Sometimes, as a lover and critic of music, one has to admit that they’re wrong. Egregiously so, even. Thus is the case with my relationship with, and belief in, the music of Ken Sorceron’s Abigail Williams. I first heard their debut record almost a decade ago, and was in all honesty thoroughly unimpressed. The music did nothing for me, and from that moment on I essentially stopped caring about the band as a whole. Sure, I put some of their subsequent albums on as background music, but didn’t pay any of it much serious attention. Even their Charlie Fell-featuring The Accuser couldn’t change my mind. Sure, Abigail Williams has shown some flashes of promise, but for USBM with an atmospheric bent I could always listen to Wolves In the Throne Room instead. So their fifth full-length record, Walk Beyond the Dark, showed up in my inbox to little internal fanfare. Which was, I admit, fundamentally the wrong reaction.
Let me get this out of the way now: Walk Beyond the Dark is very, very good. It’s intricate yet accessible, magisterial and vicious, and gorgeous while maintaining a profound level of ugliness. It’s everything I want an atmospheric black metal record to be and more. It’s so good that I’ve had to re-evaluate my perception of their entire discography. All this to say, Walk Beyond the Dark is what you should be listening to if you’re a fan of any form of black metal, whether you’ve enjoyed the band’s previous work or not.
I was wrong about Abigail Williams. I’m here to rectify that mistake.
“I Will Depart” is, for an album opener, a solid track. Introducing the spacious, melody-heavy songwriting that the band have become known for in long form, and featuring some digestible and memorable riffs played admirably by Sorceron, it would be hard to deny the album’s power if it all sounded like this. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Subsequent track “Sun and Moon” begins with a straightforward, albeit more militant maintenance of the open sound established by its predecessor, but is followed by the unleashing of a widescreen hell of black metal riffing and blast beats that feels like an emotional world being torn asunder. Halfway through the track the madness grinds to a halt, slowing the track down into a post-metal segue that is both jarring and extremely interesting. The track essentially begins its first rhythmic cycle again, ramping up to a fever pitch that ends in an utterly transfixing burst of intense atmospheric black metal perfection. It’s diverse. It’s unexpected. It’s amazing. Just like the remainder of the album.
To a fault, the songwriting and performances on Walk Beyond the Dark are excellent, wielding complexity and emotional heft like a two-edged sword that never fails to amaze. “Ever So Bold” rages and roars with melodic majesty, with a central section that feels reminiscent of the emotional highs reached by band’s like Astronoid or Saor. “Black Waves”, a ten-minute whopper of a track, features some fantastic and affecting string work that melds beautifully with the nifty drumming of Mike Heller (who is lights out brilliant throughout the record). But it’s “Into the Sleep” that steals the show, combining all of the album’s best elements into a kaleidoscope of sounds that raises the band’s music to unprecedented heights. It’s potentially the best track Sorceron has ever written, only to be rivaled by album closer “The Final Failure”, which reads like a giant middle finger to, well, people like me. The doubters, haters, and ne’er-do-wells who wrote off Sorceron and his band’s chances to achieve greatness. We were wrong. This is what a blinding ascent into long-term memorability looks like, and we’re all just here to bask in the glow.
Walk Beyond the Dark is an excellent album. Its songwriting, performative, and production choices are fundamentally sound and impressively diverse throughout, and those attributes alone would mark it as a quality release. But what makes the record so damn compelling and engaging is its intense, vibrantly alive emotional core. These songs feel earned, bleeding forth from the mind and heart of a musician and songwriter who has more than a few things to say. This is strident, maddeningly confident music that makes no attempt at compromise, instead unleashing itself upon the masses in all its bombastic, violent and vulnerable glory. The results are nothing short of spectacular, and I can say with confidence that Walk Beyond the Dark will be frequenting my black metal playlists for years to come. It’s the best record of the band’s career, and one of the most enjoyable listening experiences I’ve had this year.
Walk Beyond the Dark is out now via Blood Music.