Ross Reviews The Human Abstract – Digital Veil

The Human Abstract’s new album has been causing some considerable buzz lately, and rightly so. With the return of guitarist and composer AJ Minette, fans and critics alike were excited at the prospect of a return to the form of the band’s first album Nocturne, a sound that the band strayed from on Midheaven, an album that lost the neo-classical elements in favor of a more vocal and keyboard driven sound.

As more and more information came out about the album, it became clear that The Human Abstract were back, revitalized not only by Minette’s profound musical knowledge, but by the arrival of Travis Richter, former From First to Last screamer/ guitarist. So with the pieces in place, we waited impatiently for the album to hopefully bring back the magic of Nocturne.

From the first moments of Digital Veil‘s opening track “Elegiac” it is made abundantly clear that this album is a return to the heavily classical influence of the band’s first album. The soft and melodious classical guitars, completely absent on Midheaven, are right up front. The title’s fitting, since the band seems to start off Digital Veil by putting it up front that the old Human Abstract is dead and buried, and that what you’re about to experience is something new, though familiar.

Songs like “Complex Terms,” “Faust,” and “Horizon to Zenith show amazing progression in songwriting, weaving their way through shred-happy sections, full of sweeps and neo-classical runs while avoiding the tropes of typical “shred” music by employing unconventional harmonic devices, as well as some absolutely brutal riffing, and huge melodies. The scope of these songs is baffling, each one is like a suite unto itself.

Anyone who calls themselves a fan of The Human Abstract clearly loves heavy music with majestic guitar playing and tight melodies, and the band delivers these in aplomb throughout the album, but it is in the brutal sections where this album shines. “Heavy” and “brutal” songs have been slipping more and more into generic and interchangeable patterns. Chug Chug Chug. Squealy Squealy. Dissonant Dissonant. Most “breakdowns” and the like lately have become so predictable that it’s almost painful to bear sometimes, but on Digital Veil, The Human Abstract challenges these tropes by truly experimenting with intervals and rhythms. The most vivid example of this is “Holographic Sight”. The entire song is essentially an experiment with using whole tones (meaning that the notes are one whole note apart), and it does this to dramatic effect. The riffs in this song aren’t just heavy. They’re unsettling. They make your skin crawl with how irregular they sound, which magnifies the effect of the sheer heaviness of the entire song. Adding more fuel to the fire are the leads throughout the song, which twist around the “chug-chuggiest” the band has to offer.

The way Minette applies his knowledge of musical theory to The Human Abstract’s music is truly a spectacle. The album as a whole is utterly listen-able, though it still challenges the listener. There is plenty of meat to all of these songs to bite into and hooks abound that will sink into your memory until you have no choice but to listen to the album again.

The key reason this album is so purely enjoyable is because the songwriting has grown by leaps and bounds since the band’s earlier work. As I mentioned earlier, nearly all of the songs contain a full spectrum from quiet, pretty guitar leads and strong vocals (more on those later), to heavy and technical runs, and down to the down-and-dirty heaviness of the band’s title track, with it’s chorus that is as catchy as it is punishing. The songwriting is consistently strong throughout, but it shines most on “Antebellum,” which goes through so many sonic landscapes that it would be unreadable for me to try to explain it in any detail, but essentially it embodies all of the album’s strong points in one 7:29 package. Catchy, powerful, and simultaneously heavy and beautiful, this song is The Human Abstract at their most sublime.

What is always the most impressive element of The Human Abstract is the virtuosity within each performance. Guitarists AJ Minette and Dean Herrera are in top form and prove themselves to be two of the most talented guitarists in this younger generation of metal, and their rhythm section, made up of bassist Henry Selva and drummer Brett Powell lay down some of the meanest backing I’ve heard in a while. Selva’s bass playing is up to the task of fleshing out the guitar pyrotechnics of Minette and Herrera, and definitely shines in its own right. Brett Powell deserves some sort of award, because the drumming on this album breathes such life into each and every track. In a world where most bands are content with triggering drums for a perfect, clean and even attack, Powell lays the drums down with a truly organic feel. That’s no laughable achievement, since the drumming throughout the album is the most intense I’ve heard this year. (Sorry, Moe Carlson)

The biggest change on Digital Veil is obviously the vocals. Travis Richter proves time and time again that he is a dynamic, inventive and captivating vocalist. From throat-searing shreiks on “Digital Veil” to the gutteral bellows of “Holographic Sight” and the absolutely beautiful clean vocals on “Complex Terms and “Antebellum,” Richter creates vocal lines that are as varied and expressive as the music itself. On every track, the layering of the vocals is breathtaking, the absolutely mammoth outro gang vocals of “Complex Terms” are the most striking example of this. The layering doesn’t come off as a gimmick or some cheap effect, it’s wholly musical and the way the backing layers interact with the main vocal takes seems to echo the counterpoint within the music as a whole. What’s really reassuring is how raw all of the vocals are. Even with the layering and harmonies, they don’t sound processed or touched up after the fact. You know by listening to this that Travis is the real deal, and that unlike some other vocalists who will not be named, you get the sense that he’ll be able to deliver these performances night after night.

As a whole, Digital Veil does what Midheaven should have: it takes the blueprint of Nocturne and does something new with it. This is still the same band, but it’s bigger, tougher and most importantly smarter than ever before. Digital Veil doesn’t make The Human Abstract’s previous work obsolete, it does, however, make the earlier works seem childish in comparison in every way.


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