Abiotic, the 5-piece destructive force from Florida, has delivered another devastating blow to the realm of heavy music. Their new full length record, “Ikigai” is the next step in the band’s newly revived career. Their acclaimed sophomore album “Casuistry” was released in 2015, however fans were rightly disheartened to learn of the band’s dissolving in the following year. Financial obstacles and internal struggles were cited as the catalysts for the breakup, but it seems that these were overcome, with the band returning more powerful and focused than ever with their 2019 single “Emerald”.
The single was received positively by fans and critics, providing a juicy taste of the direction in which Abiotic was heading. Though having to wait two years for a follow-up, it seems patience has paid off. “Ikigai”, the third full-length offering from the band, is an enhanced and expertly crafted assault. Whilst further improving on their technical prowess as musicians, they’ve broadened their sound to incorporate new themes not present in their previous endeavours. Lyrically, ideas concerning the treatment of the Earth, transphobia and mental health, plus others are explored with a potency that matches the venom on the tip of an arrow.
Japanese-inspired concepts act as the thematic undertone for “Ikigai”, and the placement throughout the album of these elements is not overabundant. The result is a refreshing fusion of aggression and culture-influenced storytelling, showing us that whilst this is a new approach to music for them, it is still very much Abiotic. “Natsukashii” is the opening track, filling the air around us with a brooding mixture of eastern wind and string instruments. This provides a great invitation for the listener to immerse themselves in the world in which Abiotic have created. The band builds on this idea straight away. Title track “Ikigai” weaves a leaden tapestry of layered melodies and rhythms that stems from the ambient track before. The eclectic sounds of this Japanese-inspired lamentation persist through the track, but also give way to some bone-crushing technical riffs that are reminiscent of The Faceless in their “Planetary Duality” era. “Ikigai” sets the tone for the rest of the album in a multitude of ways, but primarily reassures the listener that the integration of the samurai-summoning motifs will be inserted with an element of calculation and maturity.
The level of production on this album is lightyears beyond their previous releases. “Ikigai” is crisp, clear cut and overtly dynamic. I felt I could effortlessly listen out for each instrument and appreciate it, but if I wanted to focus a bit harder to discover small treats that hid in the background, I could.
The equally audible presence of the bass guitar is something Abiotic has always done, and this album is no different. The addition of ex-Scale the Summit bassist Kilian Duarte was nothing short of a win for the band, and they make sure not to waste any of his talent. He has established himself as one of the metal scene’s most skillful bassists, and his performance through “Ikigai” is hard to overstate. In “Her Opus Mangled”, the listener is given a front row seat to not only a dreamlike solo from Duarte, but an equally charming response by Archspire bassist Jared Smith. To make it even better, they’re back to back.
The band was evidently doing their best to ensure that the songs they composed met their seemingly sky-high standards. As a result we’re privy to a seemingly unrelenting display of the band’s ability to freely explore every corner of the “Ikigai” universe they’ve fabricated. The use of dynamics is entertaining for the listener, as there is hardly ever a boring moment, let alone a predictable one. Empty spaces filled by ghostly whispers give way to pounding attacks in “Ikigai”, for example. Even the slower moments in songs like “Her Opus Mangled” don’t feel out of place. There are some moments of pure beauty too, despite the overall ‘stank face’-inducing heaviness of this record. “Grief Eater, Tear Drinker” is a standout track, and features the celestial voice of Jonathan Carpenter, formerly the vocalist of The Contortionist. It has some huge ascending moments, and it could be argued that it had Carpenter’s name written all over it, so much so, that it carried me all the way back to The Contortionist’s 2013 record “Exoplanet”, specifically the first track “Primal Directive”.
The use of the the bass to enhance or reduce the weight of the moment is a nice component, also, and further emphasizes their apt use of dynamics. In “Covered the Cold Earth” there are deviously lofty moments where only the guitars play a chugging pattern, and after a slight pause they’re accompanied once again by the bass, creating this full and heavy atmosphere that you unconsciously got a little too accustomed to.
Other little things are littered through the record to keep the listener on their toes, such as the horribly dissonant percussive blast just before the final solo in “Covered the Cold Earth”. In “Smoldering”, the clean guitar interlude plucks away directly on the head of each beat. As the instruments and vocals begin the “Gaia bleeds” section, the clean guitar melody shifts to half a beat later, and produces this subtle yet outstanding syncopated moment. Its most clear moment to notice it is during Entheos vocalist Chaney Crabb’s guest moment in the same section.
