Abigail Williams have long been a perplexing band as they never seem to settle on one particular sound. Ken Sorceron, the only constant member and band front-man, seems to go wherever the music takes him. It’s no surprise that after loving 2012’s Becoming, I didn’t like their 2015 follow up, The Accuser. So here we are in 2019 with Abigail Williams’ Walk Beyond the Dark, easily one of the most creative black metal albums I’ve heard in ages.
If you only listened to the first minute of the first track “I Will Depart,” you might be forgiven for assuming that this is just another run of the mill black metal album, albeit with a surprising amount of energy and riffage. The vocals are there, and the guitars are old school, hitting all the right intervals. But before this very first song can even roll out the tremolo, you get a big ol’ dose of atmosphere. Alright, so now it’s atmospheric black metal. I can dig it.
It’s not just the first song that incorporates multiple genres, it’s the whole album. The second track, “Sun and Moon,” starts, and say good-bye black metal and hello post-metal. Not even blackened post-metal, just post-metal. And then just to mix it up even more, we get clean vocals. Abruptly, from nowhere, strings. What is even going on here? I don’t care. It is awesome and I am 100% down. Eventually the track effortlessly stirs black metal back into the pot, before dipping into a bass/drums breakdown, which feeds into a clean strings-driven bridge. In case you thought I was done listing genres appearing on this album — nope. Another song, “Black Waves,” is clearly a blackgaze track. It is musical chaos, but it works.
I haven’t listened to an album this creative in a long time. It feels like Sorceron finally landed on a style unlike any other. There are elements and influences here that I could call out from bands across the spectrum. Sometimes I felt like he was listening to Ne Obliviscaris, or maybe Zoë Keating, while writing these songs. Then a verse will hit and I wonder if Astronoid and Anagnorisis made his playlist for a stretch. Regardless, he seems to enjoy the same stuff I do. Maybe we should hang out.
The creativity is not just limited to the musical expression of genres. This album is clearly interested in telling an emotional story as well. It’s not a black metal album interested in sounding dark and evil; occasionally yes, but it also flirts with eerie passages, uplifting riffs and phrasing, and hopeful elements. The clean vocals, which they’ve teased before but are now far more prominent on this album, strongly support these pillars. Hell, “Into the Sleep” even comes across as happy for most of the song. Brett Boland (Astronoid’s pioneering “happy metal” front-man) would be proud.
“The Final Failure,” the culmination of the album, weaves every last one of these elements together to create a wonderful eleven minute sonic journey which transports you through time and space. The solo is a stand out moment that punches through everything else to shout “Hey! Listen.” The song eventually winds down with mournful strings as the album removes its hooks, leaving you scarred but free. The album is a wild ride, and it stands out in a year of excellent albums. Nothing really gets me like an album that refuses to conform to an individual genre, and the more an album encompasses other genres, the more I like it.
From their early genesis with what could be a metal soundtrack to a Castlevania game to where they are now, Abigail Williams’ path has been all over the place, and I can’t help but feel that this is the foundation of why they are so creative. You can probably understand why each album is so different by looking at the band member chart on Wikipedia; thirty members over five albums is some serious churn. I can only assume Ken Sorceron has been searching for something, and my hope is that with this album he has found it.
While the album may be a little transparent with its influences, I still appreciate the craft that went into assembling all the component parts. “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” a quote which Steve Jobs himself stole from others, comes to mind when mulling over this tapestry woven by Abigail Williams. I’m not going to call it theft, but Walk Beyond the Dark verges on great art.