Abigor – Quintessence

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigor – Quintessence
  • 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.

Score: 75% (for the demos collection) / 85% (for Quintessence)

Abigor – Supreme Immortal Art

Author: BD Joyce

Abigor – Supreme Immortal Art
  • 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.

Score: 90%

Abigor – Satanized (A Journey Through Cosmic Infinity)

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigor – Satanized (A Journey Through Cosmic Infinity)
  • Artist: Abigor
  • Album: Satanized (A Journey Through Cosmic Infinity)
  • Year of Release: 2001
  • Country: Austria
  • Label: Scarecrow Records
  • Format: Digipak CD
  • Catalogue Number: SC01006

And now I begin my somewhat lonely vigil, reviewing the lesser-quality Abigor albums post the triumphant double header of Supreme Immortal Art and Channeling The Quintessence Of Satan. Satanized (A Journey Through Cosmic Infinity) sees the band attempting their first effort without founding member, drummer T.T., taking some small steps to move away from the convoluted chaos black metal of their output to date. The slightly medieval conceits of previous records have been replaced by a more cosmic take on the genre. Even in 2001 this wasn’t entirely original, and ironically seems a retrogressive step for a previously progressive band.

I want to be clear – I don’t think this is a terrible record. In fact, listening back after many years of it sitting gathering dust on a shelf, there’s a fair deal to love here – it’s well produced, giving guitar, bass and particularly drums room to breathe without descending into chaos. The intricacy of previous Abigor albums is still there, albeit tempered by more frequent thrash-type tempos and riffing; I can definitely hear some early Voivod and Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica in some of the song structures, although overall the touchstone remains predominantly Scandiwegian.

So what’s wrong with it? It’s an album defined primarily by what it’s not. Thurisaz is clearly not the frontman that Silenius was; his black metal rasp functional but one-dimensional, without range or texture, and the attempts at clean vocals are charitably described as somewhat laughable. It’s nice to be able hear the bass again, and the guitar production means that Abigor’s trademark convoluted riffing is pushed to the fore, even if it comes across as slightly more straightforward (dare I say punting at classic 80s metal?) than previously, and new drummer (Dornenreich’s Moritz Neuner) is clearly more than competent. But it lacks the depth and intricacy of their previous output to date. The “spacey” moments and keyboard interjections should really be left to the likes of Dødheimsgard and Arcturus. I guess I find it a little bit sad that a band that set themselves apart by doing things like using a flute alongside black metal ending up sounding so generic and dated. They sounded dated when this was released in 2001, and this is not a group going for retro – this is a group thinking they’re going for futuristic, but missing the point resolutely. I want to like this far more than I do. Surely a poor vocal performance on a black metal record, or the occasional misjudged keyboard insertion (see ‘The Redeemer’s Return’) is not enough to damn a record? OK, I’m trying to be as objective as possible – this is a totally fine, middle of the road, early 00s black metal record, not doing anything spectacularly innovative, not rocking the boat, but not disgracing itself either. But for a band of Abigor’s prior calibre that’s just not good enough for this reviewer. If you’re a completist – buy this album. If you are not – buy any of the previous Abigor albums in preference (and indeed its direct successor).

Score: 62%

Abigor – In Memory…

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigor – In Memory…
  • Artist: Abigor
  • Album: In Memory
  • Year of Release: 2000
  • Country: Austria
  • Label: Napalm
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: NPR082

With all due respect to the band and our readership, I don’t intend to spend a great amount of time or word count on this, an EP consisting of two cover versions previously released on tribute albums to greater bands, and three largely unnecessary re-recordings of earlier recordings of Abigor originals. This is by no means bad, but it is pretty much the definition of filler.

Presumably hoping to capitalise on the one-two success of Supreme Immortal Art and Channeling The Quintessence of Satan (a brace of essential late 90s black metal records if ever I heard them), Napalm Records clearly wanted some kind of stop-gap before 2001’s Satanized was released. Five tracks in 25 minutes, all of which had been released elsewhere in some format or other.

