Gaia good, humanity bad. So bad.
That’s how one could generalize the new record Abschaum (scum) of the German band Herbstschatten (autumn shadow). This seems to be a recurring theme often found in Germany and – indeed – further North, especially around Norway. Pun intended.
An expression of an apparent feeling of doom with more terrors still to come is pretty prevalent over there. With humanity being the scum that must be purged from the pristine swathes of earthy splendor. Or – at worst – everyone should start to live in huts in the forest all over again.
Now, this band’s declared mission is – and I paraphrase – to project people’s own mirror image back at them. In order to show them the errors of their ways, I guess. Loki help me, here’s another bunch of wiseasses wanting to tell me how to rearrange my life.
But all that won’t signify.
This article is not about misguided philosophy or the figurative retreat back into the primeval Teutonic forests1). But it is all about the metal that is about to spill forth into this harsh reality. And that material is not without rust and a few overly sharp edges.
Because once you stab the play button for Abschaum, that massive wall of sound immediately threatens to swallow you. The band compressed some of their offerings so much that the ever-present double bass beats kinda get to be a truly annoying key fixture on that wall. Albeit that things will improve a bit in that department as we move down the tracklist.
At its base, Herbstschatten gets you a mix of Black and Atmospheric Black Metal plus some Melodic Death Metal flavors thrown into it. Together with some ambient and acoustic injections and garnished with clear vocals, monologues, and what have you. The weirdest part is their use of Norwegian for some of those orations. The use of another language does, however, inject a certain archaic relish into their tune that otherwise would not be there.
The band combines all that jazz with that type of in-your-face growling that already got on my bad side once Varg graced us with their latest piece of wisdom. And in truth, a lot of Abschaum contains a healthy dose of the latter’s Extreme Metal style, at least if compared to their earlier records. Something that mixes with other godly storytellers from Germany. And that’s not necessarily to their advantage.
Yet, Seelenschrei already sets a pretty brisk pace with melodics that would make Finsterforst proud. Wall of sound and all notwithstanding, their multi-layered and ever-changing soundscape really got on our good side quickly. The piece is full of different elements, hooks and licks, with sudden full stops that end in a monologue or two. And whilst you really need to look for them, you will even find those hidden solos in that abundant tremolo fest on display.
Which again sends the idea of a quick listen out the door rather swiftly. Abschaum is complex fare and you better give it your time of day. In other words, the mainstream crowd will probably scoff at the record. Whereas the nerdier metallists will take a liking to its pretty steep technicalities. But the mainstream fan crowd is probably not something Herbstschatten concern themselves with too much.
Now, Der Kutscher – Abschaum‘s filet piece – delivers the full monty of what this band can do. Soaring sounds reminiscent of the blackened brethren of the fantastic2), mix with choirs and a bonanza of steely Black Metal. We particularly liked this sense of storytelling on one single track, not something bands often pull off.
And let’s not forget Sonnenuntergang. This one also showcases one of those numerous clear voice lyric attacks in Norwegian. Not sure why they did that, but – hey – it adds some spice into all that German goodness.
Norwegian undertones also transform Gletscherbestie into one of the better tracks on Abschaum. Some sort of a spiffed-up Scandinavian offshoot of what Black Sabbath could have done. Without Ozzy’s whine, of course.
But it’s Hingabe that will have Herbstschatten pull out all the stops. I won’t hide from you that we were a bit worried at first about a fully compressed wall of sound having at you for more than 10 minutes straight. But we stand corrected. This is one cool track with meaty metal riffs that weren’t quite there before. And some pieces of snazzy wisdom that nicely close the record.
The metal on the album is dark, dirty, rusty, ominous, deliciously complex, and stark. And the band delivers its sharp-edged Post Black Metal with a refreshing intensity, great variation, and a discreet serving of subdued dissonance at times.
If anything, Abschaum is proof that even an overly eggheaded theme can finally disintegrate into a decent metal album. Herbstschatten made a record for metal nerds, true. But the rough, blackened geekery at work here finally won over our frozen steely hearts.