Los Angeles' ABYSMAL DAWN hit a home run the first time at bat with "From Ashes", the full-length debut on Crash Music, Inc. in 2006. It ended up being one of a handful of my favorite death metal albums from that year and continues to be today. The album sounded like it was recorded by a band that had been together for a decade, thanks to songwriting that balanced aggression, technicality, and melody, while throwing in slivers of thrash and doom. It was definitely one of the year's pleasant surprises.
Relapse liked what they heard of the next batch of songs and smartly signed these up-and-comers, recently releasing sophomore album "Programmed to Consume". Once again, I'm thoroughly impressed with the members' songwriting acumen. After being initially unsure of which disc I liked better, there is now no question: "Programmed to Consume" is a slightly superior album, mainly because everything the band does this time around is just a little bit better. Memorable songwriting remains paramount and the quartet still manages to up the heaviness factor. "Programmed to Consume" is a complete death metal album and its 37 minutes are easily absorbed in one sitting. Translation: Every song is strong and momentum never wanes. Listen to songs like the title track and "Walk the Path of Fire" and you'll soon know the sound of a band that keenly joins brutality and melody. It is, in fact, possible to write a catchy chorus and still be death metal to the core.
You also get great changeups (check out the way the slow-to-mid-tempo crunch switches to blasting destructiveness on "Twilight's Fallen"), clever use of accent (the keyboard bit on the chorus of the ferocious "Cease to Comprehend"), deliciously crunchy riffs, and solos from vocalist/guitarist Charles Elliott that top the previous effort. The man's leads blend technicality, feeling, and melody. Furthermore, Elliott's growls have become deeper and more menacing, yet also more intelligible, while his screams are perfectly placed and always hair-raising. Finally, drummer Terry Barajas has raised his game too, this time offering more textures to go with his dexterous and punishing style. Co-producer (with the band) and engineer John Haddad gives the album a crispness and clarity not often heard in death metal. My only complaint in this regard is that Mike Cosio's bass work is not quite as audible as I'd prefer.
Getting back to my original point, what impresses me most about "Programmed to Consume" is how expertly the band balances tunefulness with merciless force. No one would ever mistake the disc for anything but an ass-kicking death metal beast. What sets the group apart is its ability to write such memorable songs. I'm not saying ABYSMAL DAWN are the next OPETH or NILE; I'm just saying they're a goddamned good death metal band and "Programmed to Consume" is a case in point.