Have you ever bitten into a cookie thinking it was chocolate chip and swiftly discovered it was in fact oatmeal raisin? Ever pour a red sauce you thought was ketchup into a sandwich, bitten into it and fell off your chair because it was actually the hottest of hot sauce? Perhaps you do not suffer from such culinary clumsiness, but once in a while we ingest something we thought was familiar only to be abruptly taken aback at what our senses are telling us. With 2017 Agonia Records release Shifting.Negative, Italian avantgarde black metal terrorists Aborym have certainly given fans something quite startling, if not completely unexpected, to bite into and chew.
Aborym has always been a band swathed in black metal wrapping paper that, once torn open with the zeal of a child on their birthday, often reveals many more facets going on underneath. In existence since 1992, the Italian troupe has made a career of mixing industrial soundscapes into their often claustrophobic and high-tension black metal blast. Largely the creative work of founding vocalist/keyboardist/bassist Malfeitor Fabban (Fabrizio Giannese), 2017 sees the band shedding its past members and bringing in the worldly Davide Tiso (Gospel of the Witches, Ephel Duath) on guitar. No stranger to strange, he joins some largely unknown figures (Stefano Anguilli (Cult of Vampyrism) on keys, Danillo Valentini aka Dan V on guitars) to give the world yet another manifestation of this ever evolving musical entity.
Shifting.Negative appears four years on from prior album Dirty, which would turn out to be the final appearance of Bard 'Faust' Euithin on drums. This album had plenty of dystopian industrial elements, articulated with more clarity than on 2010's schizophrenic, challenging Psychogrotesque record. For this scribe, 2006's Generator was the most succinct and well-constructed manifestation of the anti-christian industrial black metal Aborym began leaning towards after their first two landmark albums (1999's Kali Yuga Bizarre and 2001's Fire Walk With Us!). Following this, Dirty seemed to truly push their sonic envelope and beautifully articulate the melding of industrial elements with black metal.
But tastes change, don't they. Artists do not stand still. Shifting.Negative is aptly named, because it most certainly shifts Aborym clear out of black metal and firmly into the universe of industrial music. The opener, "Unpleasantness," fits more within the realm of a Combichrist or a NIN than it does next to a Mysticum or even an older Aborym album. Fabban's vocals caress instead of spit, over programmed beats interspersed with a much more muted percussive blast. How this tastes will depend on your palette. If you can appreciate bands like Circle of Dust, Wumpscut, and Ministry, you'll want to keep going. The guitar sound is clear and effective, and it seems Fabban is transitioning between blasting the listener and grooving him or her with far more precision than in the past. On earlier releases, Aborym songs could often shift mercilessly and abruptly between the styles. At times this was needed, at others it felt a bit crammed together.
Alright, so the opener was overtly industrial. Moving on, you might be saying to yourself that the next song will burst from the speakers with the thrust of a jackboot through some poor bastard's temple. Nope. Lie back and allow the dreamy keyboard/guitar swoon of "Precarious" to wash over you, its slow pulse nevertheless preserving some form of menace, however muted. "For a Better Past" is another song which will have the listener double-checking that they didn't actually hit 'shuffle' on the old iPod/Spotify playlist. More Massive Attack than metal attack, it does build into a bit of a stronger ambiance. With eerie clean vocals and samples abounding, the uncomfortable atmosphere Aborym is good at crafting is stil present. It calls to mind the gloomy warrens of some inner city drug den, only this one is a night club instead of a dilapidated Breaking Bad trash-house.
One song which confounds me lyrically but has some interesting structure is "10050 Cielo Drive." The choir intro thrusting right into the vocal rage, underpinned with industrial beats, is an interesting arrangement. References to Charles Manson, however, are done to death in my opinion. Yet here we have a song about the very house in which the Tate murders were committed back in 1969 in California. Like some of the tracks on Shifting.Negative, this one is rather short; perhaps too short.
There are some moments of blast; 'Slipping Through The Cracks' certainly harks back to the catchy/blast/beats pattern one can find on earlier Aborym works. On 'You Can't Handle the Truth,' Aborym has made a song Frontline Assembly would be proud of; the repeated, famous Nicholson movie sample is well-placed. The song's lurching beginning gives way to a very pleasing, speedy, and dare I say riff-laden Ministry-esque stormer.
On the back half of the album, "Tragedies For Sale" has a killer beginning, but it falls back into something a bit more pedestrian. Conversely, 'Going New Places' is strong throughout, with all elements of weirdness, programming, and metal firmly in alignment. On the whole, Shifting.Negative sounds like Aborym has decided what it wants to be, and in navigating firmly into the waters of a newer style, there are a whole lot of similarities to bands who have made careers out of such guitar driven industrial music. Some fans might feel the album is too derivative, while others may just not be able to hang with the fact that for Aborym circa 2017, black metal is all but eradicated from the field of battle. In the face of such overwhelming sample/industrial elements, the intractable among us may find nothing for them on Shifting.Negative. Or maybe Fabban is paying homage to his influences, and the next one will be completely different. If you dig ambient soundscapes, beat-driven music with hints of the menacing, then Shifting.Negative will be an enjoyable, if not ground-breaking, listening experience.