Five Times Abacus Records Got it Right

There was a period of time for record-label watchers where Abacus Records was on the cutting edge of innovative metal. The label—which started as a Century Media subsidiary in 2002, split on their own in 2005, and shut down in 2007—focused on metalcore trailblazers but also had some of the best post-hardcore, post-metal, and generally uncategorizable bands around. And lots of them didn’t make the impact they should have: Planes Mistaken for Stars and burnthe8track were incredible bands, and they went mainly overlooked in metal.

Abacus Records got it right a lot: join us as we look back at the five best Abacus releases that didn’t shake up the metal world like they should have. A quick note to the runner-ups: gotta give shout-outs to Devilinside, Narcissus, and All Else Failed. Also thumbs up to the bands Abacus released that we already know are great: Ion Dissonance, Sick of it All, Norma Jean, Turmoil… the list goes on. The label had some serious good taste. Here are five examples of that; don’t let them pass you by a second time.

1: Haste – The Mercury Lift (2003)
It’s really, really, extremely hard to remember a time when good cop/bad cop metalcore was exciting. But I swear on a stack of Caliban 12”s this era happened and no one was better than this Alabaman sextet (stay with me here). This album is a classic in this sub-genre, Haste absolutely on the top of their melodic game here, crafting songs that are catchy but never cloying and laying down performances that are passionate but never over the top. It’s an incredibly solid, mature, melodic metalcore album that leans post-hardcore; it absolutely got left behind once metalcore wore itself into the ground, but it needs to be remembered. An incredible album, worthy of much discussion and reverence. Also amazing: their 2001 album When Reason Sleeps, on Century Media.

2: Planes Mistaken for Stars – Mercy (2006)
Okay, finally, I have an excuse to talk about the last two minutes and 20 seconds of “Crooked Mile,” which is easily one of the most moving, passionate, and just downright fantastic pieces of heavy music to ever be recorded. I’m not exaggerating: when whichever bearded madman is behind the mic for this song (seeing this Illinois band live back in the day was an experience in itself) starts croaking out the lines, “So let us drink/to the dreams/and the dreamers/long dead and gone between us,” it’s just game over. You stop whatever you’re doing and just listen. “Line up a shot/for every fight/we’ve fought and lost.” Heavy music rarely hits as hard as Planes Mistaken for Stars did on this song, which is interesting as they’re maybe the only band I’ve ever heard who are legitimately not categorizable and they made very little impact in the metal scene. “And let us pray that it’s slow/we tip to the measuring line.” Like I say, game over. This band wins. “To be fit/for a box of pine.”

3: burnthe8track – The Ocean (2004)
Everything about this band was weird: their stupid name, the fact that they were from Winnipeg, and their extremely unique post-hardcore sound. Also weird was them making some revolutionary music video at the time (for “Two Worlds Apart,” see it below, try to not get motion sick), although even that seems to be forgotten. It’s all just forgotten here, but I remember this band’s soaring vocals, enthusiastic bridging of post-hardcore and melodic metalcore, and totally unique vibe. I haven’t heard this band name mentioned since shortly after this album dropped (even then, I think that was me, talking to myself while friends pretended to listen), and that’s a shame. This album is nothing if not totally sincere, passionate, and interesting. Best YouTube comment on their video for “Buried Beneath Us,” also from this album: “The singer is my art teacher.. This is so weird.” Related comment on “Two Worlds Apart”: “OH MY GOD IS THAT MR. KUN”

4: Glass Casket – We Are Gathered Here Today (2003)
Meanwhile, over on the extremely heavy side of metalcore is Glass Casket, who popped up out of nowhere (North Carolina, to be precise) and laid down metalcore that was a bit tech, a bit death metal, and a whole lot of great. They were victims of timing: cut to five years later and even bands like The Red Chord struggled to make this stuff interesting, so Glass Casket just had no hope. But for a brief moment after this came out—and still today, taken out of context—We Are Gathered Here Today was tons of fun to listen to, the band’s energy and enthusiasm helping to hammer home crazed riff after crazed riff.

5: Swarm of the Lotus – The Sirens of Silence (2005)
So, I was saying it was really, really, really hard to remember good cop/bad cop metalcore being interesting; it’s just as hard, maybe a sliver harder, to remember that unfortunate subgenre known as NeurIsis being interesting unless it was made by Neurosis or Isis. Those two bands were trailblazing, Earth-shattering… no amount of hyperbole even is hyperbole when talking about them. But, talking about any band that came after them, eh, there’s just so much else to talk about. But, Swarm of the Lotus, 2005, this album (also of note: their 2004 debut When White Becomes Black)… it was an experience right up there with slapping on the latest Isis release. This band was able to create worlds in their music, and they were able to destroy them as well, and they also added in way more angular noise-sludge than simply lumping them in the NeurIsis category would make anyone think. Unique stuff here—I don’t often think things like “this sounds like a more sprawling Knut,” but I do when this one is spinning, and that’s awesome—and, like all these releases, it was powerful enough to truly captivate while it was playing, and good enough to leave a lasting impression all these years later.