Back in the day, when streaming wasn’t a thing yet, I used to go to the local metal record store and bought whatever caught my attention. Usually, this was purely based on judging a book by its cover. This seems like a dumb way to explore music, but somehow, I discovered a fair few of my favorite metal bands this way, capped by AYREON. Once in a blue moon, it happens on social media too. In 2020, American progressive metal act WILDERUN grabbed my attention with the cover of “Veil of Imagination” swarming around my news feed and I can happily announce that for the first time in 2022, my eye was stunned by the beautiful artwork of “Woe,” the sophomore record of Swedish prog death masters AN ABSTRACT ILLUSION, released on September 9th, 2022, via Willowtip Records.
In a world where the single format is becoming increasingly important, bands like AN ABSTRACT ILLUSION encourage you to listen to their whole record by composing a audio journey. The band has crafted “Woe” in such a way that it’s a 60-minute-long wild ride of a song that’s divided into different sections, ranging from extreme metal to beautiful, atmospheric, ethereal compositions. The best part of the album is that it flows really seamlessly from track-to-track; however, there are a few twists and turns along the way.
The tone of this album is set in the atmospheric intro, “The Behemoth That Lies Asleep,” which introduces some of the motives that will be later on introduced during this listening quest. Admittedly, this is not something I really paid much attention to when I first started listening to this record, but upon a first spin, I did have a slight feeling of déjà entendu, which all came full circle after having listened to the record a few times – take it how you will, but perhaps it’s a smart way to encourage fans to listen to the record repeatedly.
“Slaves” is then the first actual chapter, which provides the first juxtaposition of “Woe.” The short, atmospheric intro makes way for a hard-hitting extreme song with heavy guitar riffs and lightning-fast blast-beats. It’s here that the first progressive elements are also introduced, be it subtle: that bass. It somehow transforms into “Tear Down This Holy Mountain,” which at first provides another contrast. It starts off rather softly, but it picks up at some point and illustrates again the absurdly beautiful balance this album has between beauty and brutality. “Prosperity” is the only song that has a slightly obvious transition and perhaps breaks the rhythm of the flow a little bit, albeit a slightly weird artistic choice, it for sure is interesting. After all, the clean vocals and progressive melodies do provide a different sort of context to the story of this journey.
This softer part is continued in the “Blomsterkrans,” the only song on the record including some Swedish lyrics. The track starts off with an otherworldly piano intro and later on gets a Swedish atmospheric voiceover. This part could easily be the soundtrack to a visual spectacle of a long-lost love. Around the 4-minute mark, a progressive beat kicks in, giving the song altogether more power and a message of hope. Once again, AN ABSTRACT ILLUSION does a U-turn and come with black metal-inspired vocals, blast-beats, and yet a very surprisingly groovy bass line in “In The Heavens Above, You Will Become A Monster.” The 14-minute epic has a fair case of horror vacui, as every second of this feast is filled with layers of layers upon sound, and it’s definitely one of those songs that you can listen to again and again and discover more and more each time. Midway through, the soundscape makes room for an intriguing passage that is slightly reminiscent of Arjen Lucassen‘s keyboard style, backed by a choir in the same vein as OPETH. Around the 10-minute mark, female voices are introduced, once again, giving the listener a little bit of a new angle into the band’s music.
The album ends with the beautiful “This Torment Has No End, Only New Beginnings,” which starts with a very serene acoustic part, which almost feels like a dialogue between guitar and bass melodies. People often say to leave the best for last and in this sense, this track is probably the behemoth that was originally asleep but suddenly woke up during the course of the record. There are so many little nuances in this song that make it absolutely fascinating for a proghead like me. It starts off super melodically and lingers a lot in the melodic death metal realm, but then, things get spiced up with a wonderful ’70s progressive rock flavor, namely in the synth solos. There’s even a beautiful section where all the instruments just stop playing and Christian Berglönn sings in an ethereal manner, slightly reminiscent of the emotion that RIVERSIDE captured in “Wasteland.”
In a world where everything has become so fast that even the general listener has the attention span of a goldfish, AN ABSTRACT ILLUSION really made a bold move and created an out-of-the-box album. Everything, from melodies to the pacing, is so well-thought-through that this album is a coherent wonderful soundscape through different motions. While this is a concept record, the lyrics are a little abstract so everyone can interpret this rollercoaster as they please, but it’s undeniable that in a world where the term “art” is just thrown about loosely, this album essentially is nothing but a poetic piece of artistry that will leave you thinking… something that perhaps all of us should do a little bit more of!
- The Behemoth That Lies Ahead
- Tear Down This Holy Mountain
- In The Heavens You Will Become A Monster
- This Torment Has No End, Only New Beginnings
Christian Berglönn – Vocals
Karl Westerlund – Guitars & Bass
Robert Stenvall – Keyboards & Vocals