Interview with Abscession

December 22, 2014 –

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We have kept our eye on Swedish death metal style band Abscession who make a somewhat modern version of the classic sound of bands like Entombed and Cemetary. Their first album Grave Offerings touches down early in 2015, and has already generated interest and criticism in the metal community. We were fortunate to be able to chat with the two active members of Abscession, Thomas and Skaldir, about the band and its music.

When did Abscession form? Why did you choose the name that you did?

Skaldir: We formed in 2009 and it was important to us to choose a one word band name. Since almost every word is taken by some metal band by now, it wasn’t easy. The name also should have a classy feel. Brutal and concise. We all had bands before. Personally I had my first band in 1992, which played some kind of melodic Doom never heard before and after. I started playing piano and then later also tried guitar.

Thomas: I’ve been in various bands since the mid nineties both as a guitarist and as a vocalist. I’m a pretty lousy guitar player though so nowadays I tend to focus on the vocals. I’m also active in blackened death act Throne of Heresy, and have been in Zombie Destrüktion since 2002 together with Markus Porsklev who also plays the drums on Grave Offerings.

Your style runs the gamut from old school heavy metal through 1990s Swedish death metal and perhaps beyond. What are your current influences? Have these changed over time?

Skaldir: For me there are always some records that never get old. The first stuff I liked as a teenager, like DEATH, HELLOWEEN, EDGE OF SANITY. But I listen to a lot of different music from AOR, Progressive Rock to Death metal. And even if I have a lot of favs from the early 90s, there are happily also some new albums that can excite me from time to time.

Thomas: Well, I find it interesting to mix things up a bit and I like lots of different music. My death metal influences are mainly from Swedish style death like EDGE OF SANITY, BLOODBATH etc but I also enjoy more progressive stuff like OPETH. I always like stuff that has hooks in it but which also grows on you with every listen. I think maybe that’s where our death ‘n roll-style influences come from, since I really like that kind of stuff when it’s done in moderation. But then there’s a whole range of bands outside the realm of death metal that influence me in different ways. Everything from classic IRON MAIDEN to FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM have had a huge impact on the way I write lyrics for example.

Where did you record Grave Offerings and how did you achieve the sound you did? Was it to your satisfaction? Would you do anything differently next time?

Skaldir: Since I am a sound engineer most of the recording was done at Studio Kalthallen.

Thomas recorded his vocals himself, and everything was mixed in my studio in the end. We decided to let Dan Swanö do the mastering.

It is a classic BOSS HM-2 guitar sound. That is a distortion pedal a lot of people will know from ENTOMBED. Actually I used two and combined two different stages of distortion and mic’ed the cabinet with three microphones. I am pretty happy with the sound, but I think next time I will rather mix a “normal” distortion” in to a HM-2 distortion.

Are the members of Abscession full-time musicians, or is this a “spare time” project?

Thomas: We’ve all got other jobs outside of the music since it’s not something we can really live on (yet…). But we’re all dedicated to this art form and see it as something more than a part time project — it’s been a part of all our lives for many years and makes us who we are.

Why, do you think, is Swedish metal 1985-1995 so legendary? Even though that was two decades ago?

Skaldir: I think it was a good time for metal in general. People just did what they liked and a lot of new genres were founded. Those old bands didn’t exactly play perfectly and the sound also wasn’t perfect at all. But it was unique and it was something never heard before. Doing something new these days isn’t so easy.

Thomas: Sweden has been a big music nation for decades with everything from ABBA to Europe paving the way. A lot of people growing up back then learned to play instruments in school and of course it all helped to pave the way for successful metal bands. Even if they didn’t play perfectly there was something experimental and organic over the music from that time which also made it interesting to listen to.

Did you ever consider composing in a newer style of metal, like metalcore or “melodic metal”? What do you think is different between those styles and the classic underground Swedish metal sound?

Skaldir: I would say we are a rather melodic Death Metal band. The style we play at the moment is exactly what we want to play, and maybe the only thing we are good at. It’s not like we want to copy the old bands, but it is just our thing to sound that way. We will develop within the sound.

Thomas: Well, I think it’s always difficult and often unnecessary to brand everything within preconceived genres. I can’t remember a single discussion over the years where we’ve said “we’re gonna play within this or this genre.” We’ve written the songs we’d like to hear ourselves within our own capacity and it’s some kind of death metal. So no, we never sat down and considered writing metalcore or melodic death, even though our songs ended up having some melodies in them. I still wouldn’t brand it melodeath since we’re nowhere in the vicinity of IN FLAMES or other melodic death bands.

How do you compose songs? Do you start with a melody, a riff, an idea, a visual concept or something else?

Skaldir: I wrote a lot of riffs on my classical guitar here when I felt like writing riffs. Then later I thought about which riffs to combine. Normally you start with one riff and the rest just happens and you just know what has to come next and how you arrange it. At least that is how it is for me.

