Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Abigor
- Album: Supreme Immortal Art
- Year of Release: 1998
- Country: Austria
- Label: Napalm
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: NPR040
Supreme Immortal Art is Abigor’s fourth full-length album, and the title is suggestive of an immense arrogance and assumption of superiority on the part of the Austrian black metallers. Remarkably, it lives up to the sobriquet, standing tall as a singular and towering example of mid-to-late 1990s symphonic black metal. It’s not totally unique – there are clear similarities with Emperor, Obtained Enslavement and even to a lesser degree Satyricon and Dimmu Borgir – but there are also enough nuances and touches of individuality to enable Abigor to occupy a position head and shoulders above many of their contemporaries in what at the time was a crowded field, and stand comparison with the giants of the genre. This album is an extremely cohesive release that conveys a scale and grandeur that belies its relatively slim running time, and demonstrates that epic has nothing to do with the duration of a song, and everything to do with creating an immersive alternative universe that pulls the listener in, eliminating all external interference.
Supreme Immortal Art does this from the outset. It’s immediately obvious from the brief but bombastic intro, atmospheric synths swirling around martial drums, a little reminiscent of the loosely-related Tolkien obsessives Summoning, that we are entering that magical black metal territory, where music ceases being something that can be mechanically dissected into its constituent parts, and transforms into an all-encompassing cyclone of majestic feeling, inexorably drawing the listener into something arcane, something beyond. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that this music is singularly black metal, in the sense that it clearly not simply an evolution of what has come before, but something distinctly different. In the early works of Mayhem or Darkthrone (once they had fully transitioned from their death metal debut Soulside Journey), the influences of Celtic Frost, Bathory and the classic triumvirate of Teutonic thrash are detectable even as they are transformed and synthesised into new forms, but Abigor show little clear connection to prior iterations of extreme metal, offering a wall of sound that can only really be compared with their symphonic black metal brethren listed above, although even then, Abigor’s use of non-linear song structures, and their chaotic and restless sound, show enough subtle differences from their peers to distinguish themselves.
At the conclusion of the aforementioned intro, ‘Satan In Me’ explodes into life, a maelstrom of raging guitars periodically emerging from eerily discordant washes of grandiose synths, and perma-blasting drums. The lack of any real riffing combined with the complexity of the composition, is initially disorienting in the extreme. Repeated listens, however, allow the churning and ever-changing chords to begin to resolve themselves into something that becomes surprisingly memorable, even before the spiralling lead guitar melodies that pepper the latter half of the song provide something approaching a hook. The confounding nature of the song structures that frequently develop an initial idea through modulations of key and tempo-changes, rather than returning to recognisable motifs in recurring patterns is accentuated by what one presumes is an intentionally uneven production. As we know, symphonic black metal fairly quickly became a sub-genre smothered by slick, glossy production values and over-familiar synth sounds – thankfully Supreme Immortal Art evades this pitfall with ease, and the production instead creates a true assault on the senses, with drums, orchestral programming, keyboards and guitars taking turns to dominate the roiling turmoil of demonic polyphony that characterises Abigor’s sound.
The nature of an album such as this emphasises the primacy of the experience that the listener undergoes as he / she listens to it. Not unlike a religious ritual, Supreme Immortal Art is something to devote one’s attention to, and even to participate in. In this way, the mesmerising and enveloping nature of the songs truly captivate in a way that simply cannot happen if it is treated as background music to some other activity. This also means that it is difficult to identify any specific songs as obvious highlights or lowlights – the LP is more understandable as a single movement of music, and would lose little were the gaps between the songs removed altogether. That said, there are sections of the album that linger a little longer in the memory than others. For example, ‘Soil Of Souls’ initially introduces itself with mid-period Bathory-style acoustic guitars, mysterious and majestic. This is brief respite, before the band unfurl a sustained blast which is adorned with highly unusual and intricate melodic progressions, a world away from the more basic chromatic tremolo progressions of some of their peers, before the synths become the lead instrument throughout a spectacular mid-section, which leads to the climactic and gradually ascending neo-classical guitar figures which close the song, accompanied by cavernous, reverb-heavy toms. Indeed, T.T.’s performance behind the kit is rarely less than magnificent throughout Supreme Immortal Art. The drums are occasionally a little low in the mix, but he mixes prolonged double-kick blastbeats with more interesting rhythms that provide a personality and variety that prevents Abigor’s specific strain of black metal from ever sounding cold or mechanical. It is important to note that this does not have to be a bad thing – Mysticum and Aborym both confirm that melding an industrial edge to black metal can be utterly fascinating – but the more organic feel of T.T’s playing is perfect for Abigor.
Similarly intriguing is ‘Eclipse My Heart, Crown Me King’. Another labyrinthine track, the opening segment showcases rapid palm-muted rhythm guitar work against a backdrop of halftime drums and synth, before being joined by an apparently vast choir of voices, which rises, as if from the infernal depths of the vortex that Abigor continually find themselves teetering on the edge of. Memorable instrumental passages follow, keyboards and guitars interweave faintly Scandinavian folk melodies, against a barrage of relentless blasting before the band abruptly pull the reins of the four horses of the apocalypse dragging the song to it’s cataclysmic end, complete with equine sound effects! Not for the last time, Abigor call to mind a less psychedelic and somewhat more orthodox black metal version of Arcturus, although where the latter band have their sights fixed firmly on the infinite expanse of space, Abigor open a portal to the fiendish abyss below.
Elsewhere, ‘Blood And Soil’ thrills with operatic vocals straight out of Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ erupting into ferocious black metal guitars, and deft cymbals accenting the baroque cadences of guitars and synths, unusually locked into unison, as opposed to operating in counterpoint as they do for most of the album. As the album draws to a conclusion, the penultimate track, ”Magic Glass Monument’ mutates from a relatively conventional slice of In The Nightside Eclipse-era Emperor worship, through some unexpected major key chord progressions of the kind one might ordinarily expect to find in the kind of folk / black metal popularised by Ensiferum and Finntroll, before the woozy synths of the final section plough a similar furrow to some of Sigh’s more playful work – black metal reflected back at itself in a funhouse mirror, a disturbing distortion of expected forms and norms.
There is very little in the way of criticism to levy at Supreme Immortal Art. The vocals of Silenius, while complementing the musical blitzkrieg, are somewhat generic and add little else than texture. In addition, some may decry the admittedly dated sounding synth sounds that pervade the album, and it is fair to say that what may have sounded authentically spooky in 1998 now sounds a little contrived and passe. Similarly, the orchestral instruments are unavoidably synthetic – one imagines that the band’s budget could not stretch to the kind of string and brass sections that would’ve been needed to bring the band’s most avant-garde ideas to life. Some may find this artifice distracting and off-putting, although in my view it simply adds to the aesthetic, evoking as it does a period of time during which some of the most enthralling music of all time was made, with refreshingly little regard for any prospect of mainstream acceptance or critical acclaim. Supreme Immortal Art is a staggering achievement, a blizzard of ideas which hangs together remarkably coherently. It’s also exactly what I personally want from black metal as a genre – the quotidian fervently obliterated by awe-inspiring cacophony, as Abigor build something that defies description as simply a collection of songs or compositions, but instead stands as a timeless monument to what can be willed into existence by the dedicated mind.