REVIEW: ABYSMAL DAWN – “Phylogenesis”
Abysmal Dawn are back in 2020 with more Californian modern death metal with Phylogenesis, a new record after a six-year break following 2014’s Obsolescence.
Phylogenesis is a front-loaded record, with opener Mundane Existence, The Path of the Totalitarian, and first album single Hedonistic being among the strongest on the record. However, Phylogenesis really begins to fall into tired mediocrity as the record progresses past its halfway point, with tracks like Coerced Evolution, True to The Blind, and Soul-Sick Nation being competent tracks with meat-and-potatoes arrangements but a smattering of stellar solos courtesy of newcomer Vito Petroni and frontman/founder Charles Elliot.
A notable exception to this is the cover of the Death track Flattening of Emotions (off Human), which is a modern glow-up of a classic “Death” metal track. While the cover is near-perfect, it highlights a more underlying problem: it further cements the difference in songwriting quality between Abysmal Dawn and genre-inventors Death. As an album closer, it ends on a very high note, but the aftertaste is clearly a nagging sense of dejected boredom of the muddy middle section of the album, after such a banger!
The musicianship on Phylogenesis is as proficient as it is generic. On the plus side, it is textbook modern death metal: punchy riffs, double bass, blast-beats, growled vocals, a breakdown every now and again, and razorwire solos. On the minus side, it is a textbook modern death metal doing little to nothing to innovate, adapt, or co-opt from other microgenres. Guitarists Elliot and Petroni write traditionally arranged riffs over traditionally arranged structures, bassist Eliseo Garcia does what he is expected to do, not more not less, and drummer James Coppolino does show promise in his blaster arrangements as seen on Mundane Existence and SoulSick Nation but is held back by boring drum mixes.
The production on Phylogenesis is yet another miss for these ears. While there is nothing blatantly wrong with the sonic palette chosen in terms of guitar tones, drum samples, and the spaces they occupy in the mix, there is very little to offer in terms of the pop and sparkle of modern metal production. The rhythm guitar tones are chunky but buzzy, the leads cut through well, but oscillate in levels on different tracks, the bass has its moments but is largely buried, and the drums are synthetic and soggy in equal measure, heavily taking away presence and gravitas. While even mediocre death metal riffs can be raised a few notches with proficient drum tracks mixed well, great death metal riffs are brought down by weak and soggy sounding drums, which is the verdict on Phylogenesis. A veritable shame.
Phylogenesis and Abysmal Dawn are a prime example of a simmering problem in modern extreme metal: a lack of innovation in a quickly crowded space will leave you behind. With bands like Revocation blending hyper-quick progressive thrash to death metal proportions, Power Trip yanking at OSDM heartstrings, Tomb Mold quickly rising in the muddy waters of grittiness, and a wide array of the younger generation of genre-bending extreme metal bands, it is clear that simply writing a “good” standard Cannibal Corpse/Aeon-inspired death metal record will not get you far in the scene.
Abysmal Dawn have created a brand of dependability and stability with their records, Phylogenesis proving to be another addition to that brand: a by-the-books yet competent modern death metal record. However, an all too familiar sound may end up being off-putting to older fans hoping for a shake-up or new ears looking for the next big thing in death metal.