Later Thomas will listen to the song, and the mood of the song will inspire him to write lyrics.

Thomas: Yeah, Skaldir’s music sort of paves the way for the lyrics. I often have themes or ideas in my head that I wanna write about, but I never really know where to start. But usually after a few listens to a song I find a lyric rhythm and just start putting words in there that fit with the theme I want for the song. Sometimes it becomes clear very quickly but other times the lyrics takes on a life of their own.

For example The song “Plague Bearer” on Grave Offerings was supposed to be a really rotten track about a plague victim but ended up being an allegorical and anti-religious text instead. And to be honest, it’s a much better text now than it would have been if I had stuck to the original idea.

Where do you feel your demo “Death Incarnate” and Grave Offerings differ?

Skaldir: I think having a more technical drummer on Grave Offerings is the biggest difference to the demo. The songwriting is still pretty simple with the same trademarks the demo has.

Thomas: I think we’ve sort of found our path. A three track cassette like Death Incarnate can’t show the full range of a band’s sound as well as an album. And Skaldir has worked a lot with the overall production so it all sounds fucking great!

Grave Offerings is your first signing to a label. How is that working out? What do you plan for the future? Is there a tour in the works?

Skaldir: Well the demo tape was also released by a label. Suffer Productions is a small underground label though. Final Gate is a bit bigger, but still underground. We just signed for one album and will see what will happens next. So far we are pretty happy.

Thomas: Even though the current deal is for one album only I feel confident our next release will be a label release as well. We’re actually already working on the next album so no matter if there’s a label or not, ABSCESSION will go on. As far as tours go we’re not planning anything yet, even though we’d like to at some point in the future.

If people like what they hear, where should they go to learn more about Abscession? Are the demos still available? Do you think you’ll ever tour UK or USA?

Thomas: I actually don’t know if there are any demo tapes left, maybe Suffer Productions have a few but I doubt it. There are probably some underground metal webshops that would consider trading or selling it if you look hard enough.

But it’s also available as a digital release on our bandcamp. In this digital world we’re of course also present on facebook/abscession.

That’s probably the best way to learn more about us. As for touring the UK or the US, who knows… I guess we’ll have to wait and see how big the demand is once the album is released in early 2015!

Digging further into Abscession Grave Offerings

December 15, 2014 –

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As the title suggests, Grave Offerings has a lot to give. In a metal world bloated with copycats, have-beens, hipsters, cultural appropriators invading the genre, imitators and true-blue kvlt types, it is rare to hear an album that is not only competent but has its own personality.

While most metal musicians focus exclusively on having memorized the major and minor scale shapes on the guitar neck, knowing the most common chord progressions and understanding the concepts of modulation and time signatures, the art of songwriting requires a different kind of technicality. Abscession rises above the herd in knowing the genre, having technical skills, and being able to write songs, but above that their repertoire is strained.

Almost every embellishment such as drum fills or guitar solos is fitting and never overbearing despite the obvious proficiency of the performers. This is not altogether uncommon but it is something that is appreciated by fans of proper music, as opposed to what my good friend Dionysus would refer to as “guitar-shop metal” or the kind of guitar tricks you show your friends but that get old really fast on an album. Grave Offerings displays a variety of Svenska Dödsmetal influences which range from the early foundational bands like Nihilist, going through Carnage, stopping by Entombed for an infusion of Death n’ Roll inclinations and all the way to fully-fledged Gothenburg sound while avoiding sounding like any one of them all the time and occasionally bringing out a voice of its own, although not often enough.

Abscession have the artistic sense to make the songs stay within an idea without wandering off topic. At the same time they do this too zealously and the music always remains so close to the germinating idea that it seems to shy away from any great variations lest they be seen as foreign. Since the songs are, on a general level, verse-chorus pop songs, there is a need for subtle ventures outside the strictly familiar to distinguish each song with a purpose unique to that song. It must effectively convey that purpose through its free expression (the previously mentioned ventures) parting from its stable basis (what was referred to as established idea and “known territory”, not foreign) as one needs a vector to have two points and a direction to effectively communicate information.

When a more distinctive idea does surface it often does so with scherzando overtones — playful, bouncy, not grim — which I find unpalatable in the context of the rigid intensity of death metal and especially in the context of Swedish death metal. This aura has traditionally replicated that of old school horror films in the best of cases and at worse has been borderline cartoonish. By indulging in the more humoresque-like passages Abscession ends up crossing the line into explicitly comic territory. This usually happens when the Death n’ Roll facet of Swedeath is explored as exemplified by the fifth track on the album: Blowtorch Blues.

Both while listening to Grave Offerings for the first time and after having listened to it seven times at the time of this writing, I had the strong feeling that the first four tracks were more than enough: there’s virtually nothing else added by the rest of the album. All in all, if we are going to allow ourselves to give safe mainstream metal from Scandinavia praise for some originality and inventiveness within their miserable sellout constraints, I would be much more inclined to extend this courtesy to the latest album by Björler’s At the Gates (as opposed to Svensson’s At the Gates): At War with Reality.

