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The Other Side (1994)

The Abyss was a side project from the three members of Hypocrisy. The Other Side is the first of two Black Metal albums that they released under this name. It is much more melodic than the music found on their second album, Summon the Beast. To put it in perspective, this album was recorded in between The Fourth Dimension and Abducted. Hypocrisy always had some Black Metal qualities (from the Satanic lyrics, in the early days, to the dark melodies) but here we find almost all traces of Death Metal being shed. Through and through, this might be the most solid output from this group of musicians, even if it does bear similarities to Gorgoroth at times.

I first encountered The Abyss around the release of Summon the Beast which, really, was not incredibly impressive to me. It was some time later before I heard The Other Side, thanks to a good friend of mine. This album took some of my favorite elements of Hypocrisy and put them all together, shaving off the excess. Peter Tägtgren is credited with drum, bass and vocal duties. Mikael Hedlund is credited with guitars and Lars Szöke is listed as handling guitars and vocals. Oddly, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of difference between the vocals styles of these three so, if all are actually contributing, it's not easily noticed.

The album begins with "Marutukku". After a brief drum roll, the listener is assaulted with violent blast beats, fast tremolo riffs and raspy vocals. This could almost be seen as a template for Black Metal of this era. The harmonies are cold and dark, just as they should be. After a minute or so, the song slows down and the atmosphere changes. There is some eerie voice in the background, along with brilliant riffs and a very somber feeling. The raging speed returns before the song concludes, much as it began.

"Tjänare af besten" begins with a very mournful melody and some double bass. The pace is somewhat more relaxed than the previous song, even once it speeds up a bit. The musicianship and songwriting could not be better. Everything is very precisely done, with no missed opportunities. A few minutes into the song, there is but a lone, sorrowful melody that stabs into your heart like shards of ice, freezing you from inside.

The next song returns to the blinding speed and fury of the first. "Psycomantum" features more brilliant tremolo riffs and the vocals possess conviction and a deadly wrath. One could complain that these songs are too short, yet the genius is doing just enough so that the listener yearns for more. On this song, one can get a sense for the Hellhammer influence, during certain parts.

To further assure the listener that Hellhammer is an important inspiration, The Abyss covers the song "Massacra". It fits in with the rest of the material, seamlessly. One might even say that the song benefits from the harsher vocals, adding a more sinister feel to the piece. While Mr. Fischer might be a piece of scum, that should not detract from the musical contributions he has made.

"Mörkrets Vandring" begins at full speed, consisting of liquid strumming melodies which intertwine to harmonize in suggestion of spaces beneath its surface, creating an ambience in which the violence of the music is forgotten in the breathtaking motion of its melody. As the song slows down, one can really get a chance to fall deep into the bottomless chasm. The vocals convey torment and suffering, near the point of madness. All else becomes silent, leaving a lone tremolo riff around 3:22, which is pure brilliance.

"Sorgens Dal" continues this dark and melancholy feeling, despite the violent approach. The bleak melodies create an atmosphere of hopelessness and despair. There is a strangely upbeat section that almost seems to offer the promise of salvation. Yet this is but a part of the journey. In no time, you are dragged back down as such feeble hopes are crushed.

The feeling of utter desperation truly sets in as the mournful melody of "Slukad" fades in, accompanied by some brief 'operatic wailing' in the distance. The listener is nearly lulled into a trance, within the first minute or so, until the song speeds up. The sorrowful guitar harmonies are unrelenting, as the tortured vocals accentuate this. At one point, the riffs are reminiscent of Mayhem. This utterly desolate feeling that is created by this song really drains the life from your body.

"Förintelsens tid äro kommen" is a strange outro, featuring backward sounds and strange, hellish effects. Perhaps, this is a representation of what one hears when at the fathomless depths of the abyss.

This album is highly recommended, whether you are a fan of old Hypocrisy, or early 90s Scandinavian Black Metal. Either way, you will not be disappointed.
(31 Jan. 2009)

Summon the Beast (1996)

Released on Nuclear Blast Records in March 1996, Summon the Beast is the sophomore effort from The Abyss. The Black Metal side of Hypocrisy reared its ugly head once more, yet this was a far cry from the material found on their debut album, The Other Side. The approach is completely different and the end result is rather disappointing, especially considering the musicians involved.

Of course, this possesses the infamous (and detestable) Abyss Studio sound, which does its best to neuter the true spirit of Black Metal, at every turn. The bass and drums are far too high in the mix and everything feels compressed into a small space, with no room for the guitar riffs to breathe or for their impact to be properly felt. Whereas the guitar riffs took center stage on the band's debut album, this is very much driven by the percussion and that is largely due to the way everything was mixed.

As for the music, there are a handful of memorable guitar melodies. "Damned", "The Hymn" and "Feasting on the Remains of Heaven" are feature haunting riffs that would have been much better with the appropriate production. Despite the album's flaws, these songs still manage to stick out. Regarding the rest, there is a strong similarity to Dark Funeral and later Marduk, which is not a good thing, at all. It may be fast and intense, but there is no feeling present in most of the songs. There is certainly no hint of a dark atmosphere to be found. The songwriting is very straightforward and one-dimensional, for the most part, which is a real waste of the band's potential.

Summon the Beast is a lackluster record with only a few good songs. Following The Other Side, Hypocrisy began to allow some Black Metal riffs to infiltrate albums like Abducted and The Final Chapter, yet far too few are to be found here. The majority is just senseless noise to serve as a background for the blast beats and generic vocals. More than likely, this release was just a gimmick to encourage more Black Metal bands to record at his studio. Do not bother with this unless you have a chance to get the re-issue of their first album, which has this one included as well.
(19 Jan. 2007)

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