Originally written by Ramar Pittance
After cycling through nearly 20 bandmates and two distinctly modern approaches to symphonic black metal, Abigail Williams’ main man Ken Sorceron sounds closer to finding a style that suits him on Becoming, the band’s third full length album. No longer mingling metalcore with symphonic blackness or laboriously reviving the style in its purest form,Abigail Williams now plays a stripped down and sometimes evocative take on the current wave of American black metal. As has always been the case with this band, though, Becoming is only as effective as Sorceron’s ability to translate somebody else’s style. There are moments worth hearing here, but this album’s charms are unlikely to outlast Sorceron’s infatuation with his latest muse.
There’s a bit of misdirection that goes on whenever a band makes a stylistic shift like Abigail Williams has. While you’re entitled to your skepticism about the band’s motives, you might be aiming that derision the wrong way. Whether Sorceron’s stylistic shift is the result of his band’s ever-rotating roster or a conscious effort to walk the path of least critical resistance doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Abigail Williams is still learning this style, and you can hear that on Becoming.
Where do we hear it? It’s in the underdeveloped craftsmanship, which is manifested in songs that tend to sound more like loosely assembled odes to other bands’ material. Becoming often sounds like an interpretation ofWolves in the Throne Room‘s lo-fi black metal, as played by musicians who don’t yet understand what makes the style effective. Songs like “Elestial” and “Infinite Fields of Mind” have the parts, but lack the compositional throughlines that make for a greater sum. Both tracks are introduced by muted and melodic clean guitar lines, which are awkwardly abutted by up-tempo swells of distortion and blastbeats. These transitions are jarring not because of the drastic change of pace and intensity, but because each shift feels entirely unmotivated.
Sorceron does deserve credit for informing these tracks with his well honed sense of melody. If anything has survived Abigail Williams’ transition away from their symphonic past, it’s the ear for crafting simple and memorable guitar lines. Unfortunately, the band also seems to embody the prevailing criticism about America’s current go at black metal — that beneath the pleasant wash of melodic guitars, it’s all hollow art. If songs aren’t clumsily tripping over compositional fault lines, they’re coasting for far too long on a single melody. “Ascension Sickness,” rides one such theme for three whole minutes, without resolution, before fading to silence.
“Beyond the Veil,” the album’s closing track, is 17 minutes long, and if you’ve got the time for it, might foresage a better future for Abigail Williams. It occasionally thrills, as orchestral stings and Sorceron’s melodic touch cohere to provide some of the most evocative symphonic black metal of the band’s career. At the eight minute mark, the martial bowing of violins sets the stage for the song’s gradual unfolding, a crescendo during which all the players — for the first time in the album’s duration — enter the stage at precisely the right time and hit their marks. It makes sense, given the band’s history, that a track so rich in orchestral instrumentation should be the best on Becoming. Though I was never a fan of the band’s prior output, mostly due to their overbearing reliance on synthetic keyboards, it’s obvious that Sorceron’s melodic sensibilities are best used in the service of something grander.
I know it’s not what they intended, but Becoming seems like an appropriate title for Abigail Williams’ latest, given how apparent it is that the band is still growing into a new sound. While they’ve gone from being one of the chief American purveyors of symphonic black metal, they’re now wrestling for attention in a crowded field against artists who have much firmer grasp of what they’re doing. Becoming may be the best Abigail Williams album to date, but it’s still clear which bands were busy defining this particular style of black metal ten years ago, and which were channeling Dimmu Borgir by way of The Black Dahlia Murder.