First up is a cover of German act Kreator’s classic ‘Terrible Certainty’ (from the similarly titled album, 1987), originally released on the Dwell Records Under The Guillotine: A Tribute to Kreator album (2001). It’s a faithful, suitably brutal run-through of an underground standard, adding nothing, but not disrespecting the original or embarrassing the band themselves by comparison. Second is a cover of Slayer’s ‘Crionics’ (the original is from Slayer’s debut Show No Mercy, 1983), taken again from a Dwell tribute record – this time Gateway To Hell 2: A Tribute to Slayer (2000). Interesting I guess for Thurisaz’ effort at clean vocals alongside his usual snarl, but once again a basically straight cover that is functional, but no better than you’d get from your average Slayer tribute act.

There are then three re-recordings, none of which set my world on fire. Firstly we have ‘Shadowlord’, which actually goes back to Abigor’s Ash Nazgh… demo from 1993. This isn’t previously unreleased either, having been on the Napalm Records compilation With Us Or Without Us (1995). Obviously, there’s an improvement in production and the band are tighter, and this is probably the most interesting thing on this somewhat lacklustre EP (the fact Silenius is on vocals for this helps, even if the vocal production is a bit uneven), but unless you are part of the “demo days of any band were better” crowd, it’s hard to get past the fact the Abigor had long ago moved past this stuff.

The final two tracks consist of a re-recording of ‘Crimson Horizons’ from the Opus IV album – the main problem I had with that album was the production quality, and this is a 4 track rehearsal, so just why? – and an instrumental re-recording of ‘Verwϋstung’ from their 1993 debut. This latter track was previously available on the Apokalypse EP. This isn’t terrible, but utterly pointless and I suspect a cynical way to get idiot completists to hand over money for material they already own. Oh wait, that would be me then.

Score: 55%

(low score reflects the fundamentally inessential nature of a release of this kind, rather than the quality of the material found within)

Abigor – Channeling The Quintessence Of Satan

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigor – Channeling The Quintessence Of Satan
  • Artist: Abigor
  • Album: Channeling The Quintessence Of Satan
  • Year of Release: 1999
  • Country: Austria
  • Label: Napalm
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: NPR062

I thought Abigor’s previous album, Supreme Immortal Art, was close to perfect – a bombastic, baroque, swirling chaos of a black metal album that managed to stay just about the right side of falling over the edge into unformulated noise. It managed to maintain a balance between complexity, experimentation, grandeur, and quality songwriting, and remains a high watermark for “symphonic black metal”. A year later they delivered Channeling The Quintessence Of Satan, which, although a very different beast to its predecessor, represents for me the second of Abigor’s two truly great black metal records. After this I felt there was a slow decline in quality from the band, but around 1998-1999 they could do no wrong.

There is a significant line-up change – versatile frontman Silenius had left to concentrate on other projects (ambient black metal band Summoning, and martial industrial act Kreuzweg Ost), and was replaced by Heidenreich vocalist Thurisaz. Thurisaz is clearly less varied in his approach, but with the stylistic changes the band has made this isn’t a criticism – his rasp is a typical reverbed black metal one, contributing more to the percussion than to the overall feelings evoked by the album. The major change is just how metallic this feels. That might sound like a slightly odd thing to say, reviewing a black metal album, but hear me out – go listen to Supreme Immortal Art with all its orchestral touches and arrangements, and then listen to this straight afterwards. There is still much complexity here, but this is an altogether more brutal affair. The production has been beefed up significantly from previous releases, with the guitar and drum sound very much to the fore (the vocals are quite low in the mix compared to their previous output). There is very much a whiff of Abigor’s Apokalypse EP about this, but (and I doubt the band would appreciate the comparison) there are also similarities on occasion to both the early 90s Swedish melodic death and black metal scenes.

The drumming – as usual – is phenomenal, although less varied than some other Abigor releases I have reviewed. The percentage of blastbeating is higher than previously, which adds to the record’s intensity, rarely but effectively reducing the tempo to provide slower, more portentous moments. Guitars retain some of the tremolo-picked riffing from Apokalypse, but this time rather than recalling classic period Darkthrone remind more an unholy mixture of classic Emperor and Dissection. Keyboards play no part this time round, although samples of pseudo-industrial noise and strings occasionally punctuate the otherwise straightforwardly black metal assault.

I want to be clear – I think this is an utterly brilliant black metal record; perhaps not quite of the standard of Supreme Immortal Art, but certainly an excellent example of how a quality black metal album can be produced, encompassing both complexity and brutality. Despite their differences, this and Supreme Immortal Art will ultimately be Abigor’s long-standing legacy within the black metal scene. The band themselves felt there were some issues with arrangements and production values (hence their attempt to re-record / re-arrange it later on; something for another review), but once again I feel this is near perfect. I miss Silenius’ vocal versatility, but I admire the band’s continued commitment to variation and progression from record to record. Go listen and be impressed.

