Summertime. The living may be easy, the fish jumping and the cotton high, but Humanity’s Last Breath couldn’t give a shit about that. As Europe is broiled by a particularly ferocious heatwave, the Swedes prepare to deliver a relentless blast of bleak and uncompromising gloom on harsh Scandinavian winds. Abyssal, their long-awaited second full-length album, is probably not therefore something to listen to on the beach. Unless, of course, the beach happens to be on fire.
For anyone who has encountered Humanity’s Last Breath to date, this will not be a tremendous surprise. Over the course of their career, they have established themselves as a particularly uncompromising force of nature. They have concocted an especially thick and soupy cocktail from various extreme metal elements. The whole edifice is built on a brash and confrontational death metal base, complete with warp speed blast beats and the most unholy gutteral vocals. To this frame they also bolt hyper-downtuned beatdown-style riffs, ominous atmospherics and a mechanistic vibe that Fear Factory could only dream of. With Abyssal, they have honed their distinctive sound into a sharp, laser-guided point. Brace yourself.
Right from the opening song, the cheerfully titled “Bursting Bowel of Tellus”, the band attack the tracks with fearsome and almost relentless venom. “Bone Dust” packs an especially beastly, churning groove made all the more potent by the drop into it from the preceding blasts – a trick they pull repeatedly, but one that doesn’t get tiresome. There are just a couple of moments of respite throughout Abyssal’s forty minute run time – a short interlude in “Fragda” with a shuffling drum beat and even, gasp, a hint of clean singing. Final track “Dodgud” also opens with a spot of Gregorian, monastic chanting before bringing the album to a suitably apocalyptic conclusion. I am sure that this track, in particular, would sound particularly devastating if played in a cavernous and reverb-drenched cathedral.
With half of Humanity’s Last Breath also being members of Vildjharta, it’s unsurprisingly that they also share elements of their sound. One certainly wouldn’t characterise Abyssal as a djent album, but it does still carry some djenty qualities, particularly in the guitar tones and the more spacious, syncopated breakdowns. The title track itself opens with a frankly outrageous low note that has to have been played on guitar strings as thick as transatlantic telephone cables. God knows what the transcriptions would look like.
Listening to all of Abyssal in one sitting is something of an endurance test. It is most certainly not an easy listen, so breaking it down into smaller chunks is probably the best way to get properly acquainted with the songs without becoming completely punch drunk and overwhelmed. There are a couple of tracks which don’t bring a tremendous amount to the party, and “Sterile” somewhat fittingly falls a little flat, and “Abyssal” has a grunt-and-squeal breakdown that feels uncharacteristically disjointed.
It may be that listeners to Abyssal fall into two broad schools – those who prefer the more old-school, heads down death metal pummelling, and those who more appreciate the contemporary experimentations, but those two strands are fairly equally represented here, so neither group should feel especially short changed. Certainly, if you are looking for melody or contrast, you’re not going to find them here – but you will find out precisely why they have filled in the genre box on their social media profiles with the word ‘evil’. Playing it loudly will definitely keep the Jehovah’s Witnesses away from your door. As well as almost everyone else, in fairness. Abyssal surely has to be a strong contender for the most uncompromisingly heavy and caustic release of the year so far.
Abyssal is available Aug. 2 via Unique Leader Records.