Author: Brendan Blake
- Artist: Abigail Williams
- Album: Becoming
- Year of Release: 2012
- Country: USA
- Label: Candlelight
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: CANDLE292CDSE
Abigail Williams, as I have mentioned before, are a band that attract a certain amount of internet ire. It’s not difficult to see why – their sound has shifted dramatically through sub-sub-genres of black metal throughout their career, seemingly tracking whatever happens to be flavour of the month at any given time, and as such have picked up accusations of being a “hipster black metal band”. I rather see them as, at worst, a kind of cultural barometer of what is happening in the contemporary black metal scene, and more generously as a band continuing to listen to and being influenced by bands producing new music and evolving over time as they try and find their own identity within the wider metal scene.
Firstly, to address the supposed issue of “hipster black metal”… I hate this term, as I think it’s an ignorant and lazy way of dismissing bands or their albums without even really giving each release a fair hearing on its own merits. There is a subset of metal fans that adhere to a kind of snobbery, bordering on musical fascism, which likes to dismiss bands because of their perceived lack of adherence to a kind of “purity” or musical honesty, trashing their albums based not on the quality of material produced, but rather their idea of what constitutes being “true” to the idea of black metal. Personally, I’d rather judge an album based on whether I enjoy listening to it or not, but excuse me for being a simple fan of music rather than a crusader.
To put this in context, Abigail Williams (or more specifically frontman Ken Sorceron, as the rest of the line-up changes with bewildering frequency) started as a sort of blackened metalcore band, before moving into the realms of symphonic black metal on their first full-length (In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns) and then to an even more stripped down and raw black metal assault on their second (In The Absence Of Light). Now on their third full-length Becoming the band takes another step into emulating contemporaneous acts like Wolves In The Throne Room and Agalloch. Don’t get me wrong, this is in many ways highly derivative of superior bands, but it is nonetheless actually a really, really good album.
Opener ‘Ascension Sickness’ starts with the near-obligatory wind sounds of mid-period Bathory et al. but effectively strives towards the epic feel of early Emperor, and I detect a whiff of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss-era Burzum in the drumming during the ambient/acoustic build-up to its conclusion. The opener is largely typical for the progression of the rest of the album, with its mixture of tremolo-picked black metal riffing, quieter acoustic parts, some more traditional heavy metal sequences, and valuable contributions from their cellist (plus some bonus violin on the final track, ‘Beyond The Veil’). Sure, this is highly reminiscent of Wolves In The Throne Room, with vocal nods to the likes of Xasthur, but I fail to see how this is a bad thing. The closing track in particular deserves a place in black metal history as an – and I confidently predict rapidly forgotten – underrated classic.
Fans of the likes of Agalloch, Deafheaven, hell, even Primordial should find a great deal to enjoy in this release. To sum up – yes, it’s derivative, but let’s be honest here, there’s not a great deal of heavy metal out there that isn’t to some degree or other – almost part of the fun of reviewing stuff like this is spotting the musical references. This is a strong release from a fairly characterless band that will be ignored by many for reasons other than its actual content, and I think that’s a shame. Personally, I’ll be chalking it up as a positive – and for me, their best album to date.