There is a specific moment that occurs so commonly in black metal that one begins to expect it after listening to enough albums in the genre. It’s a sudden crescendo and explosion that simultaneously feels like euphoria and a bloodletting. On Abreaction—the new release from Rochester, Minnesota progressive black metal collection Amiensus—that moment arrives quickly. It strikes at just after a minute into the opening track “Beneath the Waves,” when the jangling guitars and dreamy clean vocals erupt into black metal wailing. This is foreshadowing, as this sudden contrast turns out to be the Amiensus sound in microcosm: meandering ethereal prog rock sections that rupture into driving black metal aggressiveness.
Slapping the modifier “progressive” in front of any genre of extreme metal carries some baggage. In too many cases the “progressive” elements serve as a distraction from inherent weaknesses in the core metal foundation of the music. Fortunately, Amiensus suffers from no such error. In listening to Abreaction it’s easy to feel that this band could readily make a compelling pure black metal album if they wanted to. And in fact they occasionally do just that, minimizing the more esoteric elements of their sound and going all in on the aggression, as is the case on “To the Edge of Life” and “Cold Viscera.” This technical proficiency provides a framework upon which the progressive components of their sound can comfortably be built.
With that framework in place, it is the songs that showcase the full eclecticism of the Amiensus sound that shine the most. “Divinity” is the undisputed highlight of the album in that regard. Starting with a meandering acoustic guitar intro, it then layers on an ominous cello phrase before transitioning into a simple, repetitive clean vocal melodic motif. After working through the permutations of this melody, the track then explodes into frenetic blast beats and tremolo riffing before dropping back into more cello statements and repeating the main melody line. Despite the absence of traditional black metal harsh vocals, the track still feels crushingly heavy and beautiful at the same time. This then allows for a truly stunning transition into the full-tilt black metal frenzy of the aforementioned “To the Edge of Life.”
Abreaction is not without its flaws. I occasionally found the vocal melodies to be too meandering and lacking in focus, particularly on “Euphorica.” In that same vein, the clean vocals themselves sometimes stray into the realm of being shrill, and they can get lost in the mix. Similarly, the bits and pieces of bass that I was able to hear were technically sound but left me wishing the mix allowed them to be highlighted more clearly. Even so, these were mostly minor quibbles in an album that succeeds in most of the things it attempts.
Fans of both progressive metal and the various permutations of atmospheric black metal should find a lot to like in Abreaction. It is a musically diverse, technically solid, and emotionally complex album that is likely to draw in listeners from across the metal spectrum. While it didn’t blow me away in the same way that similar artists like Numenorean have with previous releases, it quickly became an album I expect to revisit often.