It’s impossible not to be impressed by a band who put their all into sending out a carefully hand-crafted promotional package. It is, therefore, all the more rewarding when that band turn out to be as musically adventurous as they are creative (see, for example, the magnificent EP releases by Coilguns) and in the case of Abstrusa Unde, the eight-piece musical project that defies all endeavours at categorisation, the beautiful artwork and the level of care that has gone into their packaging is more than matched by their wide-eyed ambition and abilities.
Few bands justify multiple members, but in the case of Abstrusa unde each musician has plenty to do. Whilst maintaining a traditional metal act’s core; Guitarist, drummer, bassist and keyboardist; Abstrusa unde have taken the route of Therion and recruited three distinct vocalists as well as a violinist and, on the album, they even managed to bolster this line up with session helpers adding Cello and Clarinet to proceedings. The result is nothing short of spectacular with the band drawing comparisons to Ulver, Emperor, Therion and Nightwish whilst sounding like none of the above. Certainly heavy enough to sit proudly within the realms of metal, as with Ulver it is impossible to determine exactly where Abstrusa Unde sit within metal’s broad church, making ‘introspection’ a fresh and unique release indeed.
The scene is perfectly set by the title track. A moody instrumental, it draws in the baroque nature of Emperor on ‘Prometheus…’ and ties it in with the funeral march before segueing neatly into ‘Hamsa Lonri’, a piece that makes great use of the multiple instrumentalists in place. It’s hard to pin down the nature of ‘Hamsa Lonri’, even after repeated listens. The music veers sharply between icy metal riffs, beautifully delivered vocals and even electronic elements to deliver a sound so rich, and beautifully constructed that despite the disparate influences incorporated it never sounds less than coherent, with the band utterly in control of the myriad elements flitting through the music. After such an exhausting display of technical and musical proficiency, ‘Al Aklorodan’ opens with a more straight forward metal approach, frozen in a sonic snow-storm of brutal riffs and storming percussion, only to sheer off for jazz-inspired interludes which introduce a touch of class and beauty into the proceedings. The result is not unlike standing out in a blizzard, peering through the windows of a wealthy family and witnessing the warmth and light within, before trudging on to the next destination, desperately warding off frost bite in frozen limbs. This other-worldly feeling increases as bizarre folk elements whirl into the mix, to create a surreal sound that can only be compared to hell’s own carnival – a feeling further enhanced by the dizzying ‘carrousel’. Tapping into the primitive fears inspired by the brightly lit and yet strangely hallucinatory fairground rides is something that Dimmu Borgir did to grand effect on the stunning ‘Kings of the carnival creation’, and here it works similarly well, the music a giddy ride through an ever-changing sonic landscape that highlights yet further the wealth of talent that Abstrusa unde command.
With ‘Carrousel’ having ended with all of the orchestral might of a movie soundtrack, ‘the gutter’ has much to live up to, and so it does by employing a neo-classicism that implies a familiarity with the works of Tchaikovsky filtered through the works of Philip Glass and Dimu Borgir. Awash with the rich vibrato of the Hammond Organ, jazzy bass and blazing guitars it is a work quite unlike anything else you’ll hear this year, whilst vocals remain conspicuous by their absence. ‘Hastra Na’ opens upon a sublime scene, the ambient sounds washing over you are as refreshing as light summer rain after the oppressive heat of the mid-day sun, and over that appear vocals of such subtle beauty that you lose your heart to them in an instant, only for the whole serene moment to be torn to shreds by a noxious blast of feral black metal that is rendered all the more obscene for its intrusion upon such wonder. ‘Lost for life’ is similarly brutal, the guitars a molten fury that burns and tears, moderated only by the subtle strings that flood out during the orchestral stabs, only for a stylistic volte-face to occur some three minutes in, as suddenly as if someone had switched station, and you’re briefly transported back to the realms of beauty form which you were so cruelly snatched minutes earlier. The final track, ‘Suune Kvalta’ draws all of the many strings that make up the album, together for one final kaleidoscopic ride through the band’s imagination and you’re left giddy at the wondrous invention of which Abstrusa Unde are capable.
You’ll hear many reference points when listening to ‘introspection’ and experience many emotions, but the chances are that you have never experienced a record so bold in scope and vision whilst maintaining such a level of depth and focus. That ‘introspection’ is not an easy listen might seem obvious, but for all that you may wrestle with it initially it is a wonderfully rich and rewarding experience to settle into the flights of fancy that each of the eight songs on this record represent. With stunning artwork and wonderful music this is, without a doubt, an essential release for anyone who enjoys the eclectic end of extreme metal. Placing creativity above the dull restrictions of formulae, and praising song-writing and musicianship in equal measure, the music of Abstrusa Unde is a genuine treasure that will generously repay repeated listens – truly mind-expanding stuff.