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%

Adam F – Kaos The Anti-Acoustic Warfare

Author: BD Joyce

Adam F – Kaos The Anti-Acoustic Warfare
  • Artist: Adam F
  • Album: Kaos The Anti-Acoustic Warfare
  • Year of Release: 2001
  • Country: UK
  • Label: EMI
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: 7243 5 34250 2 9

Something of a wild card in my CD collection, it’s highly unlikely that I would own this particular album had it not been given to me at a generous 100% discount on release in 2001 during my tenure as Music Editor of the student newspaper at university. The passing of the years has not resulted in the awkwardly-titled Kaos The Anti-Acoustic Warfare discovering the audience that it largely missed out on at the time, or becoming retrospectively heralded as the kind of classic of the genre that might’ve persuaded me to make a purchase by now. In fact, perhaps because of the fact that the lack of any real follow-up deprived Adam F’s putative career as a hip hop producer of any real momentum, the record now languishes in the discount bin of musical history, a barely-remembered footnote in the unceasing forward development of hip hop, the driving force behind a large proportion of 21st century popular music.

This lack of momentum can also be blamed on a couple of other, admittedly largely unavoidable, factors. Firstly, prior to this release, Adam F had a relatively limited hip hop pedigree. A successful drum ‘n’ bass producer and DJ, this album is his first extensive foray into an adjacent, but ultimately different form of electronic music. Although, due to the major label backing, and participation of some heavyweight rappers, Kaos… emerged to significant fanfare, it is also fair to say that the hype was not matched by the anticipation of the listening public, and as such, Adam F struggled to build much of a fanbase outside of his more natural drum ‘n’ bass milieu. Secondly, while the revolving cast of MCs (including members of De La Soul, Pharaoh Monch, and LL Cool J to name but a few) raises a level of interest that Adam F’s name alone would struggle to elicit, it means that the album itself lacks cohesion and fails to really hang together as anything other than a disjointed collection of songs.

The slightly uneven nature of the material does not mean, however, that there’s not enjoyment to be had with the album though. Following a short and portentous intro that almost fooled my inner goth into expecting ‘This Corrosion’ to issue forth from the speakers, ‘Smash Sumthin” commences proceedings with one of the less subtle songs ever committed to tape. Featuring the recognisably gruff tones of Wu-Tang associate Redman rhyming over booming, distorted bass and a surprisingly deft guitar sample, this is big, commercial party music built for the club, and if one overlooks the somewhat juvenile lyrics it’s undeniably fun, the rap equivalent of the kind of nu metal which was reaching the apex of its popularity at around the same time. Similarly, LL Cool J’s ‘Greatest Of All Time’ showcases his ability in a strident lyrical performance, with beats to match, that it’s difficult to criticise, regardless of whether you’re in agreement with his assessment of his own capabilities.

Much of the album offers less successful retreads of this sound, often utilising the kind of title that is less artistic statement, and more instruction. Both ‘Stand Clear’ and ‘Listen Here’ are dominated by rolling, distorted basslines, redolent of Adam F’s day job in the drum ‘n’ bass clubs of London, and decorated variously by staccato piano loops and somewhat overbearing synth string stabs. The latter also sounds uncomfortably close to the kind of chart R&B that was especially prevalent in the early 2000s, but lacks even a modicum of the production ingenuity that propelled Destiny’s Child and the Aaliyah to enormous success.

Counter-intuitively, Kaos… is frequently more enjoyable when Adam F creates a production that is less reliant on the huge basslines and thumping beats that he is known for. As the bass takes a back seat on ‘Time 4 Da True’, replaced by a funky keyboard sample, and old-school breakbeat, it’s the album’s first moment of real class. It’s no surprise to find that the pleasingly relaxed flow that adorns the track is courtesy of Dave and Pos of De La Soul, more of a surprise to find that Adam F is so adept at creating a musical setting so fitting for them to work their magic. The clipped beats and Nile Rodgers funk of ‘Karma (Comes Back Around)’ which immediately follows, continues this looser, more fluid feel, and provides welcome relief from the more bombastic sounds of the rest of the record.

