*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #23 of the SBR Album of the Week.
The Abbey formed with no great aspirations. Finnish metal veteran, Jesse Heikkinen, wanted to try his hand at lead vocals in a doom metal group after years of providing guitars for numerous bands. He had no ingenious plan to conquer the world. SBR readers will know him as the multi-instrumentalist songwriter behind the avant-garde black metal act, Phallosopher.
Joining him as dual vocalist in The Abbey is none other than Natalie Koskinen of funeral doom heavyweights, Shape of Despair. As an ex-member of Depressed Mode and ex-wife of former Amorphis vocalist, Pasi Koskinen, hers is a name that carries weight in the Finnish underground. These two did not know each other before drummer, Vesa Ranta, suggested Koskinen as the female voice to counter Heikkinen’s vision of a theatrical rock band playing doom metal. It might have shades of Ghost and the Blue Oyster Cult, but the band’s debut album is an enchanting piece of art that deserves fifty-three minutes of your time.
When we say doom metal, we should clarify that The Abbey’s vision is one of ringing chords and heart-choking anguish. What separates them from their peers is their willingness to make the dual vocal harmonies the foundations of their music. Even the crunchy downstrokes and sliding bass movements in opener, ‘Rat King’, cannot dislodge the spellbinding sensation of Heikkinen and Koskinen as they lock into a pleading incantation of voice. The former lets the latter lead on this track with an enchanting stir of soprano harmonies. Listen how the middle eight switches to a piece of rhythmic metal before launching into a galloping climax of gothic keyboard textures and weeping guitars. Of course, you can hear elements of Ghost in the songwriting. But this is darker and heavier. Squirming high-register guitar patterns fizzle over the bite of the distorted vibrato notes flaming from the amps of the rhythm guitarist. No burdens disappear here in a resilient victory for the mind over misery. This is a colour palette of scarlet and grey rather than black and white.
Jesse Heikkinen had no formal voice training or even a clear idea of how it might sound until he started demoing the tracks for this album. This seems inconceivable when you listen to his powerful head voice emerge from the vocal booth on ‘Crystallion’ like a heavy metal version of Mark Hollis (RIP) of English art-rock legends, Talk, Talk. This start-stop triumph of a song experiments with contrasting dynamics and ends up like a collaboration between David Bowie and Ahab. On ‘Widow’s Will’, he lowers his range to that of a lower-pitched goth register. Koskinen adds the lonely beauty of her pipes in the right moments where your clenched jaw begins to ache. This woman is the liquid gold in the mix. The sorrows of her voice on ‘Starless’ will remind you of US avant-doom trio, Eight Bells, when you let the cadences seep into your skin like a light breeze on your neck as you contemplate the jump from a skyscraper ledge. The marching drums and progressive blues solo at the end will pull you back from the unthinkable.
Though never the master, the riff is still prominent on this album. ‘Queen of Pain’ toys with a 1970s hook played in the manner of a morbid goth metal band. You could compare Koskinen’s sultry tones with that of Jillian Raye’s astounding performance on the debut 3rd Secret LP released last year. ‘Desert Temple’ aims to bruise you with its thrash metal posturing but soon finds an alternative reality in a crematorium, watching the curtains close on the catafalque as the coffin slides through the incinerator. They take a risk with the decision to end Word of Sin in the mournful twelve minutes of closing track, ‘Old Ones’. Your stamina levels ought to be shattered, but the church organs and harmonised guitars provide Heikkinen and Koskinen with one last dance macabre amidst roaring thundercloud samples. Better days might never come, but the climactic ending gives you hope that perseverance will triumph.
Those of you that cannot comprehend the critical acclaim and popularity of Ghost (including this reviewer) will understand the appeal of The Abbey. This band started as a side project, but their momentum might turn them into something more important. The second album is already underway, and we have every reason to be intrigued.
Release Date: 17/02/2023
Record Label: Season of Mist
Standout tracks: Rat King, Crystallion, Widow’s Will
Suggested Further Listening: Deathwhite – Grey Everlasting (2022), Ghost – Prequelle (2018), Shape of Despair – Return to the Void (2022)