my favorite album of 2022, and the one I continue to listen to the most from that year. There is not a single thing that I would change about it, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this album to anyone even tangentially interested in this style of music.

Rating: 100%. Favorite track: Slaves