Dryad – The Abyssal Plain


Iowa black metal quartet, Dryad, aim to write the filthiest and most abhorrent music for the mainstream to detest. This means they earn an appreciative nod from Darkthrone and a round of applause from Scream Blast Repeat. Though they have pseudonyms – Claw (vocals/guitar), Grimtooth (guitar), er… Oli (drums) – they look like an art school hardcore band gate-crashed by long-haired metalheads. Fronted by vocalist and guitarist, Claire Nunez (aka Claw), the group released two EPs in 2017 and 2018 and bagged a deal with Prosthetic Records for the release of The Abyssal Plain. You can see why they created a buzz in the underground – this is ferocious extreme metal that takes pride in its ugly nature and diabolical lack of melody.

Music as unforgiving and as repugnant as this should take time to digest, but two listens are all you need to admire the ambition of The Abyssal Plain while noticing a few of its minor defects. First thing we should acknowledge is Dryad’s willingness to present a sequential listening experience where the instrumental interludes of dungeon synth are as important as the crushing black metal numbers. This is not the ethereal black metal of the modern age with atonal guitars and lo-fi blast beats. The two minutes and fifty-seven seconds of ‘Bottomfeeder’ are a thrilling unorthodox engineering job of crashing drum cymbals, dense snare thuds, biting guitars, and wretched dual vocal abrasions. Think of Mayhem’s Deathcrush as your reference point and add a spice of old school death metal from the roughest of the tape trading bands at the tail end of the 1980s. ‘Brine Pool Aberration’ harks back to the proto-black/death metal of early Celtic Frost but with unintelligible vocals and a mix that sounds as charming as the vent of a sewer beneath a busy road. Be under no illusions: Dryad have charm – plenty of it. But in a naïve way, like a group who aim to make the most offensive noise possible with a limited budget. How can you not smile at the extremity of it all?

Though it should be taken as given, Claire Nunez remembers to write songs with memorable guitar riffs. Not many black metal bands remember this rudimentary ingredient. Listen to the downward crunch of ‘Trenches’ and the might of ‘Black Smoke’. The former utilises the darker fifth chords at the low end of the spectrum; the latter is like a first wave black metal band covering Discharge. Anti-establishment punk raises its head at various stages in between the horror synths and chaotic guitar and drum interplay. ‘Pompeii Worm’ is like an extreme metal version of The Dead Kennedys but with worse production and a strange charisma holding you closer to its invisible fumes.

The parts that need more work are obvious as early as track number four. ‘Loki’s Castle’ suffers from an atrocious vocal performance that sounds more irksome than a child in the throes of a tantrum. Like the strident punk satisfaction of sabotaging those things that easy listeners enjoy, Dryad make the repulsive voice the headline feature of their art. ‘Black Smoke’ would be much better if Claire Nunez tried to channel her screams into something resembling pain rather than po-faced transgressions that seem extreme for the sake of being extreme. Her performance on the title track shows she can shriek with the best of the black metal goblins, but we need more of this to make The Abyssal Plain a potential cult classic.

One thing we can say with confidence is that this band have a multitude of ideas and influences. The spine-tingling dungeon synth instrumentals (‘Hadal’, ‘Raptures of the Deep’, ‘A Nagging Thought’) offer a dark enigma when your head begins to throb. ‘Chimera Monstrosa’ glows in the dark like a black metal take on a Mike Oldfield piano composition. You can already see how this band will evolve into a greater force with better musicianship and more coherence in the future. For now, they present us with an enthralling debut album that takes pleasure in being a monstrosity of noise.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 20/01/2023

Record Label: Prosthetic Records

Standout tracks: Brine Pool Aberration; Pompeii Worm; The Abyssal Plain

Suggested Further Listening: Mayhem – Deathcrush EP (1987), Cultic – Of Fire and Sorcery (2022), Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion (1985)