Opening with a sound akin to SUNN O)))'s wonderful drone destruction, Abhorrent Expanse launch into their bizarre and tremendous avant-garde experimental death metal LP Gateways To Resplendence with all the subtlety of a dirty bomb.
The enticingly disturbing cover art is a fair representation of the band's uncomfortable and engrossing take on death metal; imagine Morbid Angel dropping acid with Incantation while covering John Zorn. Likely, Gateways To Resplendence will confound most death metal aficionados and even this writer remains a bit perplexed by the 10 song improvs that make up Gateways To Resplendence. However, the recent rise of avant-garde death metal – look no further than bands like Australia's Portal and NYC's Imperial Triumphant – has helped usher in a new era of extreme metal and Abhorrent Expanse fit right into this unholy trend.
Limiting the description of Abhorrent Expanse to merely being a death metal band would be doing this Chicago/Minneapolis outfit a disservice as nothing is clear-cut here, nothing is predictable. A song like “Empirical Languages” is a noodly avant-jazz instrumental. Another off-kilter tune like “Frost Suffocation” hits a grindcore vibe and then careens into a subtle jazzy guitar only to run into some more doom-drone. It's bewildering.
From start to finish, Gateways To Resplendence is a dizzying experience that will make some listeners sick to their stomachs, while others will have their dopamine levels raised to new heights….and should you choose to take the ‘Abhorrent Expanse journey', Worship Metal can not be held liable for any and all bizarre affects that may come over you! 7/10
Written by Paul Lee for Worship Metal
Abhorrent Expanse is an "avant/improvisational metal quartet” that combines a variety of ideas to form unusual heavy music shapes. This manner of musical creation often has hit-or-miss outcomes with listeners and not much middle ground. Essentially, you have to listen yourself and see what you think. Recommendations are of little use. On this set, the band is Luke Polipnick (vocals, guitar), Erik Fratzke (guitar, bass, keys), Brian Courage (bass, organ pedals), and Tim Glenn (drums, percussion).
It has been said in the promo materials that this album "articulates the unspeakable dread which dwells in the sepulchral caverns of the mind. A grotesquely improvised manifesto plumbing from the depths of blackened death, funeral doom, noise, and free jazz, it defies the listener to decipher its riddles and confront its paradoxes.” I was looking out for all this while I listened. My ears were up for funeral doom especially. It is all in there.
Remember the first time you heard Pink Floyd's Ummagumma and you read the title of the song "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” and then you listened to the music and wondered what the fuck the one thing had to do with the other? Same thing here, except with a mad mash-up of heavy music ideas.
There are ten tracks on the album, ranging from the quite short to the more-than-fourteen-minute variety. Black Metal lives here and emerges on a recurring basis in the longer pieces. The improvisational jazz aspects come up on the regular as well to clap your ears. There are two big pieces - "Annihilation Operators” and "Arcturian Nano Diamonds from the Tranquil Abyss” - along with a considerable collection of interstitial material. The big events are complex and fascinating. They take you through all manner of emotions and experiences. Strap in because they are a ride.
Of the shorter tracks, I especially like "Frost Suffocation” as it feels like the title is happening to you while you listen. It is hectic and frightening at times, and also has long passages most drear. Excellent. Also, "Against the Churning Void, Apparitions of a Lost and Glorious Starscape,” which I found quite lithe with deepening edges.
This is certainly not for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and heavy music fans searching for the edges of the genre will like the journey, too. I am always up for an adventure so this one gets a recommendation from me.
The story unfolds on Friday, April 8th through Amalgam Music on CD and digital, and Lurker Bias has the cassette. Check out the links below.
Written by Wayne Edwards for Flying Fiddlesticks Music Blog
It's not often a dedicated seeker of extreme sounds comes across new music that truly sounds different from anything else currently being released, but the debut album by US quartet Abhorrent Expanse is one such example. A glance at the artwork suggests that our expectations will be met by a slew of relatively conventional death metal, but it takes mere seconds of the noisy drone that greets us at the outset of the first track to disabuse the listener of this naïve notion. This is because Abhorrent Expanse are that rarest of beasts, a truly improvisational extreme metal band, and Gateways To Resplendence captures the frankly terrifying output of a group of astonishingly competent musicians, as adept at building screeds of ambient noise and drone as they are at churning out roiling, dissonant death metal riffs. Somewhere between Ephel Duath, Krallice, and Gnaw Their Tongues, Gateways To Resplendence is what Imperial Triumphant have been heading towards for a couple of albums now, but have lacked the courage to truly throw themselves into, always pulling back into something comparatively accessible at the point at which they threaten to lose the shackles altogether. That is not intended to be a criticism of the superb New York jazz-metallers, but more an indication of just how out-there Abhorrent Expanse are, heading into far-flung solar systems, while their peers are comfortable within the confines of the Milky Way.
