The old saying goes that if you stare into the abyss too long, it’ll stare back. While that might sound like a frightening prospect to most people, extreme metallers are cut from a different cloth. If you’re a fan of heavy records that effectively mix doom, death, and black metal, the abyss returning your gaze isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the abyss in question is the U.K. based outfit Abyssal. Those looking for extreme metal that isn’t afraid to push boundaries and meld genres all while delving into the philosophical and real horrors of the world definitely could lose quite some time staring into this particular abyss.
Since forming in 2011, Abyssal has spent the past decade plus putting out a series of killer full-lengths and splits that are all intricately composed and highly contemplative. Listen to any release from Abyssal and you’ll come away with the opinion that this is a band that deeply thinks about every decision and that doesn’t waste a second of runtime. That it’s all the vision of one man just makes the band all the more impressive. I recently caught up with Abyssal main man G.D.C. to talk about his band and what fans can expect from the coming year.
First off, how did Abyssal get started? What made you want to form this type of band and how did you end up with the name?
G.D.C.: The project started around 2009/2010. I had played in death metal bands for many years, but the music tended to lean more towards the technical, rhythmic style. I had a desire to create something that was more atmospheric, textured, serious, etc. It’s important to understand that the cavernous death metal style – that nowadays is so commonplace – was relatively new at the time, so this was a sound that was still taking form. I wouldn’t say that Abyssal was instrumental in founding this sound, as the medal for this definitely goes to the Australasian bands (Portal, Impetuous, Ulcerate, etc.), but we were definitely early adopters of this new and interesting style.
Abyssal emerged from this, and the name was really just a descriptor of what I was trying to accomplish – a dark and deep sound, almost akin to being sucked into an abyss.
What was your introduction to the world of extreme metal? Who are some of the bands that were important to you along the way?
G.D.C.: I have pretty vivid memories of the early days of the internet and discovering seemingly obscure bands and releases on various proto-websites. I recall discovering the Steve Tucker-era Morbid Angel, with only small snippets of music to listen to online, and grainy photos of live performances. It was like a terrifying, [mesmerizing] new world to me as a child. I remember listening to Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, and almost being overwhelmed, unable to even comprehend what it was that I had just listened to.
I had a similar journey into black metal, discovering the bizarre Theodore Kittelsen artwork that accompanied Burzum’s Filosofem – listening to “Jesu Død” and being totally entranced – like listening to music from another dimension. To a young mind who had only been accustomed to the likes of Iron Maiden, uncovering these kinds of bands was revelatory to me, opening up ideas and sounds that I couldn’t have previously imagined.
Being a one-man band, what kind of advantages and disadvantages does that present? Have you ever considered adding more permanent members?
G.D.C.: The primary advantage is also the key disadvantage, as strange as that sounds. I compose and write all of the music, which means that there is a single, unified artistic direction to every release. The flip side of this is that there is nobody else to moderate my excesses, or complement my shortcomings. This is something that I am not looking to change, as I think that the practical advantages do still outweigh the negatives, but they are noted nonetheless.
I would be unlikely to collaborate on the writing for the band, and the musicians that I work with fully understand this. In terms of permanency for live musicians, that is something that I am very positive about, but that’s a different story.
What do you look for in live musicians for the band? Is it hard to find people that understand what you’re doing with the music and that can help you replicate it live?
G.D.C.: I have been exceptionally lucky in working with live musicians, in that once we had established a live line-up that worked, there have been very few changes to it. The technicality of the music is generally high, so finding capable players is obviously somewhat of a challenge, but the more crucial criteria is whether those people gel with each other and are on the same page.
In the Abyssal live line-up we are truly brothers, and we are all perfectly aligned with each other – a real rarity when working with others, and something that must be cherished at all costs.
In terms of translating the sound for the live environment, this had always been something that I was [skeptical] about, especially as to whether the music came across properly. However, I think that this question has been well and truly answered in the positive, and a lot of that comes down to the quality musicians.
What’s your music writing process like? Has it changed at all over the years?
G.D.C.: It is quite rigid and systematic at first. I like to try and lay everything out in a working file and get to a rough render as quickly as possible. Once that is in place, I will iterate nearly endlessly based on successive listens. Parts will get refined, moved around, layered, etc. all with a particular focus on flow between sections. Once the structure is in place, that is when the more freeform aspects come in, loosening up some parts, or painting leads and layers over different parts. Lyrics tend to come last, even if rough concepts had previously been decided upon. Fitting words to the existing structure is generally the very last thing.
How do you come up with the lyrics for the songs? Is there anything that you use for inspiration? What do you try to do with the words to an Abyssal song?
