Varg Vikernes once described Burzum’s music as something to listen to when you’re in bed about to go to sleep. For a while, that description didn’t gel with me. In my mind, black metal was a cacophony, a burst of energy held over a long period of time, negativity and darkness put to tape. But over time, I realized I agreed with him. Black metal is about getting lost in the sound. The best BM bands are able to create a convincing enough cascade of fury and thunder that Varg’s preferred listening environment is the best way to take it in.

What do I know, though? I can’t make it two words into a USBM album review without hitting the Varg button. But one thing is clear: if that’s the metric of good black metal, then Arizona converts Abigail Williams are better at it than we ever thought.

The trick is in the texture, and on new album Becoming, the Williams boys (and girl) bring it in spades. Mainman Sorceron has recruited a group of string players for the album, and they work well adding some sonic diversity to the typically dense proceedings. The important factor here, though, is that AW uses the strings, not abuses them. Strings in black metal tends to evoke overwrought Dimmu Borgir-isms, but passages like the cello/violin break on “Beyond the Veil” give the sludgy swath a Godspeed-esque air. Earlier, “Radiance” calls to mind Finnish doomlords Swallow the Sun, with a deliberate, lumbering gait that goes heavy on the blackened atmosphere. Sorceron certainly captures the traditional black metal sound well-perhaps too well at times. Though always competent, the songwriting sometimes stalls when it comes to differentiating itself in a competitive field. Weird quirks slip in from time to time; the odd passage feels pasted together and I could’ve sworn a certain passage in “Infinite Fields of Mind” was lifted from fellow Americans Nachtmystium.

While the Arizonans may have made the odd questionable choice (like ditching the drummer with the crazy hair and the Nintendo name, whaaaaaat?!) and at times feel like they still have to prove they’ve shed their metalcore beginnings for true grimness, as a whole Becoming is the next stage of evolution for a band still growing into its new skin. Give ‘em another album or two and you’ll be listing them amongst some of their highest achieving USBM contemporaries. In the meantime, put this on and hit the hay.

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