Despite the fact that each song is basically an avant-garde noise jam, it is not without structure entirely, and the way in which memorable sections of music occasionally emerge from the cacophony as they do periodically on second track 'Annihilation Operators' makes the album thrillingly unpredictable, but immensely listenable despite the maelstrom of coruscating sounds. Inevitably, some tracks lapse a little into Captain Beefheart-style tomfoolery, and your own experience of the album is likely to be defined by your tolerance for atonal and arhythmic noodling, but almost by definition, it is impossible for an album such as this to captivate at all times. The nature of improvisation means that the output will inevitably be somewhat inconsistent, but Abhorrent Expanse miraculously manage to send their arrows into the bullseye much more frequently than they send them flying harmlessly beyond the target. In fact, the vast majority of the album is bizarrely addictive, despite the lack of repetition and almost total absence of conventional melody, and that is quite the achievement. It is possible to imagine the band appealing to fans of Sunn O))), or Earth, even if they don't slow down to quite the stultifying tempo of those bands, for they capture the same spirit of sonic adventure, even if the payload is delivered in a way that relies less on brute force and volume, save the lengthy and apocalyptic closer, the splendidly titled 'Arcturian Nano Diamonds From The Tranquil Abyss'. Abhorrent Expanse tend to favour skittering snare hits, and broken arpeggios over screaming feedback, at least when not locked into punishing death metal, but they achieve the same level of psychedelic immersion as those drone masters, as well as considerably more tonal and textural variation. Gateways To Resplendence will not be for everyone, but those that they do connect with will likely find the connection unbreakable and endlessly rewarding.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Written by Benjamin for Metal Bite
Minneapolis quartet Abhorrent Expanse continue the small but infinitely intriguing string of musicians with backgrounds in free jazz and free improvisation interested in playing extreme metal. Like Catatonic Effigy and Threadbare before them, Luke Polipnick, Erik Fratzke, Brian Courage, and Tim Glenn deliver slabs of huge, dissonant death metal only to break them down into free improv freakouts, while combining their disparate elements into a curiously cohesive whole.
As a result, Gateways to Resplendence has the uncanny power of demonstrating just how much the harsh, manic edges of freely improvised shapes and the maximalist bursts of death metal have in common. The music often balances on an edge between them, with the scales often tipping one way or the other. On “Cloak of Ancients", a patient texture concocted out of tremolo-picked guitar, noise and feedback swallow everything in its path. But “Annihilation Operator" doesn't mess around waiting to be consumed and instead screams with layers upon layers of death metal. Somewhere in the background, a guitar and organ shred violently before suddenly—in a simultaneously whimsical and earnestly ingenious moment—they become unplugged.
And if this cut was death metal terminally infected with free improv, the tables are turned on “Empirical Languages", a track that has all the signature elements of a free improv session but with the menacing aura of death metal embedded in its strummed and bowed double bass, picked guitars chords, and spastic drum patterns. Not for the faint of heart!
Written by Antonio Poscic for Pop Matters
Abstract, ecstatic, and pummeling, ABHORRENT EXPANSE’s Gateways To Resplendence articulates the unspeakable dread which dwells in the sepulchral caverns of the mind. A grotesquely improvised manifesto plumbing from the depths of blackened death, funeral doom, noise, and free jazz, it defies the listener to decipher its riddles and confront its paradoxes. The ensemble builds on the deep history of collaboration between its four members to present a new way forward. Many duo and trio gigs helped them develop a new musical lexicon uniting the raw sonic intensity of extreme metal with the wide spectrum of textures common to free improvisation. By the time Erik Fratzke (Zebulon Pike, Happy Apple) and Tim Glenn (The Blight, Celestiial, Obsequiae) joined Brian Courage and Luke Polipnick in the studio, uniting the full quartet for the first time, the connection was immediate. Adam Tucker at Signaturetone Recording, a brilliant engineer and musician in his own right, used a variety of unorthodox techniques to help the band convey their vision. The resulting album is awash with contradictions, an organic, multifaceted, and deeply challenging listening experience that will push fans of both genres to their limits.
With a range of sonic components at their disposal, Gateways To Resplendence covers a staggering amount of stylistic ground, forging new and unnerving pathways all the while. “Annihilation Operators” launches into a snarled morass of distortion and blast beats, immediately followed by the angular abstraction of “Empirical Languages.” “Frost Suffocation” takes inspiration from John Zorn's Naked City with the quartet veering sharply through a series of solos and duos. “Invasive Insectoid Horror Thoughts” combines multiple layers of group improvisation, each played in response to the last. The result is a palpable skittering sensation more akin to Stockhausen than Sarcofago. “Baleful Reminders” pits the guitars and rhythm section against each other with fragile chords broken up by frantic interjections. Finally, “Arcturian Nano-Diamonds From The Tranquil Abyss” wanders through a vast hellscape of doom, drone, blasts, and noise, before descending into the final scraping throes of nothingness.
All ten movements on Gateways To Resplendence were improvised live by ABHORRENT EXPANSE on October 8th, 2020 at Signaturetone Recording in Minneapolis. The album was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Adam Tucker (Blue Ox, Wanderer, Sunless, Void Omnia), and completed with cover artwork by David Jorquera and design by Bill Harris.
Luke Polipnick: vocals, electric and acoustic guitars
Erik Fratzke: electric and acoustic guitars, electric bass, organ (2), synth (7)
Brian Courage: electric and acoustic basses, organ pedals (7)
Tim Glenn: drums and percussion
All pieces improvised by Luke Polipnick, Erik Fratzke, Brian Courage, and Tim Glenn
Recorded 10/08/20 at Signaturetone Recording, Minneapolis, MN
Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Adam Tucker
Cover artwork by David Jorquera (betweentheroots.com)
Layout by Bill Harris