Black metal and progressive metal are two subgenres which tend to get a bad rap from more casual fans. For the former, the common perception is that it's all about being evil and satanic, a pissing match of who's the most kvlt. For the latter, we see fans getting a bit snobby, thumbing their noses at "lesser" compositions. Despite the elitism, both genres still have respectable fanbases, with even casual fans of heavy music dabbling in either.
For their fifth full-length, Olympia, Washington's Abigail Williams bring these two styles together to make a ripper of a disc, titled Walk Beyond the Dark. Clocking in at fifty-six total minutes, with two tracks of the seven surpassing ten minutes apiece, this is not an album for passive listening. Between the brutality of black metal, the lush soundscapes of atmospheric post-metal, and the progressive song structures, there is a lot to take in with this album.
The album kicks off with "I Will Depart," an eight-minute marathon with some killer guitar work, especially the rhythm parts in the first verse. When the track slides into a proper black metal section with blast beats and octaves, it feels right at home and not forced. The transition into "Sun and Moon" is seamless, to the point where I thought it was still the same song, at least the first time through. The bass and drum interlude around the halfway point is a nice addition, as the instruments start finding their ways back in before another blast beat-filled section of black metal mayhem.
Even at just over four minutes, "Ever So Bold" brings in thunderous drum fills and a straightforward black metal approach for a ripping burst. The guitar solo positively sings over the instrumental, and gives the song a sense of grandeur. The first long epic, "Black Waves," manages to engage listeners for every note of its ten and three quarter minutes. From its clean guitar and violin intro to its frenetic double kick patterns, the track is dense in a great way. "Into the Sleep" is another no-frills black metal rager, with octave riffs everywhere.
"Born of Nothing" has a creeping, eerie passage right around the three minute mark. The guitars arpeggio their way along, and the result is damn unsettling. At nine plus minutes, this penultimate doombringer of a piece is far from a slouch, but it is the final track "The Final Failure" that runs the gamut across its eleven minutes. It builds up slowly, letting elements of doom metal play around for a while, before hitting its stride and finishing the album strong.
There is so much to like about this album. Abigail Williams plays around with influences beyond just black metal, without forgetting what brought them to the dance in the first place. It is a monolith of a disc, is Walk Beyond the Dark, and a truly must-hear landmark for the band and for the black metal subgenre itself.
Walk Beyond the Dark is available now through Blood Music and the band’s Bandcamp page.