Score: 88%

Abigor – Supreme Immortal Art

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigor – Supreme Immortal Art
  • Artist: Abigor
  • Album: Supreme Immortal Art
  • Year of Release: 1998
  • Country: Austria
  • Label: Napalm
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: NPR040

Before reviewing this, I had a quick look through the opinions on the Metal Archives website (often a useful cultural barometer for this type of music, even if it is infested with kvltists, and has yet to impose a sanctions policy for hate-speech). I was somewhat surprised to see that Supreme Immortal Art, Abigor’s 1998 utter masterpiece, has been seen as somewhat divisive. Surprised, because if you don’t think this is one of the high watermarks for the mid-to-late ‘90s black metal scene, you are frankly just plain wrong.

Reading some of those reviews has meant I am going to write something slightly different from my original plan… more of a case for the defence. But this is not the defence of something that is probably objectively rubbish, but I just happen to love (there are plenty of those, whether books, films, or records). This is the case for the defence of a record that I genuinely believe to be one of the finest examples of black metal ever recorded. I’m not exaggerating – I think it’s that good. At some point I should probably write a Top 40 for the genre, and this would certainly feature.

OK, where to start? Supreme Immortal Art is Abigor’s first proper stab at “symphonic black metal”. The obvious touchstone is Emperor, and their spirit is evoked often. Abigor have never been quite as accomplished as the Norwegians they clearly admire, but they’re not doing a terrible job of punting in that direction. Building on their earlier strengths, every song here has both complexity and melody, but – and crucially, I think this was what was lacking on their last couple of releases – there is an emotional depth and swoop to the composition. Sure, there’s rage and hate and all the usual stuff you expect from a black metal record, but there’s a grandiosity to proceedings that wasn’t present before.

Some comment has been made about the prevalence of keyboards, and the production. It is certainly true that the drums are lower in the mix than usual, and if I have a quibble this would be it. TT is one of black metal’s most inventive drummers, and for his efforts to be buried in the mix is something of a shame – a remaster would be well-worth listening to. But to criticise the album for being keyboard-driven is short-sighted (I’m being generous there; the “no keyboards” crowd can genuinely go fuck themselves). This was 1998, and many of the greatest black metal records of the time were using keyboards, as bands had realised that vocals/guitar/drums could be limiting (Abigor had abandoned the pretence of bass guitar a couple of releases ago). Supreme Immortal Art exists within the great pantheon of amazing releases around the same time from Emperor, Tartaros, Obtained Enslavement, Limbonic Art and others – and is better than most (Emperor, notwithstanding). Ben asked me whether I felt there were any stand-out tracks… I think this should be regarded as “a piece”, but if pushed, I guess favourites would be “Soil Of Souls” and “The Spirit Of Venus”, but I think listening to these tracks in isolation is a mistake – they are part of a much greater whole.

This is an album that builds on Abigor’s previously demonstrated ability to construct complex yet melodic compositions, while adding a symphonic aspect that takes this to another level of black metal excellence. I’m going with 90% purely because of my quibble about the drum production, but I really cannot recommend this more highly. If you haven’t heard Abigor before – start here.

Score: 90%

Abigor – Apokalypse

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigor – Apokalypse
  • Artist: Abigor
  • Album: Apokalypse
  • Year of Release: 1997
  • Country: Austria
  • Label: Napalm
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: NPR 027

After some years of being quietly at the progressive edge of mid-90s black metal (there weren’t too many black metal bands regularly employing a flautist at the time, or indeed now), Abigor decided to release the somewhat curious Apokalypse EP. The liner notes suggest it was “produced and mixed in a few hours… for ultimate raw apocalyptic Black Metal listening pleasure exclusively”. At this stage in their career, Abigor were known to fans for the variety ever-present in their song-writing, while still being firmly within a genre at the time mostly known for its traditionalism (No Mosh! No Core! No Trends! No Fun!) – although around about 1997, all of that was about to change. In stark contrast to the wave of experimentation that was about occur, it seems Abigor had something they needed to get out of their system.