G.D.C.: There are a lot of different sources that inspiration comes from, and it has changed for successive albums over the years. Earlier albums drew a lot from medieval history, particularly the second album. Antikatastaseis drew a great deal from the idea of chaos, order emerging from chaos, beauty emerging from horror, and so on. A Beacon In the Husk moved more into speculative philosophy, critiques of positivism, Kantian ideas, as well as the work of Spengler, McGilchrist and Jung. The split with Tchornobog delved further into Jungian ideas, the work of Campbell, some Seneca etc.
There is no completely consistent thread running through all this, other than a general interest in concepts, rather than practical reality.
What was the process of recording your debut, Denouement, like? How did that come about and what did you learn from that process that you used to improve on subsequent recordings? Are you still happy with that first record?
G.D.C.: Denouement was quite a rapid process all in all. The tracks on that release were largely pre-existing from a prior unreleased project. These tracks were re-tooled and transformed somewhat into what was originally intended to be a demo, rather than an “album” per-se. Nonetheless, the release was widely accepted to be a full-length and has henceforth been considered as such – I am not going to argue too much.
Denouement is undoubtedly the most immature release, and I think anybody listening will hear the massive gulf in quality between it and Novit Enim Dominus. The thin production is a weak point, and some of the tracks certainly could use some more aggressive editing to reduce the meandering, but the release is what it is and it has its moments. I would not go back and change it.
With that in mind, is it harder or easier to make records at this point? Obviously you have more experience with the process but it must be a challenge to keep everything fresh and not repeat yourself.
G.D.C.: I don’t find that the actual writing of music is necessarily harder or easier. What I do find is that the time available to actually sit down and write music is much harder to come by the older you get. Freshness is not something that I tend to be too concerned by, as no two Abyssal albums really sound the same anyway.
2019’s A Beacon in the Husk was your first record in four years and a Hell of a welcome return! What led to the longer break and what was the process of recording that one like
G.D.C.: Beacon was an interesting release, as it was actually intended to be the third Abyssal record but ended up being “leap-frogged” by Antikatastaseis. The two albums are almost the inverse of each other in many ways. Antikatastaseis appeared like lightning in a bottle. It was written seemingly in no time at all, the concepts for it came out of the aether and were written almost immediately, with no effort or toil.
Beacon on the other hand was a difficult birth. I had been toying with this concept of an album that started off in a dreamlike state, only to gradually descend, darken, and disintegrate as the album progressed. This proved to be fiendishly hard to actually achieve musically in a way that remained compelling. Along with this, I struggled to create a lyrical concept that made sense with this musical theme. I trialled some ideas, but ultimately remained unhappy with the outcomes.
The result of this was that Beacon was thrown into the bin and re-written from scratch multiple times, until eventually I arrived at something that had traction. That came in somewhat of an epiphany, which I have spoken about many times before. I had historically been someone who believed in the sanctity of rationality, positivism, and methodological naturalism, but around this time I had increasingly been reading philosophical texts from the German Idealists, as well as the psychoanalytic works of Jung.
This basically demolished the entire substructure of my orienting philosophy, and I ended up writing a series of quasi-essays to try and explain these revelations to myself. Those essays ultimately became the central narrative to A Beacon In the Husk. I had found my concept.
That was your second record with Profound Lore Records. What has their support been like and what has that meant to the band?
G.D.C.: PLR have actually worked with us since the second release, and they have been a powerful ally ever since. The label is one of the few modern labels of this scale that is actually still run by one man who is a genuine fan of the things that he releases. His catalogue as such is extremely varied, and totally authentic. I think that it goes without saying that Abyssal would likely not have the success it has today if it was not for PLR.
What’s your local scene like where you live in the U.K.? Do you get a chance to play live there a lot and has the scene affected the growth of the band?
G.D.C.: The live lineup for Abyssal is extremely geographically distributed (members are all over England, Scotland, and Iceland), so local does not really have any meaning to us. As such, we are generally quite limited in how many shows we can play, and where we can actually play them. The strategy generally is to be quite “boutique” with our live appearances, focusing on special festivals, intimate tours and the like. The UK scene in general is moderately large, but it is not really what we focus on.
Lastly, what’s next for Abyssal? What are your goals and plans for the near future?
G.D.C.: Our split record with Tchornobog has just released, and is selling out fast. This is not just a split record with disjointed selections of tracks on each side, but is instead a deep collaboration, and the most audacious split I have ever worked on. You will hear shared motifs that re-appear within each of the band’s tracks which we have jointly composed.
Beyond that, we have an additional split that is pending release on Dark Descent records with a fantastic band, hopefully later this year. Moving forward into 2024, the fifth Abyssal full-length is currently around 60% complete, and will be somewhat of a step change in the signature sound.
In terms of live appearances, Abyssal will headline the Sonic Dissonance festival in Edinburgh, Scotland in September 2023.
Photo at top: Cover for the Tchornobog / Abyssal split.