Abraham – ‘The Serpent, The Prophet And The Whore’ Album Review

If there are those of you for whom Pelagic records inexplicably remain a mystery, it is a label set up by Ocean main man Robin Staps and dedicated to releasing albums by artists for whom the act of creation is far more important than any remunerative rewards that might be reaped from such an act. The Ocean aside, on Pelagic you will find God is an astronaut, Earthship, Kruger, Kunz and many more acts whose work is spoken of in hushed tones, and justifiably so. The music these bands make is wildly diverse, often excruciatingly heavy, but also possessed of hidden depths and mercurial qualities that will see the listener heading into a darkened vortex of noise one minute and then gazing out over a panoramic vista of pastoral beauty the next. The one linking factor is that the artists supported by Pelagic are exactly that, and the label is known for its care, not only over production, but also in the realm of album art – a quality that arguably reached its peak on The Ocean’s ‘Heliocentric’/’Anthropocentric’ vinyl set which comes housed in a box and containing some of the most stunning artwork ever committed to a piece of vinyl.

The next month sees a number of releases appearing on the Pelagic imprint, the first of which being the second album from Swiss band Abraham whose auto-biography is far more interesting than anything I might place into this review and so is reprinted in full:

Born in 1866 BC, Abraham lived a peaceful life near the town of Sodome, NC. He married his half-sister who gave birth to some 14 kids while already aged far over a hundred years… those golden days are gone, but the virile power of Abraham’s beard survived and he was reborn in 2007 as a rock band near Lausanne, Switzerland.”

So there you have it: the story of Abraham. No, really.

Anyway, virile beards aside (and these hirsute individuals do possess some particularly virile specimens) Abraham prove conclusively on ‘The serpent, the prophet and the whore’ that sanity is not a necessary constituent in the making of great music, and this eight track, forty-five minute album is a sonically challenging blast of feral progressive metal that takes the darkest elements of Cult of Luna and Mastadon and sends them spiralling off into the great abyss to be tormented for all eternity.

Kicking off on a dissonant note, ‘It started with a heartbeat’ sees thunderous percussion, twisted, multi-layered screams and guitars that sound like Syd Barrett playing Meshuggah covers. It’s heavy, and yet just as you sit back and prepare yourself to be ravaged for the album’s run-time, Abraham pull back, the music simmering rather than boiling over and while the sense of claustrophobia engendered by the bass-laden guitars remains, there is a lightening of mood that allows the listener to draw breath before being slammed with even weightier riffs towards the song’s conclusion. ‘Man the serpent’ is even further down the path of darkness, the ever-present percussive assault rumbling through the toms, the guitars a tangled mess slithering over the skin as the vocals tear and writhe across the mix a hint of melody surfacing from the morass only to be sucked down before it crystallises into something the listener can comfortably hold onto in the black. ‘The great dismemberment’, as the title implies, is a furiously unpleasant rampage at the very fringe of extremity, the guitars a blackened vortex sucking you towards the indistinct screams that howl at its heart. It is unnerving, cacophonous and shot through with veins of pure obsidian. It is only on ‘the new king, dark prophet’ when the noise abates and you find yourself trapped in a blacked-out basement with the crawling horror that lurks inside a greasy bass-line, the guitars restrained, the violence more implied than real and the vocals always screaming, always tearing away at you until you’re bloody and ready to crack…

…and cracked is where you’re found for the ‘this is not a dead man, yet’ – a leaden trawl through the depths of humanities filth and excesses, the guitars a doom-laden miasma that descends over everything blocking out the light and leaving you gibbering on the floor only to realise that at its heart there is actually a hidden beauty in the guitar solo that writhes and swirls in the dust. As the track ends in a storm of feedback, the lengthy ‘carcasses’ crawls out into the light, taking time to build to a crushingly weighty attack that smoulders darkly, sending out showers of sparks via a tribal beat and angular guitar riffs that never stay still for long enough for the listener to get a handle on them. ‘The chymical fiance’ sees the mood lift, and whilst the drums continue to pound down upon you the guitars are more restrained, less bound in the sweaty fear of choking nightmares, and then final track ‘Dawn’ draws you out into the light with the music recalling Amebix’s recent ‘Sonic mass’ album coupled with the bass-heavy fear of John Carpenter’s soundtrack to ‘the thing’.

‘The serpent, the prophet and the whore’ is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy listen. There is little here that can be termed immediate, and the music works best as an entire piece, not cut up on some iPod for easy consumption. Abraham have crafted a work that creeps and worms its way into your subconscious. Most closely linked with the leaden weight of Neurosis and the Ocean at their most crushing, Abraham are not a prospect to be taken lightly, and the album is best appreciated, as might be expected, in isolation from any other activity. The music is horrific, challenging, crushing and sonically intimidating, but it is also subtle in places and even beautiful – a dichotomy few bands can manage well, let alone harness over an entire album.  You may, initially, find it difficult to love Abraham but, like a kidnap victim with Stockholm syndrome, if you give it enough time you will come to love them. Packaged in typically stunning artwork this is an essential purchase for all those who like to tread upon the fear-soaked slopes of the dark side.

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