US based extreme metal band Abigail Williams have always been something of an enigma to me. They have always had a wilfulness to them- right back to their original quasi-metalcore roots through to the black metal extemporizing that they have become most notable for. There has always been something of a “take it or leave it” to their oeuvre: in some respects, it’s something that we should respect but I have always found their cantankerousness to be slightly confrontational, if not a little off putting. Until now.
“Becoming,” their latest record for my current favourite label, the exemplary Candlelight Records is, to these ears, absolutely stunning.
In the age of the digital download and the assumption that we all only have the attention span of a particularly irritated and edgy gnat, it is a blessed relief and a welcome change that the six track, fifty five minutes of music that have been created here by Abigail Williams credit the listener not just with a modicum of intelligence, but a bucketload. With “Becoming,” they have created a compelling, complex and beguiling set of “songs”, a haunting and dynamic narrative that is as challenging as it is enveloping. “Becoming” is a landmark for this band. It is my album of the month for January, and will doubtless turn up in the end of year polls for albums of the year. “Becoming” is belligerent, relentless and creeps like the stickiest of molasses right under your skin. And stays there.
This is a record that builds both mood and ambience gradually. The opening bars of ‘Ascension Sickness’ set the dark, foreboding mood with aplomb, the screeching howl of Ken Sorceron‘s vocalising overlaying a musical score that owes as much to the dark ambience beloved of an Alcest or Wolves in the Throne Room as it does to the early black metal pioneers that have clearly influenced this work. The relatively straightforward ‘Radiance’ has a rich and a repetitive guitar part that builds to a crushing, doom laden crescendo.
“Becoming” is more like a novel than a record though. Its mood is cold and foreboding throughout; its pessimism never far from the surface at any time, irrespective of the track the band play for us. There is a decent sense of narrative across the album and whilst there are time and mood changes as the minutes progress you’re left with the sense that this band are clear in their purpose of the overall effect that they are trying to create- that they succeed with some of the most uncompromising music you’re likely to hear anywhere, anytime, is to their estimable credit.
I know that there will be a number of black metal aficionados who might complain that the production on the record is too clean. I think that would be a misplaced criticism, as I think the production plays well to the complexity of sounds and emotions that the band are trying to create.
As a band, Abigail Williams have suffered more than most with the revolving door of changing band members so in many respects I guess this record should be seen as the singular, creative output of mainstay Ken Sorceron. He deserves a huge amount of credit for his single-mindedness has paid off handsomely. “Becoming” is a rich, dark, foreboding record. We live in dark, troubled times. “Becoming” is the most apposite soundtrack to those dark, troubled times that I can think of.