July 1, 2019 Abbath – Outstrider (Album Review)
Almost a decade has passed since Multi-instrumentalist Abbath Doom Occulta last recorded a note with Norwegian Black Metal stalwarts Immortal. Certainly not idle in that time, his hands have been busy recording with Abbath, his eponymous project whose second album, Outstrider, is set for release on Friday, July 5th through Season of Mist.
Following the band’s self-titled debut album, released in 2016, Outstrider sees a new lineup and a renewed focus for the band that is no longer, and never was, to be looked at as a vanity solo project. Originally formed with with Bassist King ov Hell and Drummer Kevin Foley, Silmaeth later joined on guitar, and Emil Wiksten would soon replaced Foley on drums. That in mind, the debut Abbath was mostly filled with riffs and song ideas Abbath had prepared for his next record with Immortal, although his old band, in turn, released Northern Chaos Gods in 2018.
With Outstrider, the lineup has changed over completely, save for Abbath himself. Each member of the new lineup is allowed to dominate their space, be it the piercing licks and solos of Guitarist Ole Andre Farstad, the brash clank of Bassist Mia Wallace, or the impressive battery of Drummer Ukri Suviletho. In addition, aside from his voice, Abbath lends his hands to rhythm guitar work and the bulk of the songwriting. In certain circumstances, this extreme lineup shuffling that would hint at creative turmoil, or perhaps an oversized ego, but for Abbath, the man, the lineup culling was a way to challenge himself with fresh opinions.
The mix of styles is readily apparent with the opener “Calm in Ire (of Hurricane),” which starts as a cold arid Black Metal before Farstad carries the guitar into the midst of ’70s/’80s Glam Rock and Heavy Metal. The subtle play on words for the song title is re-employed later; for example, “Scythewinder” and the title-track. While the familiar lead vocals of Abbath fill most tracks, sharp stabs of NWOBHM clash neatly with the pomp and circumstance of American bands like KISS and Manowar.
Looking back, the band released a video for “Harvest Pyre” back in April, and though there is plenty of LARP shtick to go around, the final product is slightly less ridiculous than the work Abbath is used to. Shot in black and white, the video nevertheless shines as Farstad, Suviletho, and Wallace are allowed to preen for the camera. This is while Abbath dips between spotlight and shadow, wielding his trademark battle axe; one which puts the ‘bat’ in ‘battle.’ The lead guitar work, already strong on tape, benefits from allowing Farstad to have his near-Slash moment perched on the side of a morbid cliff.
Furthermore, the terse gallops of “Bridge of Spasms,” and later, “Land of Khem,” are broken into stanzas by harsh vocals that emote the melodic end of the Black Metal spectrum, such as Emperor and Dimmu Borgir. This is while maintaining the Death Metal feel of the heady days of the genre. Even the low, near-guttral “whoa!” emitted by Abbath throughout the album sounds sufficiently evil, but also, well, just goofy enough to remind the listener to plant tongue firmly in cheek, if only for a few moments.
Later on, title-track grabs the stage just past the midway point bringing the maturity of both the band and its mastermind into clenched focus. Then, after a nearly isolated clean guitar progression sets the proper stage, the distortion, rhythm, and vocals come into focus, carrying the verses atop a lofty chariot, one which takes small respites within the chorus as the clean guitar crashes through the track again. Then, the briefly mentioned cut “Scythewinder” dips further into the crushing vibrations that made Abbath’s former band tick. That in mind, majority of the tracks on Outstrider are built upon a strong, galloping rhythm section, leaving plenty of room for Farstad to wail his leads into the desolate nightscape, and Abbath to scream after him, often in vain.
Throughout Outstrider, Abbath is able to set desolate moods with a cleaner, more direct style that must take patience and concentration after years spent creating walls of sound within Immortal. Bursting with headbanging and fist-pounding rhythm, Outstrider is another strong entry into the catalog of Abbath. It builds on the work first put forth with 2016’s Abbath and digs deeper the chasm between this outfit and Abbath’s former employer. That is why Cryptic Rock gives this album 3.5 out of 5 stars.