[24 January 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Notoriously conservative, insular, and extremely protective of their music’s integrity, metal fans always have the false metal radar on. If a band’s authenticity comes into question, if there’s one single insincere note, if it feels like a band is hopping on a trendy sound just because the New York Times officially deemed it cool (see: doom/drone metal), the defenses of the metal crowd goes up instantly, alarm bells sounding, labels hurled like obscene epithets: “Hipsters!” “Poseurs!” “DEATH TO FALSE METAL!” Whether it’s a black metal band deciding to expand past the icy, grim arrangements toward something more accessible (as is the case with Alcest, Dimmu Borgir), a band abandoning cookie cutter deathcore in favor of the more expansive sound of Neurosis and Isis, a band deciding that singing suits their style better than screaming, a middling young band that gains fame strictly through MySpace, or a band that happens to get some good press among non-metal critics, if the die-hards believe a band’s credibility has come into question, they’ll be giving them the old stink-eye until they’re convinced otherwise.
In the case of Oakland band Saviours, they find themselves in an even tougher situation. Guitarists Austin Barber and Mag Dalena, as well as drummer Scott Batiste, used to be in the Bay Area post-hardcore band Yaphet Kotto, but went on to form Saviours so they could focus more on a larger, more bombastic, metal-oriented sound. Wait a sec… a bunch of screamo kids going metal? Signing to cool label Kemado records in the process? Landing a plum slot on 2006’s much-ballyhooed Invaders compilation? Needless to say, the accusations from the more defensive-minded metal fans out there were already flying before the debut album was even out.
To their great credit, though, Saviours delivered in a big way on their ‘06 debut full-length Crucifire. Led by such tracks as the swaggering “Circle of Servants’ Bodies”, and the throttling “Holy Slaughter”, not to mention the eye-grabbing, black mass-inspired artwork that hinted at the metal underground glory days of the early 1980s, it was clear that Saviours were on to something cool, derived from the rampaging hesher sludge of High on Fire yet willing to delve into the old school sounds of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. After landing a high-profile showcase at South By Southwest, a number of reputable tours, not to mention the rapt attention of the collective metal press, the table was set for the real breakthrough.
And here it is. While Crucifire was focused and direct in its approach, the songs streamlined and hook-filled, Into Abaddon goes for something bigger. Comprised of seven songs in just over 39 minutes, the key word here is epic, with arrangements starting to broaden considerably, songs venturing well past the five minute mark, and the production, helmed by Joe Barresi (who has worked with Kyuss and the Melvins in the past) capturing the warm, dense, analog sound that suits this music perfectly.
Boasting a central riff derived heavily from early Iron Maiden, serpentine melodic guitar licks duplicated in the upper-register bass line, “Raging Embers” has the band immediately stepping up its game, as nothing seems forced, the foursome willing to stick to that one simple groove for a good four minutes before launching into a well-executed, galloping coda featuring a solid dual lead guitar harmony. The song’s approach is simple, but extremely effective, an impeccable exercise in metal dynamics, knowing just how many twists and turns to add before sounding too convoluted.
The thundering “Cavern of Mind” is even better, the band continuing in that same maidenesque vein, but sounding increasingly confident, Batiste driving the track with his Dave Lombardo-esque cymbal bell flourishes. The influence of High on Fire virtuoso Matt Pike rears its head big time, both in the monolithic guitar tone, the fabulous wah-wah solo, and Barber’s improved vocal approach, which abandons the snarky, snotty snarl heard on Crucifire in favor of a more robust roar. Surprisingly, the song comes close to trumping Pike’s own material, achieving a balance of the massive and the melodic that few bands can pull off this effectively. From there, the album cruises mightily, from the rampaging, Mastodonian “Mystichasm”, to the rousing finale of “Inner Mountain Arthame”.
While Crucifier threw down the gauntlet to the naysayers in the metal community, daring them to speak ill of the music therein, Into Abaddon is even bolder, announcing Saviours as an indisputable force in old school American metal, alongside High on Fire and the Sword. There’s no use in bickering anymore, kids; metal doesn’t get any more “true” than this.