Letters in the Abyss, another band based out of the endless void of creativity that is the bubbling Californian metal scene, recently unleashed their newest EP. While self-branded within the melodic death metal (or melodeath, for short) subgenre, the duo incorporate a blackened aesthetic which rises from the album cover and the more lo-fi production which is infused in the release. Grab your raincoats and join us while we dive into The Somber Gloom.
The three-track EP opens with “Oblivion’s Charm,” a modest and all-encompassing song in respect to the rest of the release. The track introduces what the listener will come to understand as the major musical themes of the release, those being a vocal technique duality, somber lo-fi riffage, and progressive song structures.
The real pull-factor for The Somber Gloom lies behind Alex Brodnicki’s two-toned vocal styles. The singer (is that term really appropriate in this scenario?) shifts in between a deep, guttural style and a more blackened shriek-like cry throughout the two tracks which include vocals; the middle song is an instrumental. While this vocal duality is much more prevalent on “Deadwood,” the EP’s closer, “Oblivion’s Charm” introduces listeners this musical presence fairly early.
In comparison of the two vocal styles, I’m not quite sure where my opinion lies. While the group does self-identify as a melodic death metal outfit, and as a result you’re led to believe that the more traditionally-death-metal vocal is inherently the main one, I quite enjoy Brodnicki’s shrieking style a bit more. I feel like the more black metal-oriented vibe suits the EP’s somber style better than the guttural vocal.
However, here’s where I’m torn. There’s such a great back-and-forth going on between the two vocal styles, and as a result the shrieking presence is juxtaposed beautifully with the deeper singing style, which makes me enjoy my favoured approach all the more. I think that this duality makes each style shine, so I’m giving this one a pass.
Our second course of the night is a two-minute instrumental title track. “The Somber Gloom” features further instrumentation experimentation as well as a highlighted focus on the band’s ability to construct proper songs, as you don’t have the vocals to focus on with this one. There’s a great piano intro on this one, and now that I mention it, I believe I heard some more keyboard inclusion under some of the riffs in the opening track, but I’m not quite certain; perhaps tone those up a notch in the mix.
The riffs on “The Somber Gloom” instrumental hold a place alongside the scale between happy and somber, as the musical pieces themselves seem inherently upbeat, but the artist’s production choices leave them in a somber light. Good stuff.
Finally, we delve into the real meat and potatoes of the EP. Letters in the Abyss closes us off with “Deadwood,” a longer, more complete-sounding number. The tune ultimately triumphs in terms of progressive musicality.
I mentioned earlier that the album-closer features the ultimate duality between the two vocal styles. This arises within the track’s culmination, whereby the group’s heaviest demonstrations rise to the surface. There’s this standout drum section that couples nicely with the aforementioned vocal duality that joins together as one in this final bout. The shriek and guttural styles enter at once, singing as one. Ash clouds the sky. The apocalypse is imminent. Death is upon us.
Sorry, I went somewhere there for a second. I’m back.
I feel like all of the similar EPs that I’ve reviewed all follow a similar format or goal, which is represented through their individual varieties. There seems to always be a modest, more all-encompassing track, followed by a short instrumental of sorts, with the further inclusion of a longer song-or-two. Azath’s newest demo (also semi-based out of California) followed this pattern as well, alongside the EP in question. I guess this recurring theme is most likely due to an artist’s desire to include a fair share of variety within a rather claustrophobic time format, that being the traditional 3-4 song EP constituent.
It is also noted that the band made an instrumental version of The Somber Gloom available on their Bandcamp page, which really highlights the strength behind the band’s instrumentation.
In summation, The Somber Gloom is a triumphing effort among the relatively uncreative modern metal landscape. Incorporating a dual vocal attack, keyboards, and progressive song structures, I’m quite impressed with the band’s most recent output. My one qualm lies behind the energy required to listen to such dense music. I feel like the band’s output would fit better within a longer album format, rather than in small doses within the confines of an EP. An overall strong release!