Abscession – Grave Offerings

December 13, 2014 –

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Abscession appeared on the metal scene with a mission to bring the power of Swedish death metal to a stagnant scene. After a promising demo, “Death Incarnate,” Abscession return with a full-length Grave Offerings that expands upon their earlier strengths to make a solid Swedish death metal album with melodic touches but a few weaknesses that could sabotage its enjoyment by others.

On “Death Incarnate,” Abscession offered a great sense of melody and of place within each song, building up riff iterations like scenes in a horror film leading to a dramatic reveal. With their first full-length Abscession demonstrate the ability to write melodic songs that create a sensation of atmosphere and then bring it to a peak, uniting the song in a moment of clarity based on the journey encoded in its prior riffs. They draw from a template of Bolt Thrower, Dismember, Unleashed, Amorphis and early Therion in this ability but expand upon it with their own voice. Each song on this album possesses a point of focus and some form of internal content that guides its development, which avoids the “songs about being songs” problem that many death metal bands have. This radically cuts down on disorganization which can blight a metal album, and creates a sensation of descent into a dark world which deepens as the album progresses. Hardcore death metal fans may find the second half even more interesting than the first.

Where this album falls down is in the tendency to incorporate hard rock and death ‘n roll elements in some of — key point: some of — the riffs. These tend to focus on bouncy riffs like the Pantera style from the 1990s but without the angry bounce, more like a pop-music style that infects the brain but detract from the overall power of the song. Further, the vocals tend to synchronize too closely with riff and especially with chorus rhythm, and unfortunately are produced in such a way that they expand sonically instead of remaining focused; a bit of reverb and a filter on the microphone might help here. These are minor problems which probably keep this album from being an automatic keeper, but nonetheless it remains a powerful musical force that is immediately recognizable as its own entity and not merely derivative and celebrating that fact to recruit an audience as recent “true old school Swedish death metal” albums have done. Notice also what appears to be a Havohej tribute in the first riff of the second-to-final song.

Death metal fans will find this album relevant because this band actually write songs, have a flair for the kind of theatrical yet meaningful atmospheric changes that Celtic Frost pioneered, and demonstrate overall high levels of musicianship and songwriting. Many will be put off by some of the bounce riffs or Motley Crue-styled hard rock riffs, but these are as mentioned above a minority of what is on the album. Amazing for its ability to invoke the past without rehashing it from an outside view, Grave Offerings shows a powerful future for this band and proves itself one of the most memorable releases of 2014.

Abscession – Death Incarnate

October 15, 2013 –

abscession-death_incarnate-full-sizeIf you approached Slaughter of the Soul with the stylistic outlook of Left Hand Path, you would follow the path that Abscession travel on Death Incarnate. These are short, melodic songs that understand the dramatic nature of successful Swedish death metal.

Easily imitated, Swedish death metal is hard to master. The basics are simple: play d-beat drums under riffs adapted from the vocal melodies of 1970s horror film music and American guitar rock bands, then stack those against faster Black Sabbath-styled chromatic rhythm riffs. Is there really such a void between “Symptom of the Universe” and “Crawl,” or the soundtrack to Carnival of Souls and Clandestine? Not if you listen to them side-by-side.

Thus, by combining Discharge and heavy metal with horror soundtracks, the Swedes invented a new style and kicked it into high-gear with that buzzsaw dimed-Boss distortion. But while qualification in this style is easy, it quickly becomes generic. That is because to take riffs out of context, one must build up a next dramatic context to give them framing, such that the change in riff (and tempo) is symbolically and aesthetically significant to the listener.

Abscession kick off this mini-album (EP) with a lengthy intro that, while funny at a first listen as it reveals death metal obliterating the music of normals, probably isn’t going to be fun past the first couple of listens. After that, it’s into what they do best: buzz-saw rhythm riffs which give way to lengthier melodic riffs which are played in power chords instead of single-string-picked like the first At the Gates.

The result captures much of the mood from Clandestine with big bristly clouds of buzzing distortion cushioning us as a melody emerges from within, like flying through clouds and seeing the moon emerge above. Once we’ve settled into the feel of the fully mature song, Abscession give it a kick or otherwise challenge it with a dramatic transition, which requires guitarwork to wrangle the song back toward its final state of affirming order.

What makes this release stand out is how well-composed the melodies are and how the band is able to arrange riffs in a meaningful manner, even if a simple “meaning” like the sensation of a walk through a dangerous forest at night and a confrontation with mortality as the blade of a foe emerges. Riffcraft is good and focuses on the longer melodies that distinguish the professionals from the “Garage Band” weekend activists in metal at this point, and all musicianship is good, but it is the content and composition of these songs that sets Abscession ahead of the Swe-death pack.