Abigail Williams is about as close to prog rock as a metal band is apt to get. Many bands are willing to tinker with their sound and evolve as time goes by, but there are few acts that go through as complete a transformation as the Phoenix-based black metal three-piece.
Consider the differences between the band’s debut EP — 2006’s “Legend,” a by-the-numbers, thump and scream, hardcore offering — and their last album, 2012’s “Becoming,” which stands as a majestic, bloated colossus in comparison. It’s difficult to see how one band can change so dramatically and still be in the same genre. Many will argue that it’s not possible.
There are some who say that Abigail Williams has slowly turned its back on its roots over the years and sacrificed the genuine edge and power in their sound in exchange for safer, more symphonic fare. Others will tell you that “Becoming” was the album that pulled Abigail Williams out of the muck and mire of mediocrity and placed them on a higher plane. Either argument could have merit, but for frontman Ken Sorceron, it’s all the same.
“To some people, it’s up for debate as to whether what we play is black metal or not,” he said in an interview. “But to me, it doesn’t matter either way. I’m not thinking about genres and shit like that when writing music.”
“The thing about Abigail Williams is that we never fit into any landscape,” Sorceron continued. “I’ve become pretty comfortable with that role. I used to read the criticism about the band on the Internet, but I stopped caring a while ago. People aren’t comfortable liking a band that has changed sound over the years.”
And changed it has. Not only has the band’s music changed in its presentation, but in scope. Abigail Williams is a “big picture” band now, with elaborate, sprawling, musically dense tracks. “Beyond the Veil,” which Sorceron refers to as the band’s “most symphonic song,” is nearly as long on its own as the entire “Legend” EP. And while Sorceron certainly doesn’t try to dissociate himself from the band’s early work, he concedes that there’s not much place left for it in the band’s current pantheon.
“As far as that older stuff goes,” he said, “we don’t play that stuff much anymore because it doesn’t sit well in our set with the stuff from the last two albums.”
That’s something he lays directly at the feet of an image-conscious public.
“My observation has been that music fans tend to think of a band as a brand,” he explained. “It’s the same as clothing in some ways. Like when someone decides they won’t be caught dead wearing XYZ brand because they sell at ‘insert lame store name here’ and these types of people like it. I’m not oblivious to the fact that a lot of fans of our early stuff don’t like the newer stuff, and a lot of the people that like the new stuff hate the old stuff. It is a challenge for some of these people to ‘wear’ this brand in public because of it. I don’t think of my music as a brand but as an outlet for creativity and a vehicle to go and see the places I want to go see and sometimes connect with like-minded people.”
Abigail Williams performs for the like-minded. Dissenters are not trifled with. The band’s music is not for everyone, and that’s a concept that Sorceron is perfectly at ease with. CV
Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.