The final four tracks, which comprise a single track proper, ‘Last Dayz’, together with an intro and an excessive two separate outros, all based around an apocalyptic theme, seem to suggest that Kaos… is in some way supposed to be a concept album. It’s not clear, however, how any of the preceding tracks fit into this apparent concept and in many ways that is the album in microcosm. It’s not instrinsically bad, although it is dated. The epic sounding synths wouldn’t be out of place on a Dimmu Borgir album, but sound incongruous now in the context of a genre which has seen mainstream hip hop become ever more minimal and sparse in production.

Kaos… is a mediocre album that promised much, but gets ultimately bogged down in lyrical braggadocio and cliches, and a production which is too homogeneous. It reveals the limitations of a rap record made by a producer, with little connection to the MCs that provide the vocal content. Although the production is clearly a huge part of great hip hop, it’s the symbiotic connection between the MC and producers that makes Nas’ Illmatic, or Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers such coherent and magnetic records, and this album just doesn’t have it. As a collection of singles, it is functional, but as an album judged against different criteria, it falls short.

Score: 54%

Abigail Williams – In The Absence Of Light

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigail Williams – In The Absence Of Light
  • Artist: Abigail Williams
  • Album: In The Absence Of Light
  • Year of Release: 2010
  • Country: USA
  • Label: Candlelight
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: CANDLE238CD

Quite early on into the great undertaking of BD Joyce and I to review our respective record collections alphabetically, I am forced to address a particular issue – that of the mediocre record. I personally have a massive soft spot for middle of the road black and death metal, which means I am more than happy to sit and listen to these middle-stream albums, say, over Sunday lunch (as I am doing now), without feeling the need to wax lyrical about their respective merits. I personally own a vast number of records that are not intrinsically terrible, and I am happy to pass time listening to, but ultimately contribute little to musical or genre history. Abigail Williams are one of those bands that fit into that bracket where if they were a support band to a superior act, or part-way up a festival bill, I’d probably go and check them out, but as a headline act are likely always going to be found somewhat wanting.

So I come to Abigail Williams’ second full-length release, In The Absence of Light. There has been another stylistic shift since their last album, with Ken “Sorceron” (yes, I know black metal pseudonyms are a bit infantile, but sticking to the Ken just highlights the silliness, and not in a good way) basically replacing the previous line-up and stripping out the symphonic (i.e. the keyboard) elements from the previous album and delivering a much more straightforward version of Euro melodic black metal. Emperor and Dimmu Borgir remain obvious touchstones, but to the band’s credit there is an increased emphasis on melodic soloing that recalls classic acts such as Maiden and Priest. While the masters have acknowledged their older influences (Emperor, Ihsahn (solo), Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth for instance), it is pleasing to see these still permeating with younger acts.

This is a highly credible, well-executed piece of melodic black metal (no metalcore here, before anyone says it). It’s well-produced and I’m certainly not not enjoying listening to it, but I doubt it has the sticking power of anything classic, important, or groundbreaking, even within such a mini “sort of” genre as melodic black metal.

Score: 65%

Abigail Williams – In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigail Williams – In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns
  • Artist: Abigail Williams
  • Album: In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns
  • Year of Release: 2008
  • Country: USA
  • Label: Candlelight
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: CANDLE292CDSE

What a difference a couple of years can make. The Legend EP proved somewhat divisive, with its mix of keyboard-driven black metal, Swedish-style melodeath, and metalcore moments – including oft-criticised melodic vocals. Abigail Williams’ first full-length jettisons wholesale the majority of the latter influences in favour of a much more straightforward symphonic black metal style, with wins and losses for the band in the process.

Sonically, the band has moved towards a much safer and more familiar European style of black metal – melodic as before, and clearly aiming towards the Scandinavian greats of Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Covenant, Borknagar, and even Arcturus, although there is still the whiff of Cradle Of Filth in places (no bad thing). The Emperor connection is reinforced by the employment of Trym Torson on drums for about three-quarters of the record, and he does a predictably devastating job delivering the blastbeats. Ken Sorceron has decided to focus on vocals, while apparently also supplying bass; the bass is near-inaudible in the mix, and appears to purely follow the guitars, but that is hardly a criticism, as this is de rigeur for much black metal. His vocals stick to a fairly standard black metal rasp, although occasionally delving into deeper death metal growling, and notably on ‘A Thousand Suns’ bursting into a clean vocal far removed from that employed on Legend, and much closer to ICS Vortex of Dimmu/Arcturus/Borknagar, although not yet as accomplished. Still, the variety helps lift this from mere tedium to something slightly more colourful.

