Looking back on my lack of regular output, my constant references to myself and other things you may or may not have heard me say, and the fact that the totality of my journalistic experience is a pokey little blog read by five people and taking up a perfectly good URL, I think it's safe to say that I'm not exactly professional. However, one must aim for higher standards, and I'd like to think that, at least, I'm more professional than to just give the following review:
Abigail Williams - In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns
KEYBOARDS! KEYBOARDS! MOTHERFUCKING KEYBOAAAAAAAAARRRRRDDDDDSSSSSS!
and call in an evening.
Abigail Williams started out as an interesting prospect - it was essentially a bunch of teen metalheads playing what they knew best; At-The-Gates-style melodeath, epic melodic black metal and the obligatory metalcore vibes. Indeed they did this pretty much to the point of farce; vocalist Ken Sorceron's vocals at the time of their "Legend" EP in particular sounded like they were recorded for a computer-generated imp in a children's fantasy film. However, they were actually rather good. They managed to, for a while, be all things to all men and sounded pretty damn original while doing so. However, personal strife broke the band up, and it looked like a very promising collective had been lost to the aether of intra-band wangst.
Perhaps predictably their breakup was more of a hiatus, but it did start the precedent for them shedding members like a snake sheds skin. They reformed with a new lineup, ditched them and went for another lineup for this album, and you can tell that almost every instrumentalist in the band who wrote "Legends" was gone, because it appears that when hiring new guys, rather than articulate what precisely it was that Abigail Williams did, Sorceron just said, "We play black metal", because that's what they do now. Abigail Williams have essentially become what Emperor would have been had they formed in a mall in Phoenix rather than in a village in Norway.
One returning member from the band's earliest incarnation was keyboardist, eye candy and lead singer's "just friend", Ashley Ellyllon - now of Cradle of Filth, who's membercidal tendancies appear to have inspired Abigail Williams even more than their music - and apparently Sorceron was still trying to work his way into her lacy goth thong, because I can't think of any reason other than that why her keyboards are so high up in the mix that they block out everything except the drums. This is a shame because the guitars are really good, more than capable of shredding out the creepy melodies of the songs with icy malevolence. I know this because I heard a pre-mixing version of the song VII Empyrean: Into the Cold Wastes, in which you could actually hear them. In the final release they are swamped by blobs of generic choir synths to the point in which you can't hear a thing of them. It would seem that the endless insertion of "symphonic" into "symphonic black metal" has overpowered the "black metal" part, because Abigail Williams the Second seem intent on trying to out Dimmu Borgir Dimmu Borgir in their overblown pomp-metal. However, they seem to have missed the point somewhat.
Don't get me wrong, this album is both epic and symphonic, but they miss the point like champs. This album has none of the bite that black metal should have. It's simply very safe. There's no real aggression here, which is actually quite a feat from a band with the full black metal regalia of blast beats, high screams and shreddy guitars. It's just very unchallenging, marketable black metal played with no anguish or rage, and with no real motive but to sound cool. And maybe I've been listening to too much Xasthur and Weakling, but to me, this is the sound of black metal played by kids from southwest America who don't have souls. I'm serious, anyone who can listen to bands like Burzum and Immortal and still make music this emotionless is probably dead inside, or possibly are just pricks.
The real shame is that this once original band is now simply trying to emulate the greats of the genre. Dimmu Borgir, Bal Sagoth and Chthonic are practically namechecked, but the most obvious source of inspiration is Emperor, to the point where it's almost funny. They actually got the Norwegian lot's drummer to play for them as a session skinsman on the album. There's influence and then there's this, my friends. The problem is that they're simply not as good as their idols, no matter how hard they try. Overall this album can be summed up with the phrase "They tried too hard to be something that other people are doing much better", which is a shame because the previous iteration of Abigail Williams did the exact opposite - whether what they were doing was as good as it could be or not was irrelevant, because they were so original that judgement didn't really matter. As it stands, they are a good band, but they're trying to compete with legendary bands. They're up against competition so stiff, and so much more capable of playing this style, that their being "reminiscent of" this competition makes them obsolete, and of no further significance. I'm all for pretending that they died in the initial breakup in 2007, and never returned, while they were still more than the footnote they will now be.