In crafting their first full-length, Abigail Williams have adopted a style of music I generally enjoy far more than their previous metalcore tinged (but still ferociously fun) EP, Legend. In eschewing that element, however, they have lost the incredible variety of sounds that came with mixing melodeath, symphonic black, and metalcore sprinklings into one insane package. While lacking the genre-blending appeal of yesteryear, Abigail Williams more than makes up for this with their devotion to more mature soundscapes.
What remains when the elements of metalcore and melodeath are stripped from the musical soul of Abigail Williams is straight up symphonic black metal, and some ripping good music at that. Despite my chagrin at the removing of melodeath flavors, everything else feels like a natural evolution, and I feel it’s basically unfair to expect a band to continue forward without variance. Based on its own merits, In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns is consistent and beautiful, worthy of your time if you have the imagination necessary to plumb its depths.
All musicians on In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns are total beasts, particularly the variety of drummers, and the vocals are an inhumanly dry, unbending rasp. They work well, and the sparsely used clean sections are appreciated, eschewing the cringingly whiney tendencies of Legend. The production brings out the crisp iciness of the performance to its full potential, and the songs themselves are suitably epic numbers, with twinkling keyboard lines brightening the snowy skyline. Songs run together a bit, and could use some more variety, but have a cutting, ethereal desolation to them that evokes great mental imagery. Despite lacking the stylistic songwriting variance of their Legend EP, it’s a testament to the group that they still remain interesting with this more streamlined formula.
Songs generally shift back and forth between harsh blasting and mid-paced atmospherics, with a reliance on keyboards and tremolo picking to generate atmosphere. I really enjoyed it when the songs slowed down and let the keys take the lead, as these sections really imbue the compositions with the mysterious magic and wonder that this type of music excels at creating in the minds eye. Shouting from the top of towering spires of ice, dragons swooping down to incinerate the last remnants of life in a landscape of nuclear winter, and other epically nerdy themes continually grace the mind. At first I had trouble distinguishing the tracks from one another, and to be honest they still blur somewhat; this lack of potent variation is really what keeps the album from reaching greatness. However, I enjoy In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns more with each listen, which is a great sign for any album.
All told, In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns is a good symphonic black metal album, and should appeal to any fan of the genre, provided you don’t a hate-on for them based on snobbish principle. Its solidity helps make up for any perceived repetition, though I can’t help but ponder on what could have been, had the band kept the awesome, dynamic elements of Legend. While I readily admit that everything here sounds great, it sadly does not hold me in the same rapture as the genres very best works tend to do. Emperor, this is not. A number of spectacular moments, such as the midsection of Floods, nearly accomplish the feat of consuming me, but don’t last long enough to seal the deal. As I stated earlier, I feel the album gets better with repeat listens, as there’s a lot to sink ones teeth into, but I have yet to feel completely at one with it. Had the compositions had a bit more variety, I might have been in love.
What I cannot stress enough is that this album feeds on imagination. The more you allow it to just be itself, and let yourself get lost in it’s epic landscape rather than constantly projecting judgment, the more the music comes into its own. I suppose that’s good advice in reference to any music, though. In any case, I appreciate this album immensely, and I desperately want to yield to its charms, but at long last I feel like I’m watching an epic hurricane from afar rather than basking in the eye. I strongly urge you to give it a chance, no matter your genre of choice, as it may draw you in even deeper than it did me. Even though it’s not musical perfection, I feel like there’s more to be gleaned from these depths, and In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns won’t be gathering dust in my vast collection anytime soon. Clear your mind and enjoy.