Abbey Death Band – Ethos – Realignment – music review

Abbey Death Band – Ethos – Realignment – music review

Abbey Death Band is founded by two of my favorite people who were in some of my favorite bands. Abbey Nex played guitar in Combichrist and Psyclon Nine, while Valerie Gentile Abbey played the same instrument in The Crüxshadows. They both do behind the scenes production work in music, and this band is their effort at bringing a unique and personal vision to gothic industrial music, a genre both of them love and have worked in quite a bit with other people’s bands. The tendencies are towards very dark psychedelic sounds with small and well chosen bits of aggression against quieter inner moments, and it’s really their personal vision of trying to make a different sort of statement and adjust the aesthetics after spending a lot of time performing in the goth scene. They also aim to reach places deep inside their audience, internal places that sounds can reach but other things can’t.

Realignment is a strong debut EP. Many of the sounds will be familiar to people who listen to industrial music and love good keyboard and samples with grinding guitar, but they are also uniquely constructed in many ways, especially for their haunting and subtle occult qualities. Abbey Death Band seem to have taken a large mix of available industrial sounds and shaped them into a very different structure that shifts emphasis and focus to things within ourselves being noticed through rhythmic prodding of electronic echoes. Subtract Your Mind is a song about the death of ego and does a beautiful job of conveying this idea in sound. Valerie sings, “Give in to live. Give in to die. Relax your mind.” In Buddhism and some other spiritual views, the ego is viewed as false, a fiction that we get wrapped up inside of and trapped by when it’s really just a false construction of who we are. The core of a person sits past that and isn’t mundane or repetitive the way the ego is by being made of so many barriers.

Abbey Nex with Abbey Death Band
Abbey Nex

In many ways, western psychology has some agreement with this idea, because Freud viewed the ego as a social construction resting above a much more unbounded unconscious. Jung reworked this a bit into a collectivized unconscious and has been very influential on occultism and new age spirituality. The song Dirty Confessional is about morals as an absurdity. Everyone is dirty inside, because it’s normal to have desires that society shapes into something else, and this often leads to one of the frequent gothic tropes of fetishism. The structure of human consciousness isn’t really the same as social conventions, a point often made by surrealist artists and which I keep finding well represented in industrial sounds. In keeping with Abbey Death Band’s interest in the esoteric, religion is one avenue for repressing desire, and the confession within catholicism is a major example of this that has been studied both in psychoanalysis and the work of major French philosopher Michel Foucault who saw the production of guilt and discourses about internal sin found in the confession to be a powerful mechanism of social control.

The electronics that Abbey Death Band uses create very odd feelings. They have an obvious interest in mixing spiritual ideas into sound, and they take that in an experimental direction. While they obviously have some interesting views on occult spirituality, they are hinting at those things through their sounds rather than assuming a destination that’s clear, and this is the best choice musically. Those themes work most powerfully, fluidly, and profoundly when they are left open ended, and that’s the case here. So a lot is left to the listener to decide in terms of the meaning of these sounds and suggestions, hence being open to mystery. One way to describe their sound is that it could be the movie Poltergeist made into pretty dance music, with all of the electrical sensibilities of the haunting in the film taking on life within sound. 

Valerie Gentile Abbey with Abbey Death Band
Valerie Gentile Abbey

They both work in music production, and their abilities in that area are masterful. I do think Abbey Death Band is even better live, and that may have to do with how well structured they can make studio work and the extra atmosphere and surprises that live music provides. I also think they just respond well to the energy of an audience. These songs are very odd and haunting in strangely intricate sort of ways, like industrial trance music. On stage, Abbey seems like a producer with his calm guitar and Valerie more like a performance artist. She dances, and obviously is very into physical fitness for that purpose, and he stands and plays guitar more in a metal style with his deep voice echoing out lyrics. It’s a good combination, and it fits the oddness of their music very well, sounds which want to work their way into your brain and have you think, see, and feel a bit differently. In an odd sense, Abbey seems almost like the solidity of the stable ego or self their music is trying to get past or perhaps devour on a dance floor, while Valerie is fluid like the electronic attack they create against normality, and it’s a good exercise in balance.

