Abyssic – High the Memory (Osmose Productions)Sunday, 24th February 2019
Some albums possess the enviable gift of enrapturing the listener on the first listen. That’s to say nothing of the album’s overall quality or its longevity, but only a comment on the album’s ability to capture the listener immediately.
For yours truly, High the Memory was not that album.
That shouldn’t be taken as negative commentary on Abyssic’s latest, but it is dense. Denser than the infinite void so many black metal groups strive to mine for effect (…and employ similar cover art). But black metal High the Memory is not. Not by a long shot.
Instead Abyssic present an unusual take on ‘symphonic’ doom while beholden to all the genre tropes: glacial tempos, dying star heaviness, seething with despair, songs that are built to scale in line with the carving of canyons (two here go beyond twenty minutes and only one comes in under ten). The difference lies in the rich, deeply layered orchestration that insulates the doom that crawls beneath (horns also join throughout, particularly on “Transition Consent”). Synth and keys are no strangers to the genre but the way they are employed here is, for lack of a better term, outstanding. Spacey, dramatic, all the normally abused adjectives used to describe the application of keys in a metal setting readily apply here.
And these aren’t redundant pieces, each of these ‘songs’ are composed of multiple threaded movements. The title track is an exercise in scaling peaks, seeing the unfeeling gods at their summits, then plummeting through a litany of hells to drown far below. The pace, as would be expected, tends to crawl. It perks up from time to time, but most spectacularly in aforementioned closer “Dreams Become Flesh”, when a death metal fire emerges to destroy whatever disturbed it. The same theme emerges in the album’s closing minutes to finish in a way doom albums rarely do. It’s a welcome change of pace, even when considering the context of what this album is.
Again though, density is the name of the game here. While the orchestration does offer a fantastic balance to the roiling darkness, given the length of the songs it is occasionally easy to get lost in them. In part that’s the nature of funeral-esque doom (symphonic or otherwise), in part it’s because the orchestration can also prove disorienting, whizzing and soaring over the murk below. It’s not an issue that pops with any regularity but it did cause me a few double takes. Not unsurprising in a 77 minute album.
Not for the easily distracted or those inclined purely toward grind, High the Memory demands discipline and patience to give up its many secrets. It probably won’t deliver on them on the first listen, but goddamn that second listen will likely hit hard and make sense. But it takes time. A lot of it.