US black metal shapeshifters Abigail Williams have managed to become one of the most unfairly maligned bands in black metal this side of Deafheaven. Somehow, the misconception of the band being a metalcore act still persist, albeit in a vocal minority, despite the band’s quick abandonment of the influence following their first EP. In spite of all this, the group makes strides in shaking their past with each release as they spiral further down the rabbit hole; as members come and go, frontman and sole remaining founder Ken Sorceron has kept the loosely active band on the cutting edge of the genre through an evolution that culminated in the embrace of atmospheric and psychedelic black metal that was evidenced on their acclaimed 2012 release Becoming.
A lot has happened in the three years since the release of Becoming that has guided Sorceron and into another stylistic shift. The Phoenix-to-Olympia transplant became heavily involved in the Chicago doom and black metal scene that brought bands such as Lord Mantis (in which Sorceron served some time), Indian, and the now reviled Nachtmystium. Being steeped in that particularly filthy landscape for a few years (and picking up new members from each aforementioned band and becoming a de-facto black metal supergroup) has pushed Abigail Williams into darker territory for the group’s fourth full-length album The Accuser.
The Accuser‘s entire aesthetic is appropriated from the Chicago scene, and it comes with a sense of authenticity and is served to great effect. The atmosphere is a dense wall of noise that turns the tremolo-picked riffs and blastbeats of opener “Path of Broken Glass” into chaotic drones that keep in step with the burgeoning USBM movement and allows for spacious moments of melodic introspection on the brilliant and vaguely Earth-like closer “Nuummite,” which utilizes brooding cleans and a sparse psychedelic and Western-sounding guitar work. There’s a tug-of-war dynamic that plays out here that begins with a maddening confrontational approach that eventually erodes into something more sensitive and emotional as melody and negative space gradually become incorporated into each track as the album progresses. It’s a nice subtle touch that rewards repeated listening.
Hints of doom seep into the mix more so than the post-rock that the black metal scene has become infatuated with, and the production quality is well suited to heighten the experience. The atmosphere isn’t exactly cavernous, but there is a depth to The Accuser that gets the balance just right and details aren’t obscured to the point of being completely lost. Fortunate, as the band delivers some stellar performances; Sorceron in particular takes some risks with often emphatic vocal takes.
This is good look for Abigail Williams at this point in its lifespan. It’s a logical step, and it fills in the gaps for those disenchanted Nachtmystium fans that cannot reconcile supporting Blake Judd after the events leading up to and following last year’s The World We Left Behind. This isn’t to say that The Accuser directly apes the Nachtmystium style, but the sonic similarities are notable and the overall sense of freedom of expression and experimentation within the black metal genre is present, albeit not as irreverent. It’s more of a symptom of being another branch of the same tree; an added benefit for those left feeling burned or empty and for whatever reason allowed Abigail Williams to fall to the back burner.
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Abigail Williams’ The Accuser gets…