At under 18 minutes in length, Apokalypse comes across as nothing more than a paean to the Scandinavian black metal scene, particularly the raw, stripped down “true” black metal of Darkthrone. The near-ubiquitous blast beats open ‘Celestial’ and barely let-up until the end of the EP, showcasing none of TT’s usual flair, although that’s not intrinsically a criticism. Riffing occasionally shows elements of the melody associated with most prior Abigor releases, but is much more redolent of the tremolo-picked works from the original Peaceville Darkthrone records. There is some variation in the vocals – Silenius is usually quite distinctive, but here is either consciously or unconsciously channelling the likes of Aldrahn (Dødheimsgard) and occasionally even Attila Csihar.

This is a frustrating release. It’s certainly passable, even good, but ultimately derivative, and that’s a thing you never want to say about an Abigor release. There’s a palpable sense of hatred and rage here, and that raises this above the generic work of lesser bands, and a sub-par release from Abigor is still better than most black metal bands can ever possibly aspire to. But it is also forgettable, particularly when placed among the glittering jewels of the rest of the early Abigor discography. And at under 18 minutes in length becomes a curio of interest to die-hard fans only.

Score: 70%

Abigor – Verwüstung / Invoke The Dark Age

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigor – Verwüstung / Invoke The Dark Age
  • Artist: Abigor
  • Album: Verwüstung / Invoke The Dark Age
  • Year of Release: 1994
  • Country: Austria
  • Label: Napalm
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: NPR 005

I like to think that over the years I have grown as a person, and part of that is musically – my taste has broadened immeasurably, and I look back at my previously narrow-minded views with a significant sense of embarrassment. Nonetheless, even now, revisiting early 90s black metal is a trip to my happy place, reminding me of why I fell in love with this music in the first place. And so it is with the first album from Austrian black metal act Abigor.

Released in 1994, most of the black metal listening public were heavily focused on what was going on in Scandinavia (with good reason), and as such quite a number of genre near-classics were and are often overlooked in favour of the more high-profile Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Emperor et al. I remember reading about the Austrian Black Metal Syndicate at some point in the mid-90s, formed apparently in response to the Norwegian Black Metal Circle, and consisting of the likes of Golden Dawn, Summoning, Pazazu, Vuzem (later Hollenthon)… and Abigor. Many of the original Syndicate are long-since gone, but it seems that Abigor are still going strong. Their debut, Verwϋstung / Invoke The Dark Age, while not their greatest album, remains an outstandingly strong opener in what has been a lengthy discography of ‘true’, but not boringly reductionist, black metal.

After a series of demos and promos of varying quality, both production- and songwriting-wise, Abigor made the decision to a) replace their vocalist (Tharen a.k.a. Rune is out, Silenius is in), and b) base their debut around re-recorded and re-worked demo tracks, with the addition of a couple of ambient keyboard interludes, courtesy of (oddly) Rune. The first thing to note is that, in comparison with their demo material, the sound is vastly improved. Black metal often favours a deliberately raw production, and this is certainly jagged, but unlike some of their contemporaries this is pretty crystal, albeit with the de rigeur near total lack of bass. Secondly, Silenius’ vocals are vastly superior to the demo takes by Rune, being higher-pitched and displaying a far greater breadth of emotion, even if that breadth extends only from hatred to despair and sorrow.

Abigor often get lumped in as one of those bands jumping on the Norsk bandwagon, but I think this is wholly unfair – this is a melodic, diverse, and thought-out record that shows a remarkable degree of individual personality for a debut album from a supposed second-tier outfit. Use of keyboards, acoustic guitar, subtle variation in vocal styles, and a genuinely varied drum performance from T.T. are welcomed, and make this stand out from what was to rapidly become a very overcrowded pack.

You know when a black metal album has really worked as a collection of songs and left its mark when individual tracks stand out in and of themselves, rather than them merging into a morass in your memory as soon as you’ve turned the record off (obviously some records are aiming for this effect; this is not one of them). In this case, Verwϋstung succeeds, offering a number of black metal not-quite-classics in the form of ‘Kingdom Of Darkness’ (with its Seventh Seal-sampling opening), the near doomy parts of ‘Eye To Eye At Armageddon’ and particularly ‘In Sin’, and genuine contender, ‘Weeping Midwintertears’.

Abigor would go on to create bigger and better things – including at least two bona fide black metal classics – but this is an underrated and confident debut from a band that really deserve more of your attention than you have given them to date.

Score: 82%