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Abysmal Growls Of Despair : Between My Dead

Another AGOD release that shows Hangsvart's main project is far from running out of ideas or steam.

One thing you can certainly say about Hangsvart is that he helps keeping us reviewers in business: by my count he's released something like nine albums with eight different projects this year. 'Between My Dead', with an official release date of September 1st, is at the tail end of that number and the second Abysmal Growls Of Despair (AGOD) album of 2015, and as it's ended up right next to Plagueprayer in my reviewing list, I've been alternating listening to the two.

It perhaps isn't obvious without doing so back-to-back - given that all Hangsvart's projects fall somewhere in the Ambient/Funeral/Drone spectrum - that, despite the fairly continuous stream of releases, they do maintain a separation of character. Heard in isolation, those differences tend to be overlooked in favour of the similarities: primarily the drawn-out and molasses-slow guitar lines, sparse percussion and vocals so cavernously low they turn each syllable into an abstract, attenuated vibration.

AGOD is the main - or at least, the most prolific - of the projects, and within that oeuvre has covered more or less the full gamut from Dark Ambient to Drone/Doom: in style, though, 'Between My Dead' comes closest to revisiting the territory of 2013 debut 'Eternal Lament' - a guitar-led Ambient/Funeral Doom outing replete with eerie and unsettling background samples and keyboards. There's no instrument listing, but the introduction and some of the melody lines of instrumental opener 'Misanthropy' and final track 'Wake Up' sound like a deliberately off-key but genuine violin (or perhaps viola), rather than a synthesised equivalent. Other than that, there probably won't be too many surprises in the choice of sonic building blocks, though their production values have much improved over the years. The guitars now have much more muscularity and body, whether crashing on hard-edged riffs, tracing lead lines or providing a deep rumbling backdrop. Likewise the drums, though they still tend towards sporadic patterns of punctuation rather than driving rhythm - the most prominent percussion is actually (one of the other surprises) the use of chimes and what sound like rattling chains in the ambient exploration midway through 'New Beginning'. There was always separation and clarity enough to hear each component AGOD brought to bear, it's just steadily been enhanced by each incrementally heftier and better-recorded/produced release.

Despite that, there's still quite a lot of space available to let the massive soundscape breathe. It isn't as minimal as on some previous outings, but far from overcrowded, and the ornamentation of keys, voice samples (such as laughing or sobbing) and other sounds complements that nicely. The main vocals, as could be expected, provide more of an additional sonorous texture than a focus: were the brief and sketchy lyrics not printed in the CD cover, there would be no hope of deciphering them aurally. Since they are, it's possible to say that their sequence of staccato vignettes add up to a concept behind the album - reminiscent, as covered with considerably more brevity, of Alice Cooper's 'The Awakening' - the protagonist having woken from a nightmare of murder and cannibalism only to find that it wasn't a dream at all. A disturbing set of images, to be sure, yet conveyed quite well through the main flow of the music, which maintains a degree of viscerally disturbing discordance or off-kilter beat through much of its duration.

There are a couple of things which leave me slightly baffled, however. The first is the cover art, seemingly depicting post-industrial chimneys casting palls of smoke over a smog-bound and indistinct landscape: if there's a connection, it escapes me. And similarly, the rather jauntily upbeat acoustic section which closes off the album, incongruously like Rush's ode to 'Rivendell', seems an odd conclusion to a story that ends with the police outside, about to catch, literally red-handed, a murderer amongst the grisly remains of his victims. It's a little too twee and tuneful even to convey a descent into the comforting shelter of madness, for my taste - if that's actually the intention behind it.

Still, in the main, 'Between My Dead' upholds Hangsvart's reputation for shrewd crafting of intelligent and evocative musical frames to present his visions, and suggests that neither his imagination nor his desire to evolve AGOD have yet run dry. There's a question, I feel, as to whether anyone can sustain his current level of output without at some point running stale on ideas. Thankfully, this isn't that point.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. Misanthropy
2. The End Of Previous Life
3. New Beginning
4. The Feast
5. Wake Up

Duration : Approx. 45 minutes

Visit the Abysmal Growls Of Despair bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-01-04 by Mike Liassides
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