Thulcandra – Hail the Abyss (Napalm Records)Wednesday, 10th May 2023
When it comes to melodic black metal, the name Thulcandra is one that’s become synonymous with that particular sound. Since their 2010 debut full-length Fallen Angel’s Dominion, these Bavarians have been at the forefront of the genre, further tightening their sound with each subsequent release. Their fourth album A Dying Wish saw the band grow in stature and critical acclaim, though didn’t bring much in the way of new elements or unfamiliar grounds. Thus brings us to Hail the Abyss for a sizable dose of blackened melodicism.
Immediately, “In the Eye of Heaven” strikes a familiar tone with striking melodies, razor sharp riffs and tremolos, layered with Steffen Kummerer’s distinctive shrieks. Well-placed acoustic segments within the song lends a natural change of tempo, rounding out a fine start to the band’s fifth LP. Tracks such as “Hail the Abyss” and “As I Walk Through the Gateway” gallop along at a quick pace, melodies fusing with polished black metal riffage that’s full of verve. “Velvet Damnation” and “Blood of Slaves” traverse between frenetic and purposefully restrained, adding a welcome balance, while “On the Wings of Cosmic Fire” even brings a taste of thrashy black ‘n’ roll energy to the table.
A somber, slow build is present within “Acheronian Cult,” giving an ever so slight Dissection vibe, providing a nod to past legends. Beginning with tantalizing acoustic guitars, slowly merging with a weeping lead that aids a slow build to multiple emotive crescendos, the fittingly titled “The Final Closure” is methodical and proportionally the most epic offering on Hail the Abyss. This entry serves as one of the best builds of tension and songwriting prowess that Thulcandra have ever displayed, hitting the right notes at the right times, ultimately becoming one of this scribe’s favorites from the band’s impressive discography.
Precise guitar interplay between Kummerer and Mariano Delastik is a notable highlight, with each maintaining the high standard that they first showed on A Dying Wish. The legendary Dan Swanö returns to add his signature touch on the mix, helping maintain Thulcandra’s powerful clarity, resulting in a thick and polished sound that continues to suit the band’s output. The man simply doesn’t miss, and the impact he’s had providing the flavor that so many artist’s need to fully realize their vision is astounding. Helping maintain a chilling aesthetic is returning cover artist Herbert Lochner, with his artwork showcasing a striking reaper on horseback being the centerpiece.
Those who are all about the melodic side of black metal certainly know Thulcandra, and those who embrace their sound will assuredly be enthralled. The band doesn’t deviate much from their proven formula, and there’s a comfort in knowing that a band is continuing to deliver at a top tier standard. Their more progressive side does shine through in parts, showing that they have it in them to change it up enough as to remain fresh and not completely predictable. In truth, it would be fun to see them flex that muscle more regularly, as the best moments are when they do just that. Nevertheless, Thulcandra again prove they’re one of the best in their chosen style with Hail the Abyss, serving up an intricately prepared album that’s a formidable slice of frigid melodic black metal.