Malta. Home of the storied falcon. If you have not checked out that flick, you should. It is incredibly cool. Dated, but still freshly snarky and with unmatchable performances by Bogart, Lorre, and Greenstreet, whose jovial and insidious character Gutman would inspire a certain Hutt of some note. I don’t recommend a lot of movies, but I do recommend this John Huston noire classic with my whole brain.
But Malta is a real place with a real history and real people, some of whom make real gore-ish technical death metal. Certainly Abysmal Torment do with The Misanthrope. And they do it with ferocity and zeal. In fact these songs are assembled in a way that fans of bands like Aborted and Avulsed would appreciate. Their pig squeal roots are hard to detect, but the ferocity remains.
A misanthrope is one who has pretty much grown out of humanity, lost empathy and sees only the worst in their fellow man. I always think of the late-stage George Carlin when I think of a misanthrope. His early comedy was traditional. He then went counter culture and found his real voice. But all that Anti-Nixon hippy snark had to face Reagan, then Bush, then Clinton. By the time the aughts rolled in, he was not writing jokes so much as describing why we should all just give up and die. Albeit, wittily.
As I get older I come to relate more and more to this attitude. And so does Abysmal Torment, at least going by this record. Couched in the language of loss – of faith, empathy, hope – the songs run a raging course, and the music, normally associated with gore, informs every dark downward step. “Revelation” is a gradual build up into a spoken prayer for what follows. “The Misanthrope” opens with fist into the wall frustration and malice, and the record never lets up from there.
“Second Death” marches you toward a wall, throws you to your knees, kicks your legs wide and executes you, using splatter and tech-death musical tropes in the cause of grinding despair into your psyche. Again, this is even more effective than normal because the subject matter is not tongue in cheek. This would be great splatter death regardless, but the fact it is philosophical splatter death lends it gravitas beyond its genre.
The whole journey is satisfying, and not overlong. No song tickles the five minute mark, yet each feels complete, as the band leaves nothing on the floor. Again, this is experience at work; these folks know what they are doing and what they want to do. They understand the genre as well as it can be understood, and they are obviously fans as well as practitioners. They have grown, but they have done so in a manner fitting their early trajectory, rather than against it.
With great production and thoughtful songwriting, the only real issue with this hateful organism is the paucity of death metal around it. We live, as I keep stating, in an age of embarrassing riches as metal fans. Abysmal Torment is a cut above, but it is all such a close thing. The best and the merely adequate are separated by such ephemeral notions of quality it gets a little tiresome to keep giving death metal records a positive review, even when they are as fantastic as The Misanthrope. I can feel readers asking “fantastic in comparison to what?”
I can’t answer that for you. I am blessed to hear a ton of new music every month, but I remember when it wasn’t so, and I want to help people see true quality when it arises. But at this point it would be false to put some records down just to lift others up, leaving something like The Misanthrope difficult to elevate. But the music, the ideas and the production demand it. I cannot penalize Abysmal Torment for releasing a great album in a sea of great albums. I can only suggest to you that, if you have the means, pick this motherfucker up.
Also, give The Maltese Falcon a peep. And pour one out for Carlin and all the other realistically humorous human haters out there. If it’s too mean, you’re too young.