In the last few years, amongst a Death Metal scene that is rich and thriving under the surface of wider attention, no band has made a wider impact and begun to hit greater heights than London’s own Abhorrent Decimation; especially in such a short lifespan thus far.
A well-received EP (Infected Celestial Utopia) in 2013 followed by debut full-length Miasmic Mutation (both Cold Birth Records) in 2015 saw a band with stacks of potential and already blossoming songwriting chops quickly grow to release one of the standout Extreme Metal releases in the UK at that time. Since then, with the help of patronage from well-respected peers, they have now signed with Prosthetic Records; a significant step with a well-known international label with a wealth of prestige; a move pretty much unheard of from the UK Extreme Metal scene nowadays.
Despite a plethora of lineup changes that could derail any unit, Abhorrent Decimation has pushed forward with seeming ease to the release of latest album, and first for Prosthetic, The Pardoner; an album that represents another evolutionary step for the band. The Pardoner has a strong case for being the most complete, immediate and potentially wider reaching Death Metal album the UK has produced in a long time.
Frontman Ashley Scott is very clear about how the band’s circumstances and refinement have shaped its sound:
“We certainly feel like we have hit our stride with this record. We were still a little confused as to our actual direction when we put Miasmic out; it was a very different time in the band’s history back then. We had a different writing core and things were very dysfunctional at the best of times. Now, we’re a super happy band and collaborating on this record, and getting it over the finishing line had been nothing short of a pleasure”.
The story of band personnel changes nowadays is an unsurprising and common affair what with the stresses and difficulties of the industry nowadays, but Scott points out that such changes the band has made recently were vital to the band’s continuation:
“If we didn’t make those changes, I don’t think the world would have got another Abhorrent Decimation record. Being in a band is hard work on a personal level and we just didn’t have a unit that was firing on all cylinders, so we got to a point where we couldn’t continue as we were. We had a little reshuffle and got rolling again”
The most recent of changes saw Alex Micklewright join as the drummer (a position that seems to be have the same trap door underneath that TesseracT vocalists once did), a move that gave the band further revitalising due to their admiration toward him, as Scott explains:
“I’d been a fan of Alex’s playing for some time. I always thought ‘I wish we could have a drummer like this guy’. We got to a point where we realised things were not going to work out with our most recent drummer and I said to the guys ‘I’m going to message this Alex’ because you don’t ask you don’t get.
“I felt like he was a little out of our league and felt nervous to message him, in all honesty… but then part of me felt so passionately about the top-shelf drummer being our Achilles heel. And sure enough, he was fairly stoked at the opportunity and then once I sent him The Pardoner to listen to…that was kind of it.”
The Pardoner itself shows a refinement in the band’s sound, shedding traces of influence and hero worship for a more contemporary and individual sound which also manages to be both hugely technical and complex, yet offer a dark and foreboding atmosphere. According to Scott, the writing dynamic took a substantial change in the build-up which goes to explain this change,
“Our bass player (David Archer) really took the reins and ran with the writing horse. Before we knew it, he had already built six or so really lovely hooks and we just ploughed on from there. The rest came together fairly smoothly. We knew we wanted to put something out there that was a little more contemporary, we also wanted to make a record that displayed a greater level of musicality than our previous releases. Both of those things we achieved.”
As well as a leap in songwriting prowess, The Pardoner is also a conceptual piece, regarding the “Pardoner” character from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. When asked about where this inspiration to make a concept album at such an early stage came about, it transpired that the idea of a concept piece had been long in the tooth.
“Originally, a long time back, I had the idea to do something about medieval England and the Black Death. While we were touring Miasmic Mutation we got really close to and toured with The Infernal Sea who had a record exactly about that. So that kind of put me off the subject as by then, once we got really close with the guys, I felt unexcited and unoriginal about the idea.
So then I went back to the drawing board. I had a note in one of my idea journals about the idea of a ‘pilgrimage’ and mentioned this in conversation with my friend, Shaun, at work.
“Off the back of that he lent me a copy of Medieval Pilgrimage or something like that, and I saw the word ‘Soothsayer’ jumping out at me. I read that passage and it explained how they worked with ‘Pardoners’. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was transcribing Chaucer’s Middle English. I originally set out to do a concept on Miasmic… but things got muddled, so I had ‘unfinished business’ with the task of creating a concept album.”
Previous subject matter for Abhorrent Decimation has included religion, and they have always seemed to stem from a real place of anger rather than fantasy like many Death Metal lyricists. The idea of ‘The Pardoner’ is firmly rooted in religion and hypocrisy. When asked if this was a metaphorical album or purely based on fiction, Scott proves very open with his world views and his message:
“It’s a bit of everything really. I have always had this fantasy/hope that one day our hopeless species will ascend religious faith in a ‘new age of enlightenment’ of sorts. I have been guilty of using the band and my position as vocalist as a bit of a soapbox for these ideas. So in many ways I explored my own disgust and confusion within those lyrics. Sometimes it came across as a bit of a statement of intent, which in a way was humorous to me. I think the whole religious cull, and apocalyptic thing has been done to death now. So I moved on from writing about it all. Maybe I will write a book one day, but for now its shelved.”
This desire to write from a new place that stands out from the tried and tested formula that is very common place in the genre is further evidence of this band’s ascent from their early roots. Even the decision concerning their artwork shows significant change, from Miasmic Mutation’s striking, colourful cover to The Pardoner’s bleaker, shadowy and haunting imagery.
“Yeah, again a conscious decision was made there too. Par Olofsson did a great job with the Miasmic artwork don’t get me wrong…but with this new record, a fresh chance…we felt we needed to move on not only with our sound but with our visuals and imagery too. In fact, I want us to push to do this with the visuals on every record now. It’s been so refreshing.”
One of the things that arguably propelled the band into a wider conscious was through the help of a share on The Black Dahlia Murder’s Facebook page. Always ones with their ears to the ground in Death Metal and always looking to share to their fans new discoveries, a chance share according to Scott, whilst also remaining grounded, was a catapult in some ways for their success.
“That share had a brilliant impact on things. We was so grateful for that post, truly. Our sales, Facebook fans, and video views started to jump up, as if overnight. And it was actually that share that put Abhorrent Decimation onto the radar of Prosthetic Records and a few other labels that day. To a degree, you have to try and put other people’s expectations to the back of your mind. We was aware of it but we didn’t let it influence us at any stage. Hence how we came to making a new sound and pushing things into a different light.”
With only two full-length albums under their belt, it is still early days in the life of Abhorrent Decimation, but the progress they have made in such a short time, the support of such peers and move to a larger label are huge and rare events in the UK Death Metal scene nowadays, despite its diversity and wealth. It feels as if the UK is waiting for a new bench mark making band in that sense, a new band to hit the heights of the likes of Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death and put the scene on the map. A notion that Scott agrees with:
“We have a great underground/lower tier scene here. Lots of bands but no one really making huge waves in the overall sense. I feel passionately about this and feel the band is best placed now, better than ever, to make the move into that gap and fill those shoes.”
With the sheer growth and evolution the band have shown over such a short period of time, they have made leaps and bounds which simply don’t seem to be in the path for many of their homegrown peers. With The Pardoner, not only have they released their best work to date, but an album that truly feels like a major point in UK Extreme Metal, and a flag to tie to the mast for some time.
Words by CHRIS TIPPELL