Author: Brendan Blake
- Artist: Abigor
- Album: Quintessence (with a note on Origo Regium 1993-1994)
- Year of Release: 2012 (Origo Regium 1998)
- Country: Austria
- Label: End All Life
- Format: A5 Digibook DCD
- Catalogue Number: EAL066
This is a curious and fascinating release from Austrian mainstays Abigor. It comprised at the time, both the best of their then current thinking in the form of a re-recorded and reimagined version of one of their strongest albums (Channelling The Quintessence Of Satan), and a compilation of their very earliest demo recordings from the early 90s. This intriguing mixture of essentially non-original material is likely to be of great interest to the diehard black metal fan not already cognisant with this material, given the justifiably high regard the band is held in by black metal fans in general, but probably of limited interest to more casual acquaintances.
Because of the nature of a release like this, a note on the specific contents is necessary, especially as some of this material has been officially released beforehand – I also own a copy of 1998’s much less comprehensive Origo Regium 1993-1998 (jewelcase CD, limited to 1500 copies on Napalm Records, NPR052). I will not spend any time repeating myself by reviewing that as well; suffice to say that it comprises a selection of demo tracks from the four complete demos presented in the Quintessence package. Disc 2 of Quintessence contains Abigor’s first four primitive demo recordings in full (it slightly mysteriously misses 1994’s “In Hate And Sin”, but there is more than enough to get your teeth into here). These are presented in slightly achronological order, starting with demo #2 (“Lux Devicta Est”), then #3 (“Promo Tape 2/94”), #4 (“Moonrise”), and finally Abigor’s very first foray into black metal, “Ash Nazg…”. The line-up for each of these four demos was P.K. (guitars), T.T. (drums, guitars, “bass”, keyboards), and Rune (better known as Amestigon’s Tharen; vocals).
There is much written about the Abigor demos online, and it’s well worth pointing out that if Abigor had not gone on to release their legendarily strong string of early albums, this demo collection would go down as one of those unmissable collectors’ items documenting the fascinating development of black metal across Europe (and indeed the world) during this period of time. As it is, we are left with a bunch of recordings of tracks that would latterly be regarded as classics when better recorded on their fantastic debut Verwüstung / Invoke The Dark Age. The six track “Lux Devicta Est” (1993) offers less than polished versions of ‘Diabolic Unity’, ‘Kingdom Of Darkness’ and ‘Midwintertears’, but even at this immature stage demonstrates Abigor’s unique preoccupations at the time. It incorporates their obscure mixture of Norwegian tremolo-picked blackness with keys, samples, and the faintly medieval atmospheres favoured by their first few albums. It is clear that the band are heavily influenced by classical tropes, and the intricate and chaotic musicianship they would later perfect is present, despite the weak production values. When I say weak, as with all things in black metal, this is a relative thing. To my ear this is pretty decent, especially in comparison to some of the far murkier corners of my record collection (Absurd, Moonblood, anything from the LLN, even Deathcrush). Tharen’s vocals are not as strong as those of Silenius when these songs were re-recorded for the debut, veering between an Abbath-esque croak, Regan (of The Exorcist), spoken or chanted passages, and a high-pitched screech that even reminds me of Fleurety or Bethlehem. They are functional rather than awe-inspiring, but the flaws in the vocals and production, and the unfavourable comparisons to Verwüstung aside, the inherent genius in the musical DNA of these songs is plain to hear. What some may regard as schizophrenic leaping from blasting Norseness to acoustic guitar and near-ambient interludes (foreshadowing the likes of Summoning) actually is a hugely refreshing reminder of a time when black metal was not so strictly defined by genre tradition, and bands all over the world felt they were free to put their own stamp and bring novel ideas to the table without fear of scene reprisal. The sheer inventiveness of even the early Abigor recordings shames many of the later, more conformist black metal bands, even as Abigor I am sure would see themselves as being part of black metal’s Satanic orthodoxy. ‘Crawl Back To Your Cross’ is a highlight for me, being a song not re-recorded for use later on, and so has become a forgotten gem.
“Promo Tape 2/94” and “Moonrise” (1994) are similar in quality, presenting early versions of near-classics ‘Eye To Eye At Armageddon’, ‘Universe Of Black Divine’ and ‘My Soft Vision In Blood’. Abigor’s tactic of combining virtuosity and medieval themes is the defining vision of the band, and placing it in the context of their wider body of work, a perhaps wrong-headed comparison I keep coming to is that of Satyricon – starting with an approach that was firmly backwards-looking, but over their career moving towards more modern or even futuristic concerns (Satyricon went urban with Rebel Extravaganza, Abigor went sci-fi with Satanized). Obviously, Abigor have never achieved the mainstream appeal of Satyricon during their evolution, but it is a testament to the bands of this ilk within the wider black metal scene, that the very best artists tread their own paths without slavishly imitating others. The final three tracks are from Abigor’s very first demo, “Ash Nazg…” (1993), and the production quality and musicianship reflects this – raw, primitive, and very much a curio rather than essential listening, but as a completist it is nice to have it here in its entirety. Even on this, the baby version of ‘In Sin’ (and the parts of ‘Shadowlord’ that were later incorporated into it) are worth a cursory listen from those with an interest in the early 90s black metal scene in all its myriad forms.
The second disc is a re-recording and reimagining of 1999’s undisputed classic Channelling The Quintessence Of Satan. I have always had a broad suspicion of bands re-recording earlier albums, as often I question the motivation behind it. What novel ideas are they bringing to the table, and if the answer is largely minimal, what is the point? Channelling is already one of my top 3 Abigor albums (Supreme Immortal Art being the high watermark, with Channelling and Nachthymnen competing for second place). The re-recording is nonetheless a masterclass in modern black metal – it fully embraces Abigor’s chaotic aesthetic, with a pristine cold production that doesn’t pander to modern symphonic tendencies, and re-makes already solid gold tracks, invoking mid-period Emperor, although new frontman A.R. elicits as many comparisons to Attila Csihar as he does to Ihsahn. T.T.’s drumming is as blistering as ever, and while the band’s commitment to not repeating riffs may leave the listener initially perturbed, this is a classic example of an album that benefits from repeated listening with headphones, as you pick up new refrains and ideas on every listen. This is about as good as it gets when it comes to late 90s black metal – even though this re-recording dates to 2009. It is firmly within the mould of Scandinavian BM of the time, and has therefore lost some of their medieval predilections, but is an untouchable piece of chaos black. Whether it is any improvement on the original I guess is a matter of personal preference; it is sort of redundant, and as with the original needs to be listened to as a complete work of art rather than a set of individual songs, but it is pretty damn perfect.
A quick note on the packaging: as everyone knows I am a massive sucker for pretty packaging, and Quintessence is an excellent example of how to do this – a handsome A5 digibook format, utilising the Dürer artwork from Channelling…, but also includes photos of the cassette demo inlays and early shots of the band from the 1993-1994 period. This certainly makes it much more attractive to the collector. So ultimately… not exactly essential, despite the quality of material on display here. This is a collection aimed at completists, not casual listeners, but definitely worth picking up if you want to scratch beneath the surface of 90s black metal.