Look no further than English thrashers, King Abyss, if you want a shining example of integrity. The Stoke-on-Trent group reached the final of their local Metal 2 the Masses competition on two occasions before covid-19 prevented them from seeing their dreams come true of playing the Bloodstock festival. Not to be deterred, this quintet of seven years and many UK tours will enter the heats for the 2023 competition in their home town as if starting as a new band. These boys are not too proud to share the stage with the new blood, even if their stock is high enough to see them embark on a headlining tour of England’s provincial towns and cities with Must Kill in support.
Two EPs released in 2017 and 2018 and a standalone single in 2019 were the extent of the King Abyss back catalogue before they unleashed two new songs in anticipation of their debut Snake Oil album. As legends in their home county of Staffordshire, the challenge is to follow up their hard work on the road over the last few years with a record to match it. Their decision to re-record 2019’s ‘Weapons of Mass Delusion’ single as their opener for this record is a brave one, yet it works. A vituperative Slayer riff backed by crisp drum snares and muscular hardcore roars is the best way to lay down your marker if your intention is to glorify the might and menace of thrash metal. You can hear the acerbity of Xentrix in their mid-tempo modulation after the second chorus. This is intelligent music.
Dom Bould’s vocals on this record are masculine and abrasive, but there’s a desperate panic about them at the same time. Close your eyes and the vitriolic mosh of ‘Snake Oil’ will remind you of Employed to Serve. King Abyss are no stranger to the skull-crushing groove of Prong or the chromatic crunch of Anthrax, but they look to the thrash metal of Machine Head rather than the original Bay Area material for inspiration. They also make room for the obligatory melodic death metal adrenaline when the mood demands it on ‘Loathe’ and ‘A Short Drop and a Sudden Stop’. If anything, they might be too ambitious on this LP. How difficult is the poignant ballad for an aggressive thrash band if they don’t have the lung capacity for the rock vocals? ‘Disdain’ is admirable in its determination to expand the range of musicianship and the colour palette, but you need a Joey Belladonna (think ‘Armed and Dangerous’) or a James Hetfield (think ‘One’) on the microphone to make it a triumph. Dom Bould seems hesitant to let his voice carry the notes with the husk they deserve, and he only gets into gear when the uplift of distortion in the chorus allows him to scream.
One thing you cannot criticise here is the production and energy. King Abyss symbolise the resilience and fortitude of thrash metal on Snake Oil. The violent syncopation of ‘Fear the Dead’ segues into a butterfly stomach of thrilling palm-muted chugging and up-tempo drum action in the vein of Metallica’s ‘Creeping Death’, yet they end it with a surprise deathcore breakdown. The staccato triplets from George Heathcote (drums) and the two guitarists are as good as anything in modern metal. Listen how they mix the best of Machine Head with the Fit for an Autopsy downstrokes on ‘Eyes Always Watching’ – this is how you use the down-tuned guitars for their maximum brutality.
King Abyss are regulars on the touring circuit and stalwarts of the English thrash metal scene. Their decision to include a nine-minute instrumental at the climax of their debut album might be overindulgent, but this is an exciting record with a focus on expanding the core sound into other areas of the metal spectrum. Surely, this band are ready for the Bloodstock stage in 2023…
Release Date: 24/02/2023
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Snake Oil; Fear the Dead; Eyes Always Watching
Suggested Further Listening: Harlott – Detritus of the Final Age (2020), Employed to Serve – Conquering (2021), Xentrix – Seven Words (2022)