It’s hard not to mention the opening onslaught that is “The Wrath”. The beginning of this song feels like a devastating storm front that is rapidly approaching, and I unashamedly felt intimidated. The song only improves as it goes on. The guitar solo in the middle of the track is fantastic, but what goes on underneath is a display of the band’s incredible attention to detail. The backing guitars play an independent, though accompanying melody, whilst the drums play the breakdown pattern from the beginning with a syncopated cymbal hit. Additionally, the bass guitar plays along to the backing guitars melody whilst matching the slamming bass drum pattern. I had to go back and replay it a handful of times to properly understand how it all worked, but I was ultimately blown away by the cohesiveness displayed by the band in that moment. How’s that for symbiosis? Ha, get it? “Symbiosis”, their first LP?! Eh… let’s move on.
Travis Bartosek’s vocals are fierce, with an incredible similarity to Jonny Davy from Job for a Cowboy. Bartosek’s pronunciation is some of the best out there. I found that I rarely, if never, needed to refer to the lyrics to understand what he was saying. On “Smoldered”, he is able to pronounce words like “trepidation” and really complete the word and let the ’n’ ring out, a difficult feat that is hard to appreciate (try screaming, and now try screaming through your nose).
With that being said, Bartosek doesn’t sit comfortably in one vocal style. The ending sequence for “Covered the Cold Earth” has him growling at us almost as if through clenched teeth. He also brushes off his black metal pipes and lets them seethe evil in tracks like “The Wrath” and “If I Do Die”. Speaking of evil vocals, Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder offers up a slice of hell in “Souvenir of Skin” and it’s disgustingly wonderful.
Tony Simone convinces us that his recent addition as drummer to the band shouldn’t be a point of ambivalence, but of celebration. His ability to carry the band at chaotic moments, and then merely be a vessel in which progressions or melodies are accentuated, is highly commendable. One of my favorite drum moments is on “Ikigai” when he competently swaps back and forth from a simple blast beat to a powerful gravity blast, before moving to a groovy almost gospel-like drum pattern.
I’d be remiss to neglect mentioning the titanic efforts of both Johnathon Matos and Matt Mendez on guitar. Both original members of Abiotic, they’ve been fundamental to the band’s development. The guitars are versatile, moving through groovy chords and aggressive arpeggios that bring about thoughts of “Ruination” and “Sun Eater” by Job For a Cowboy, but then hitting us with some staggering riffs. The super-technical death metal sequence in “The Wrath” immediately made me go and revisit some old Beneath the Massacre and Rings of Saturn releases. Even the ‘laser gun’ chugs in “Souvenir of Skin” reminded me of the ageless “Fed Through the Teeth Machine” by The Red Chord.
The band seems to show a great deal of appreciation to the fellow musicians in their field. Two stunning guitar solos by Scott Carstairs of Fallujah and Brandon Ellis of The Black Dahlia Murder compliment the expertise that we have already seen at the hands of Matos and Mendez.
“Ikigai” is a complex, yet brutal and commanding display of the journey that Abiotic has been on over the last few years, improving on their past undertakings in every way. The members brought an originality to the table that can only stem from their own personalities and progression as musicians. Consequently, this well-flowing and catchy album deserves a top spot on anyone’s list. “Ikigai’ describes the feeling of accomplishment or fulfilment one feels when they pursue a passion. I feel comfortable in saying that the band probably had this feeling coursing through their veins whilst creating this highly enjoyable album.
Released On: February 12th , 2021
Released By: The Artisan Era
Genre: Deathcore / Technical Death Metal
- Travis Bartosek / Vocals
- John Matos / Guitar
- Matt Mendez / Guitar
- Kilian Duarte / Bass
- Tony Simone / Drums
- Covered the Cold Earth
- The Wrath
- If I Do Die
- Souvenir of Skin
- Her Opus Mangled
- Horadric Cube
“Ikigai” is a declaration to the world that Abiotic are not just another tech-death band. The fearlessness in their sound is only matched by the soul and personality that permeates the aura of the album. If the trajectory of their progression as a band remains steadfast, their future efforts will be something to behold.