There are only a few death metal albums that I could honestly say changed my life but there are countless that encouraged greater plasticity in it’s rapid teenaged development. One key usurper and eye-opener was Amorphis ‘The Karelian Isthmus’, a semi-melodic Finnish death metal album that seemed to transcend all other Scandinavian death metal I’d heard up to that point (roughly 1995). A born metal trivia hound and CD jacket scourer, I initially saw the Abhorrence cover that ended the Nuclear Blast version of the album as a weird regression that ‘ruined’ the albums flow. Granted I was barely a teenager and probably more ignorant than most listening to death metal at the time. What I’d gathered from magazines and word of mouth was seemingly logical, that Abhorrence was the precursor to Amorphis and they were interchangeable; Of course this was wrong and only the guitarist/main songwriter Tomi Koivusaari would migrate to to Amorphis in full. Would it be too revisionist to see Abhorrence as a two year death metal side-project before Koivusaari‘s focus went back with his old friends in Violent Solution as they formed Amorphis? It couldn’t matter less, actually, because they left behind a demo and a 7″ EP that are revered for their aggressive death/doom style to this day.
So why reform, you ask? To sell a compilation and get everyone to stop asking you to make death metal? To do a few tours and recapture those gloriously psychedelic teenage ambitions? Preservation of historic death metal releases no matter how big or small their impact is absolutely invaluable; The ‘Completely Vulgar’ compilation and subsequent tours restated the obvious importance of those celebrated recordings and anything that cranks up the glorification of garage spawned death metal demo tapes is a worthy cause. Scandinavian death metal bands have been respawning and reforming in record numbers now that European festival circuits make it relatively easy to revisit the forgotten past and this goes for old thrashers and their ilk as well. Who could tell whether or not the actual reformation of Abhorrence would make sense beyond some appearances? I don’t think they were entirely sure either as the members were quietly cagey about requests for more tours and reunion questions beyond 2013.
Roughly three decades later death metal is no less teeming with creativity and not only is Abhorrence‘s dark hand felt in bands like Spectral Voice, Krypts, and Dragkhar but old contemporaries Rippikoulu, Convulse, Purtenance etc. have all revived fully. Why not Abhorrence, too? The bar is set fairly low for these reformations and all they’d really have to manage is a nice production sound and some moderately interesting death metal to be seen as exceptional. So we’re graced with ‘Megalohydrothalassophobic’ 27 years later with no real expectations and, in a surprising turn of events, Abhorrence still rules. The main judgement to make here is a precarious task, though: Do I care how related it is to their material written in the late 80’s? Or, should this be taken as it is, with legacy and branding fucked off to the side? I suppose I have the space and the time to do both, actually.
A messy look to the past is perhaps the least interesting way to approach Abhorrence‘s first EP in nearly 30 years but I will say this sound is their own and it is appropriately old school death metal with elements of black and doom metal; Even if it appears ‘new’ in direct comparison to ‘Vulgar Necrolatry’ this release is less of an approximation or imitation of the stuff you love and rather a continuation of that youthful ethos. Consider that these guys were in their teens when they formed and now are all in their 40’s yet ‘Megalohydrothalassophobic’ recaptures that same spirit of Eldritch horror in staring into the void of our still-doomed future. I wanted to prattle on about the last three decades of accomplishment and history from each member but none of it as thrilling as the conceptual Lovecraftian horror narrated throughout this EP.
Author and contemporary philosopher Timothy Morton‘s ‘Dark Ecology‘ most certainly informs the setting of ‘Megalohydrothalassophobic’ and its too-real H.P. Lovecraft styled ancient looming horrors. With Morton‘s lexicon and larger concept of the Anthropocene epoch viewed as the true unavoidable doom upon the planet’s ecosystemic viability, journalist/author/bassist Jussi Ahlroth‘s poetic lyrics express a distant but very real terror for the impending ecological apocalypse the future brings. Of course The Call of Cthulhu is just as vital a reference here but I think the marriage of contemporary with classic literature is brilliant as a overarching theme and as personal lyric poetry. I am also extremely grateful for any band smart enough to include lyrics with promotional releases, it is such a great opportunity for immersion and meaning. So with this dark and real horror theme and some nods to the old sound how are the riffs?
The most surprising aspect of this release is it’s spacious production that doesn’t seem to rely on studio reverb for it’s giant, dynamic sound. There is a brilliant clarity to Jan Rechberger‘s (Amorphis) recording of the band and his mix leaves plenty of room for each element. This is most appreciated in the textural grind of guitar channels between Kalle Mattsson and Tomi Koivusaari using that old Sunlight Studios distortion pairing but with a tone more appropriately Finnish. None of the guitar work is simply banged out; ‘Megalohydrothalassophobic’ appears as a work understanding the strengths of records like ‘The Karelian Isthmus’ and ‘War Master’ with limited repetition, guiding semi-melodic interest, and plenty of psychoactive flourishes to feed it’s horror themed excess flowing. Performances are taut and recall a more ‘musical’ age of death metal, pre-Göteborg flagrancies, where thematic builds erupt into memorable riffs that pull the listener back in to the mosh pit as much as they encourage another spin of the record. In this sense Abhorrence deliver perhaps more value than ever with a set of strong riffs meticulously arranged throughout each track. Each song holds a point of supreme guitar interest that begins to mature in value with further listening.
From the first hits of “Anthem for the Anthropocene” you should find yourself plunged into the abyss as a chilling fog machine wets your screaming face in the darkness; There is an almost swinging groove to the first track that reminds me of Interment (Sweden) a bit. “The Four Billion Year Dream” builds towards a main riff that is just huge, it hits like ‘Ancient Dreams’-era Candlemass in the middle (or perhaps old Amorphis, more obviously) and for me that old magic is alive in this release without question. While a track by track is in bad form I do want to also mention that the almost Bolt Thrower-like riffs of “Hyperobject Beneath the Waves” are among the most tasteful and heavy done in that style I’ve heard all year. There is a lot to like here whether you take ‘Megalohydrothalassophobic’ at face value or consider Abhorrence‘s return with the scrutiny of a decades-long fan of Finnish death metal. It lives up to either standard and should be hailed as a worthy piece. Highly recommended.
Fierce the pale star burns. 4.25/5.0
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