ABYTHIC – Dominion of the Wicked (2021)REVIEW

The redirection of west German death metal band Abythic by way of musician MDB can be considered a rare success in somewhat abrupt transition from fairly typical classicist death metal one might naturally associate with North Rhine-Westphalia’s dead serious Bolt Thrower and Asphyx obsessed ‘old school’ circles unto this lumbering, patiently aggressing coup of semi-melodic death/doom metal. Their third album ‘Dominion of the Wicked‘ represents a long-awaited body-deep plunge into their own portal, an imposing doom resonant beyond the norm. Achieved after some considerable search for meaning, the experience should initially take the listener reeling back to the early 90’s when this sort of slow, plodding and expressive melodic extreme doom metal had not yet fallen into the realm of “gothic” metal but still represented an emotionally devastated and funereal death metal phenom. It is certainly a big change to take in if you’d already been a fan of the band yet Abythic haven’t lost their taste in art and riffs as they achieve something more personal and distinct here in 2021.

Formed in 2015 and cutting their teeth on what seemed like a tentative concept to start, Abythic would essentially re-staff after their first EP and hold a Mark II line-up together for roughly two years ’til they’d produce a debut full-length (‘Beneath Ancient Portals‘, 2018) which I’d found a generally sharp record best likened to classic German death metal band Torchure‘s death/doom influenced but still thrashing debut ‘Beyond the Veil‘. Their love for bands like Pentacle, Grave and Bolt Thrower were notable yet there was the sense that Abythic‘s songwriters weren’t entirely sure what direction the band should lean in. At that point founding drummer MDB (ex-Adversum) would be the one to take the reigns, pulling in the drummer from his other project Abschwörung and keeping Reckless Manslaughter vocalist Leimy on board for part of their second album (‘Conjuring the Obscure‘, 2019) which looks a bit like an elaborate audition process in hindsight, a multi-chapter album covering four influential 80’s/90’s death metal scenes with a different vocalist per section. In fact the artist seems to have gleaned this philosophy that to reach one ideal would be a certain dead end, so each new album represents a different direction. As I’d noted in my review of that second album the section with former Ingurgitating Oblivion vocalist Ulrich Kreienbrink was the standout moment on the album and as such, he has been the right one to take over vocals on this third album. If they were looking for the right fellow and the right style in the process of that somewhat experimental format, Abythic‘ve done well in selecting their current focus.

At four songs and ~35 minutes with a nearly fifteen minute song up front a lot of what Abythic are doing here hinges on every decision made within these tightly sectioned pieces. If just one doesn’t pan out for your ear, it represents a large chunk of the runtime by default. Thankfully this should only indicate that they’ve honed in on their best moments here, edited the final result into a succinct but still engaging and affecting listen. Though it makes the most sense to first look towards more modern acts for referential listening and/or modus, I would suggest fans keep the post-‘Lost Paradise’ school of death/doom demo tapes in mind in the meantime. This means fairly recent records from Doomortalis (see: ‘Splendor… Then Gloominess‘) and Funeral Leech (see: ‘Death Meditation‘) suggest meter, riffing and this lumbering dirge each serve as nearby idealism for that era. For the sake of a nearby Deutsche equivalency in nature, Ophis is a reasonable comparison. From there we can look out of the corner of our eyes at Mourning Beloveth‘s first demo ‘Burden‘, Novembers Doom and the ‘Her Tears Drop‘ tape as well as the somewhat closer in vision ‘Obscurity‘ demo from lesser known Danish band Iconoclasm. None of these releases solely suggest the path that Abythic have taken but as an armful of doomed death metal you can divine some keyboards, some melodic lead guitars, slow and punishing riffs with a minor hint of ‘…For Victory’-era Bolt Thrower edging in at opportune times. When flipping through my own collection and mentally placing the vibe it’d always land somewhere within the early 90’s Peaceville death/doom canon, the adjacent early funeral doom acts out of Scandinavia/North America and the stuff both scenes would influence in the states soon after. Not quite (early) Cemetery (Sweden) and not exactly Thorns of The Carrion but certainly not as blood-thirsty as Ceremonium‘s first EP. Apologies for all of the namedrops, I am a big fan of this kind of ugly, ominous death/doom from a pure, old underground place.

Again, back in 2019 I’d suggested “…Ulrich Kreienbrink, former vocalist for Ingurgitating Oblivion and early live fill-in for Slaughterday takes over and makes an immediately striking first impression. What ‘Killrich‘ does on “Ruins in a Wasteland of Visions is probably one of the bigger highlights of the record and I’d almost wanted him to deliver the rest of the record at that point. The tone of this second Chapter… is thicker shrouded by the fog of doom, a more deeply slithering Autopsy-esque crawl that I personally love for the howling range expressed by Kreienbrink.” and I certainly still stand by this in both description of this album and its use of his broad-ranged and expressive vocal work. He fits into this style quite well and I am glad his vocals are uniquely set here, guttural yet entirely readable, growling yet enunciating for effect. His presence expands and contracts in notable ways through the album, “The Call” is a fine example of raising foment and creating interest beyond the self-obsessed gloom you’ll find in many otherwise heavy bands that aim for a similar sort of October Tide + ‘old school’ death metal styled range. The flow of this song into “Endless Tides” via a circular lead guitar melody offers a strong translation of these styles that feels ancient and simple but develops in a modern sense, building an elaborate phrase that dirges in a memorable, ‘ancient’ death/doom voice. The balance isn’t always so perfect and the riffs aren’t always thrilling but the effect of the each piece as a whole undertaking lands well upon me — The bitter funeral of “Augury of the Doomed” being the weird psychotic break I’d needed to send things off into the underworld at the end.

With that said no doubt most folks will leave the ‘Dominion of the Wicked’ experience with the aforementioned night fifteen minute opener “At the Threshold of Obscurity” having left the most memorable mark as it not only represents nearly half of the album but must create the initial atmosphere, embody the vibe, explore the virtues of this new modus, and present much of Abythic‘s greater oeuvre within one piece. With this in mind the bellowing, almost belligerent fume of this first song is initially too blunt of an introduction to really see where the album is headed. Not until the chorales and keyboards kick in at the ~6:45 minute mark and the major send-off guitar melody at 10:05 minutes does the whole of the piece and its representative value begin to lock in place. — Semi-melodic death/doom delivered with disgust, heinous yet titanic sounds vomited upon the marbled halls that’d previously contained its greater bestial form. It definitely took a few listens and for sure those initial runs felt fairly short but I’d ultimately appreciate this one for its ease of immersion and the strong development of what the first song presents as they pressed on into the next three. A smart (but not too smart) and emotional (but not “goth”) vision of doomed death metal that presents its own keen atmospheric value with great efficiency. Don’t get too comfortable, though, as it seems this project is intent on reinvention ad infinitum for the sake of exploring all realms via their own uniquely summoned portals. I personally appreciated this one not only as a fan of death/doom but for the versatility displayed in such a short period of time, the paradigm shift is as good or even stronger than past works. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Dominion of the Wicked
LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions
RELEASE DATE:February 12th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [2/12/21]
GENRE(S):Death Metal,
Death/Doom Metal

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