Black metal maulers Dryad dive deep for horror, psychological matters with ‘The Abyssal Plain’

As a sufferer of claustrophobia, I don’t like tight spaces, and I definitely won’t enjoy being in mysterious places where there is no light. I need an escape route at all times, which is just how my anxiety works, so there are areas from which I steer clear in the event that danger strikes and I can’t break free. It’s a huge reason why I’ll never scuba dive or spend any time in deep waters. Huge respect, but no way.

The darkness and pressure that is present in the depths of the ocean are major topics on Dryad’s debut full-length “The Abyssal Plain,” a record where the Iowa band creates a journey through depression and psychological frustrations with the ocean as a backdrop and source. Woven into that are environmental warnings involving our precious bodies of water as well as horror themes as you never know what lurks in the waters deep below the surface. The band—vocalist/guitarist/synth player Claire Nunez, vocalist/guitarist Grimmtooth, bassist Joe Milik, drummer Oliver Weilein—uses grim black metal as a base and piles on thrash, punk, and heavy synthscapes in order to impact you mentally and physically. These 13 tracks spread over 35 minutes hit hard and create mesmerizing experiences that tangle muscles and brains alike, giving you a full workout your muscles will feel the next day.

“Counterillumination” is a quick intro that chimes in and slowly thaws, its frosty trail leading to “Bottomfeeder” that quickly smashes through the gates. Nunez’s growls curdle as the speedy assault damages bones, trudging and thrashing through a steam cloud that settles into strangeness.  “Brine Pool Aberration” mashes and leaves blisters right away, the vicious shrieks strangling as a punk vibe makes things feel dirtier. Growls bubble as black metal riffs make the room spin, and the blasts eat away at your mind before synth and strangeness swallow you whole. “Trenches” is more calculated at first as the guitars build and the vocals creak before the band starts dropping bombs. The tempo is hazy and melodic, the leads go off and deface, and guttural mashing increases the temperature, ripping into a bizarre smog. “Loki’s Castle” attacks and makes the most of its brief run time, blurring, tying up limbs into torturous holds, letting fresh rivers of lava flow aggressively. “Hadal” is a quick interlude with immersive synth, dream-state pressure, and strange visions that make you question your sanity. “Pompeii Worm” follows and reignites the blazes, Nunez’s reverb-rich howls bouncing off each side of your skull, making the pain flood. The playing is thunderous and disorienting, blazing through grim storming and preventing any light from surviving.

“Chimera Monstrosa” lets keys drip and nightmares flourish, echoes giving off an eerie sense of dread that makes this quick piece terribly uneasy. The title track brings liquifying guitars and a goddamn rage that feels like a bull rushing you from out of nowhere. Shrieks pulverize as the playing slashes through with reckless abandon, crushing and blaring, increasing the heat that merges into black metal force. “Black Smoke” is doomy and chugging, the growls mauling and grinding flesh in its gears. Shrieks then rip while the synth force grows heavier, followed by strong riffs that act like a gut punch. Morose echoes rattle cages, howls boil, and the final moments draw more blood. “Raptures of the Deep” is the final interlude, a soundscape that warps and lets strange spirits run amok, leading into “Eutrophication” that settles like as storm cloud. Bizarre synth meets up with a raucous explosion as the playing speeds into existence, the vocals spat out like poison. Shrieks arrive and jab under your ribs, the band pounds away, and ominous thrashing melts rock formations. Closer “Abyssobrotula (A Nagging Thought)” is an instrumental piece with freezing keys and heavy drama, stirring in the fog and feeling like a phantom come to life, a psyche dream that has the feel of a lost level of Fallout where the radiation eats away at your mind.

“The Abyssal Plain” might look like an overstuffed serving from the track listing, but it is anything but that and can get your heart going at dangerous rates. Dryad’s mashing of black metal, thrash, punk, and cold synth makes for an unpredictable sojourn that has a gloomy, sobering message tied into the natural terrors. It might take a few visits for everything to fully register, but once it does, you’ll find yourself captured by a band that doesn’t give a fuck about style points and only cares to haunt and devastate.

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