Normally when I listen to music it is with headphones, and the graphic equalizer, if there is one, is low in the middle and high on the ends. I like a lot of bass in my music and I always have. I wanted to be a bass player partly because I loved how overwhelming bass could sound and feel. But sometimes this proclivity can work against me. Abyssal is one of those times. The production on A Beacon in the Husk is so overwhelming, so expansive that I almost can’t hear the actual riffs and melodies.
But rest assured, they exist. And “overwhelming” is the key word here. This album sounds like you are listening to the band from the opposite end of a series of aircraft hangers. Sound is bounced and bounced until individual sounds conflict with themselves. The dissonance would destroy any other music, but here it is a revelation—it positively feeds the music and the listener.
Operated by a gentleperson going by “G.D.C.” (rather than Gregg Cowell), Abyssal is a one man show with three previous albums under its belt, the last, Antikatastaseis, released four years ago. So this motherfucker has been a long time brewing. This record is not, therefore, an accident. G.D.C. knows what he wants, and intends for us to explore this record in the stages he designed.
Opening number “Dialog” is amply demonstrative of Abyssal’s style and intent. It is one of the more immediate pieces on the album, and showcases its penchant for both suffocating texture and understated melodies, both of which are the earmarks of the record as a whole. This segues into the album proper; three movements, each numbered according to its story structure. Labeled “Recollections,” Discernments” and “Descent” respectively, each is further broken into its own songs. I was not given a lyric sheet so I can’t tell you what the story being conveyed is, but it sounds pretty fucking serious.
There is really no way to adequately describe the musical journey awaiting the listener. I will say it requires patience and certain frame of mind to really appreciate what is happening. For example, there are nearly six minutes of “spoken” word intro to “Shapes Upon the Retina,” which is a little much…until the musical emphasis is made in the last minutes. Then it makes sense and carries you away. “The Cloister Beneath the Grime” is as close as the album gets to a standard death metal track, and yet here, too, things are a bit bigger and vaster than you expect.
That is the story of the whole record. Occasionally calling to mind acts such as varied as The Chasm, Immolation and Godflesh, Abyssal creates soundscapes as much as creating songs, springing surprising melodies form the cacophony in almost Broderickian terms. That is the magic. Taking density and creating cathedrals of sound from the chaos. It truly satisfies.
The compositions spend a lot of time in the slower paced end of the spectrum, even approaching doom, which gives the listener the opportunity to ground themselves in the sound. When the blasts hit, therefore, said listener is ready to pounce. It becomes a voyage of discovery rather than a suffocating chore.
If there is anything that holds the album back it would be a couple of minor quibbles. The vocals are a little too present. Sometimes I wished they would cease and let the music speak for itself more. It can be distracting, though without a lyric to look at I may be missing reasoning for the seeming omnipresence. Sometimes as well, instead of letting an idea reach a natural endpoint, G.D.C. feels like he is drawing it out just to draw it out. The music is plenty epic; there is no need to force it to exist more than it already does.
Neither of those things will keep me from listening to this unwholesome bastard on stormy nights as I watch the lightning and contemplate my ridiculous place in the universe. This music is built for moments when you measure yourself against the vastness of the cosmos. It makes you feel as small as you are, but still insists that we tiny idiot apes can create art that justifies us.