Ethos

The recently released Ethos is a strong followup EP. It’s cause for excitement, because with two EPs, we effectively have a full album’s worth of material from Abbey Death Band and a clear statement of who they are. They stand out as having a strong vision of ethereal sounds mixed into clubbing and very brainy music. Fake Walls opens up a small collection of songs about the thinness of existence with a veil over our lives and selves in the mystical sense. Gothic music often celebrates a closeness to death as a part of nature, a part of mysticism, and a punk style solution to negative aspects of life having serious limitations. The world and ourselves have limits according to our perceptions, but there is a falsity to these barriers or walls that divide us into the lives and selves we take to be our own. Rather than an overflow of industrial aggression, we get melody and haunting beauty that is close to goth psychedelia. The song encourages us to see ourselves as a kaleidoscope spread throughout space and time of which what we think we are is a mere glimmer. “Have you ever looked so far inside, that you see yourself as a kaleidoscope, turning, changing, a candle passing through the needle’s eye,” we are told in the lyrics by Abbey, and then he says, “Realize what you were taught are lies. Your consciousness connects to the divine.”

Abbey Death Band
Abbey Death Band at 3 Kings, Denver, 11/7/18

Lost Is Fine for Now distills beautiful yearning and tragedy while capturing the inevitability of death, and it’s a beautiful song performed live. “They’re lost in their dying efforts to save you,” captures a futile effort to save a lost person, leaving the people trying to help also lost. The song seems to suggest that being lost and directionless is a normal state of existence that we might as well accept as a part of our ephemeral lives which are pretty much always wrapped up with death as we keep changing at every moment, never really having a fixed place, much like living within a labyrinth. Death is supposed to be partly positive in this sort of gothic sensibility, similar to the Mexican festivities for Day of the Dead. People should celebrate life, enjoy it, live it, etc., but recognize death as the place we are all going eventually and find goodness in that, as it offers closeness to a beyond with possibilities that are more natural than most people realize.

So gothic sounds become occult spirituality in an open ended new age sense for Abbey Death Band of having to decide for yourself what it all might mean. The song Trance refers pretty directly to mystical perception and seeing the unseen, an inner journey that music can help one to find. It uses repetitions and glimmering sounds that capture a feeling of light to work its way inside and open an exploration of other ways of seeing. The Veil is the most aggressive song on the EP, and Sevin VII sounds ghostly in his odd whispers that seem to reach from some strange other place to close out the new EP.

Much like the kaleidoscope Abbey Death Band sing about, their songs are very dense with many complex layers of meaning. They are also beautiful, dark, and danceable. So the deep layers don’t create a barrier to their music. It means though that serious reflection can also be placed onto these songs. That’s very good for rewarding frequent playing of their music, and these two EPs work well on repeat almost like industrial music versions of a mantra. For Abbey Death Band, we should open our minds to things beyond normal sensation, and doing this in a club with other people is a positive thing. They are both spooky people in a good way, like Fox Mulder from X-Files with a band playing haunted house music with Carol Anne from Poltergeist. It’s important not to pin too much on what the esoteric means to them though, because its openness to interpretation and mystery is part of why it is such a free idea for art to work with.

with Abbey
with Abbey

Their two voices have a nice play against each other. Valerie sings a bit deeper than most female vocalists and has an electric edge to her alto voice, while Abbey has velvety deep bass qualities in his baritone voice. The obvious third eye imagery used on their band logo fits the sounds well. I hear a lot of 1960s psychedelia crossing with industrial sounds and some of the new age impulses that were captured by that era, but made more existential and less romanticized, a gritty and realistic sense of hidden parts of our selves and our world, because we can see through things around us that are broken and incomplete. Especially this is true for the sense in which Abbey Death Band treats humanity as above and beyond the physical world.

Electronic sounds are very capable for this. Abbey played in Combichrist when industrial metal was a new musical shift for Andy LaPlegua, and Valerie saw some of the best days of The Crüxshadows playing guitar for Rogue. Together, they are showing us something very different and intentionally strange. Occultism and beauty are the two most obvious things happening with their sound, and I agree with how interconnected they can be. Numerous mystical strands of thought are tied with ecstatic art, and Tibetan Buddhism with its beautifully colored mandalas and meditative music is one of many obvious examples that can make the point of this being a good idea, but Buddhist sects have experimented with sound as a way to encourage experiences of nirvana for centuries. Opening ourselves to darkness and mysterious perception is an important thing to Abbey Death Band, and they construct those sounds beautifully. It’s odd, and I like it.

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