Album Title: Hail The Abyss
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 19 May 2023
It’s entirely possible that 2023 could become known as the year of blackened death metal. With a number of quality releases already at the disposal of the genre afficionados, we’re offered yet another tasty platter, in the form of ‘Hail The Abyss’, the fourth full-length release from Germany’s Thulcandra. I’ve had my eye on this release ever since I knew it was on its way, having been impressed by their last offering, 2021’s ‘A Dying Wish’.
Founded by Obscura’s Steffen Kummerer in 2010, Thulcandra have, with ‘Hail The Abyss’, reached the kind of level that I honestly thought they had in them. And, in so doing, the quartet have released a bit of a stonker. Their modus operandi has not significantly changed, so the comparisons with Dissection remain perfectly valid as they deliver a slab of blackened death metal that unashamedly and proudly carries with it the beautifully dark stench of the 90s. If I had one genuine criticism with ‘A Dying Wish’ it was that the music, whilst melodic, didn’t hit me over the head with any killer hooks, or moments that sent me weak at the knees. I’m not taking any credit, I hasten to add, but it’s like they listened to my critique and thought ‘we’ll show him’.
Featuring ten songs, ‘Hail The Abyss’ has upped the melody to the point where I am lapping the music on this album right up. It’s not sickly, or saccharine in any way, and the added melody does not dilute any of the venom or heaviness on offer. The balance between beauty and darkness here is very well struck as it happens. But the melody has definitely been increased so that the vast majority of the songs contain within them one, two, or even more moments where I find myself smiling, thinking, ‘ooh, yes’. That being said, this is also a grower of an album, with more enjoyment and understanding coming with more than just a cursory couple of spins through.
There’s no other place to start either, than with the opening track, ‘In The Eye Of Heaven’, which bursts into life with a flurry of urgent, thunderous drums from Erebor, rumbling bass courtesy of Carsten Schorn, rich and vibrant riffs from Kummerer and M. Delastik, and cold, penetrating lead guitar lines from the axemen. Despite the initial attack, and the ensuing savage growls from Kummerer, there’s a kind of serene elegance to the music that’s hard to explain. For all its undeniable power, the song is thoroughly engaging, with undercurrents of sadness coming through via the melodic inflections. Acoustic guitars play an important role in the song, featuring in both the quieter and heavier passages to great effect, whilst the changes in tempo help to increase the sense of drama. The pace never truly reaches breakneck speed, but deliberately slower passages help to accent the faster material, as well as inject a touch of irresistible groove. The more I listen to this track, especially the gorgeous acoustic-led outro, the more I begin to think how utterly perfect it is.
The title track is a good two minutes shorter than the opening seven-minute beast, but this doesn’t hamper proceedings in any way. From the outset, the song goes for the jugular in a display of all-out frenzy, eventually introducing a slightly more pedestrian pace that allows for an influx of melody, albeit nicely understated. I love the thrash-influenced break around the halfway stage too, as Thulcandra seem intent on showing us that they are worthy of the ‘extreme metal’ tag. And, despite cramming so much into the song, it never feels cluttered or messy; it’s another great song from the quartet.
Normally, I’d deride the decision to include a minute-long acoustic interlude at this point, as it might threaten to derail the momentum of the album. But such is its beauty, I can’t help but love it. It helps that Thulcandra waste no time in dialling up the heaviness with ‘Velvet Damnation’ a song that does heavily recall Dissection, but also the likes of early Emperor, as the band focus more heavily on their black metal quota for large parts of this song. The lead guitar melody is really catchy but again, it’s not overused, instead, it simply accents the music when required.
‘On The Wings Of Cosmic Fire’ mixes things up again, with a more attitude-driven composition, particularly at the outset. The riffing is more front and centre and I get a punky, thrashy vibe overall. It may not be my favourite of the songs, but it’s an interesting affair nonetheless, injecting a touch more variety than I was expecting.
With its dark acoustic intro complete with whispered vocals, the Dissection influence on ‘Acheronian Cult’ couldn’t be more pronounced. The marching riff that takes over just increases the parallels, but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Dissection have gone, thanks to the actions of their questionable leader, Jon Nodveidt, so there’s room in my world for a band that can raise the spectre of a band that was, let’s face it, downright marvellous musically-speaking.
Anyone who doesn’t smile and nod their head to the rousing, galloping rhythms within ‘As I Walk Through The Gateway’ may need to check their vital statistics to see if there’s life in their veins, whilst the closing eight-minute composition by the name of ‘The Final Closure’ is every bit as epic as you may hope it is. Again, it is adorned with a sumptuous acoustic guitar intro, that is then built upon slowly and deliberately, to create maximum impact. The drumming that ensues sends a shiver down my spine, accented as it is with some sharp, cold staccato guitar work that joins possibly the slowest, most ponderous segment on the album. Not exactly doom, it has a genuinely melancholic vibe that is enhanced by the lumbering pace and laced by subtle but powerful melody. The ebb and flow is masterful, too, with acoustic guitars dialling down the intensity at various points within the composition.
Despite the quality that has already come our way this year with blackened death metal releases, I have to conclude that this is my very favourite so far. I just love the heaviness and the intensity of it, the chosen guitar tones, the production, and of course, the melodic aspect of the output. The blend is just about perfect as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve been thoroughly glued to this album as a result. In short, ‘Hail The Abyss’ is brilliant and, as well as the abyss, we should all hail Thulcandra!
The Score of Much Metal: 93%