Personnel: Ryan McCullough (vocals); Mitch McGugan (violin); Rachel Dawson, Rhiannon Lock (cello).
Audio Mixer: Mark Lewis.
Unknown Contributor Roles: Max Lavelle; Brian Eschbach; Trevor Strnad; Alan Cassidy; Ryan Knight.
Given its title, any fan of Michigan's melodic death metal unit Black Dahlia Murder would think Abysmal was a logical extension of the dark, evil majesty of 2013's Everblack. Expectations be damned. Abysmal is the most intensely bright album BDM have cut in their ten-year stint at Metal Blade. While its attack often recalls the fierce, manic aggression of earlier records (Miasma, Unhallowed, etc.) there's more going on than looking back. One need listen no further than opening track "Receipt" (an anthemic part of the band's live set for some time) for evidence. Its first 20 seconds are introduced by a slightly dissonant string quartet, but the harmonized guitar riffing and speaker-shredding bassline of Max Lavell are pushed into the red by Alan Cassidy's blastbeat drums and Trevor Strnad's articulate emotional screaming. First single "Vlad, Son of the Dragon" showcases an Arsis-esque chanted group chorale, but Strnad's vocals draw power from them for a blood-curdling rage. His voice is right up in the mix, and every manic word is easily decipherable. Strnad's vocals reach another high point in "Threat Level No. 3." His speed-king screaming is nearly as fast as Cassidy's drumming and rubs against the crazy lyrical guitar runs from Ryan Knight (who is more than likely the architect of the sound on this record). The title track is another step away from the relatively straight death metal in Everblack. The hook in the chorus is monstrous, anthemic, yet more malevolent. The closest the band ever get to standard death metal is on "Stygiophobic," which is slower -- save for Cassidy's drums, which play quadruple time throughout -- it's the most evil-sounding track here. The various breakdowns on the album are almost always stashed in unexpected places -- check "The Advent," where three quarters in; one comes up from the center of the verse and proceeds into a cool production touch that makes a backing choral section feel almost symphonic, with razor-wire guitar cutting through it all. Closer "That Cannot Die Which Eternally Is Dead" could have been a lesser band's opener. Its white-heat blaze melts melody and raw power into a single strand of BDM brand melo-death DNA -- and it contains a stellar guitar solo from Knight to boot. Sonically and musically, Abysmal integrates both BDM's roots and ambitions, which are seemingly boundless. Album to album, they evolve and push at their own boundaries and those imposed by extreme music, yet they never come off sounding like anyone but themselves. ~ Thom Jurek