The keyboards are well-employed, but strangely high in the mix, although this is true of many symphonic/melodic black metal bands of the time – and indeed of the mid-90s. And I think this is where my issue with this album lies – I want to like it an awful lot more than I actually do. It’s well-produced, well-executed, and well-presented, but it just leaves me a bit cold, and not in a good way. It’s perfectly fine, and clearly worships at the feet of much greater bands – right down to the album cover, clearly invoking Emperor and Dissection albums of old. It’s certainly no disgrace, but call me heretical, I think I actually prefer their more all-over-the-place EP, which showed an intriguing mix of what could be done when you mix black metal, death metal, and metalcore. This is a good example of middle-of-the-road symphonic black metal, made by Americans a good 10 years after this form was perfected by the European black metal scene. Not in any way bad, just generic – and by 2008 already sounding dated, but not in a retro way.

Score: 60%

Abigail Williams – Legend

Author: Brendan Blake

Abigail Williams – Legend
  • Artist: Abigail Williams
  • Album: Legend
  • Year of Release: 2006
  • Country: USA
  • Label: Candlelight
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: CANDLE432CD Disc 1

I’m dimly aware that this band attracts a certain amount of scorn and derision on various internet forums (dimly aware, as I avoid those sorts of places because of the insufferable so-called purists that either police or troll them). Apparently the major complaint is their origin within the “metalcore” scene of the early 2000s. I’ve long had a problem with the term metalcore being used, both by journalists and internet pundits as a generic derogatory term – metalcore to me includes fantastic works by the likes of Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags in the 1980s, through to truly groundbreaking albums from Converge, Earth Crisis, Vision Of Disorder et al. in the mid ‘90s. The use of the term as a pejorative seems to refer to the likes of Killswitch Engage and Trivium (both of which are perfectly decent thrash/groove metal bands, with some added melodic singing). I don’t hear a great deal of hardcore punk in any of these bands, but maybe that’s just me. And don’t even get me started on the risible use of the term “mallcore” by the self-proclaimed scene police.

Why was that particular rant relevant to this release? Abigail Williams (named after one of the primary accusers in the Salem witch trials, and made famous to most high school students through Arthur’s Miller’s play The Crucible) were formed by one Ken Bergeron (latterly calling himself Sorceron; OK), who had played in a number of hardcore and metal bands prior to this.  And that “metalcore” influence is certainly still present in this, his first Abigail Williams release.  But the band is bucking a North American trend here by leaning over the pond and borrowing more heavily from the melodic death metal of At The Gates, the symphonic black metal of Dimmu Borgir, and most prevalently, UK-based gothic extremists Cradle Of Filth, a band for whom I will always have a deep and abiding teenage love.

Several tracks are re-purposed (and re-titled) from their demo days, and present a more-than-decent 20 minutes of aggressive, occasionally grandiose blackened death metal, with Dani Filth-esque screeches, mixed up with some lower-pitched death growling, and some Trivium-style melodic moments. The latter, which have attracted negative attention in particular, are fine for what they are and are noticeably absent from later releases. There is a fairly heavy use of keyboards, which add a degree of pomposity to proceedings and are certainly not as well integrated as the greatest examples of this style, but any band that invokes the spirit of Ihsahn of Emperor as frequently as they do cannot be wholly heading in the wrong direction. Sure there are metalcore breakdowns, but you know what, so did At The Gates and Suffocation, and that is not enough to write a band off. In this case, they work perfectly well, creating an interesting melange of US and European influences that this reviewer actually finds very palatable.

Screw the haters. This is good example of mid-2000s US symphonic black metal, with some added influences that at the time set them aside from the rest of the ATG-worshipping pack. Weirdly I actually find this more interesting as a release than some of their later, more typical records. But nice to see a young band playing with a variety of influences in an area that was becoming increasingly formulaic at the time.

A note on editions: I picked up the Candlelight 4CD From Legend To Becoming box set, of which this comprises the first disc; I’m reviewing them separately because they represent a significant evolution of the band’s sound over time.

Score: 72%