SPELLJAMMER – Abyssal Trip (2021)REVIEW

In conveyance of the last existential mystification the human mind has yet to fathom with any consistency, scale, Stockholm-borne stoner/doom metal trio Spelljammer pack heavy layers for a several year in the making journey to the perpetual dark, the oxygen void pressure of ‘Abyssal Trip’. As we enter this most horrifying sea level the ultimate depths feature creatures with all manner of extremophilic adaptive traits, such as cutaneous sensors that pressure-match their liquid innards with the ocean via saline concentration and ultra-high light sensitivity paneling among seeming steel-carapace’d creatures to help maintain moonwalking levels of motion in their blood. We quickly become aware that we should likewise view the development of Spelljammer as an equally profound (and equally slow) extremophile evolution, which we cannot parse in generational movements so much as we can observe what speciation occurs in chaotic spurts. Each new release is a new creature adapting to a different depth, conveying an entirely different dynamic within an known ecosystem. We can still say that any/all mutations retain inherent Spelljammer traits, yet the beast goes on evolving for the sake of exploration. Here we reach a painfully growling low-lurker, a psychedelic squelching menace that’d slither earthquakes around obstacles rather than burn through them with the screaming desert fuzz of the past. Have these hidden years of evolution gone awry?

For years I’ve gone on about Monolord‘s guitar tone on ‘Vænir’, an ideal I still consider absolute perfection thanks to drummer Esben Willems work behind the scenes and I mention this up front because I’d rather geek out on how goddamned heavy-slung the render of this record is than dive into back catalog spiel. In fact Willems mastered ‘Abyssal Trip’ and he’s done a fantastic job of holding their heads underwater for it. Spelljammer are certainly not strangers to the nuke-level fuzz guitar/bass tonal spectrum, this is especially true if you’ve sat with their debut EP (‘Inches From the Sun‘, 2010). It is a wonder that death/doom metal bands’ve rarely tapped into this region of space for producer/render work beyond Hooded Menace (and a few other-sludgers) as it could be a major point of distinction and broader appeal. Anyhow, back then these fellowes had a different drummer and were in a headspace more clearly influenced by the Sleep/Electric Wizard sized psychedelic doom and desert/stoner rock’s development beyond the 90’s. That isn’t to say that their second EP (‘Vol. II‘, 2012) lacked any of that swagger but it’d started to take a more deathly serious tone, trading a groovy and bounding feeling for spaced-and-suffocating psychedelic doom. I hadn’t personally discovered these guys until RidingEasy picked up ‘Vol. II’ and promised a debut full-length by the end of that year (2015). It was that debut (‘Ancient of Days‘, 2015) that’d first caught my ear, though you’ll note ‘Vænir’ came out that same year and it was frankly a point of obsession that’d left me deaf to other stoner/doom gigs for a bit. Coming back to Spelljammer‘s debut about a year later had me appreciating the album beyond its sort of peak ‘Let Us Prey’ to ‘We Live’ transitional sound and finding the deeper waves of (again) psychedelic doom metal movements rather than plainly bludgeoned riffs. In this sense ‘Abyssal Trip’ is both a follow-up to ‘Ancient of Days’ and a shift towards looser, far more atmospheric mantra. Folks who’ve adored the darker-shifting sands of recent records from Slomatics and Holy Serpent will likely cling to this deeper, darker and slow-burning sound easily.

Pondering the hidden potential of the vast emptiness of space and breaching thought upon the doom of mankind must’ve occurred naturally as the band isolated in the Stockholm-area countryside, relaxed and reclusive as they’d recorded ‘Abyssal Trip’. There is a particularly cold and introverted feel to the result, a patient and reserved slow-nodding set of songs that aren’t anxious to kick out a hook or anything short of a well developed dirge for the bulk of its ~44 minute run. A slow build is perhaps the easiest and most effective way for a doom metal band to create scale, bands like Thou have made entire albums dependent on the success of a keen gradual build, yet it doesn’t guarantee an immediately exciting listen. Where this dirge-to-a-peak modus does serve Spelljammer well is in creation of the sensation of a distance closing or, a perspective expanding via the “payoff” of inevitably explosive motions; This becomes a key element to differentiating ‘Abyssal Trip’ from its predecessor, which’d been patient but perhaps eager to strike whenever the chance presented itself. This is the main reason the all-builder, kill you later opener “Bellweather” just would not stick in my mind after countless listens, it isn’t an extended intro so much as it places great emphasis on an easing approach which verges on drone-doom as the guitars begin to fire off in the distance. That ease at which it bleeds doesn’t fully strike me as a major highlight until it births “Lake”. Two separate pieces flow into one greater dirge and remain incomplete without one another. Slips into mid-paced and hypnotic beats throughout “Lake” present classic psychedelic rock flow most readily but the song itself becomes a space rock wobbling psych-doom jam as it pushes onward. This should sound a bit like a Zaum review at this point and I’d say for good reason, even if that isn’t necessarily where Spelljammer end up.

The title track is fittingly the clincher for my own taste, the longest piece on the album and the kick-off for Side B, which clearly finds the band thriving within a spacious ten minute realm. At this point bands like Green Druid have helped to redefine the ten minute stoner/doom metal song beyond the early 2000’s classics I’ve been addicted to since eh, the early 2000’s so from my perspective “Abyssal Trip” and “Silent Rift” represents a strong hit of nostalgia for the ultra-Sabbath grooves of that era largely unaltered beyond full and heady room to breathe. Wandering off into space beyond the ~6 minute point on “Abyssal Trip” feels like Spelljammer have circled back to the core appeal of stoner/doom metal and no doubt the stoner metal crowd unconcerned with the ‘new what’s next’ will have the easiest time falling right into this record. It’d been my experience, at least. I’m not saying this all sounds like Electric Wizard but man, that’d never be a real complaint on my part either. The only real major point of criticism I have after several runs through ‘Abyssal Trip’ sums itself up within closer “Silent Rift”, another ten minute piece that dirges and drones as a successful meditative groove with plenty of psychedelic spiral castles built within the ensuing guitar slinging momentum of the piece but it doesn’t make for much of a heavy rock song. The greater experience is incredibly focused on crafting wonder through gigantic guitar tones and simple ouroboric beats and they do so while cracking out a few a big metal riffs yet this deemphasizes the importance of songcraft which doesn’t read as the major focus of this particular joint. As a sonic adventure it definitely smokes but it doesn’t quite grip me the way I’d wanted it to, with a bit more boogie and bustle to stay focused on the doom at hand. A fine stoner/doom metal record nonetheless with incredible sound design and a beyond worthy expansion of the ideas ‘Ancient of Days’ was exploring years ago. A moderately high recommendation.

High recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Abyssal Trip
LABEL(S):RidingEasy Records
RELEASE DATE:February 26th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Psychedelic Doom Metal,
Stoner/Doom Metal,
Stoner Rock

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