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%

Abbath – Outstrider

Author: Brendan Blake

Abbath – Outstrider
  • Artist: Abbath
  • Album: Outstrider
  • Year of Release: 2019
  • Country: Norway
  • Label: Season of Mist
  • Format: Digipack CD Boxset
  • Catalogue Number: SOM 517B

Now, this is far more like it! Abbath (the man) and his previous band Immortal have always been unashamedly influenced by the late, great Bathory, and have often been at their best when making this influence overt. The self-titled predecessor to this album was largely made up of songs originally destined for the follow-up to Immortal’s (then) final record All Shall Fall, and as such showed a fairly logical progression from that album, with straightforward black-thrashing riffs and a fine production that mirrored the direction Immortal had been heading in for some time. In that sense, Outstrider represents both a welcome retrograde step to earlier, classic black metal, while maintaining the production values and song-writing nous that Abbath has been crafting throughout a 30+ year career.

So, nearly a complete line-up change from the first album, and one can’t help but feel that Abbath felt the need to up his game with the recent Demonaz’ Immortal release, and this competition (real or imagined on my part) has benefitted everyone involved. This is a real tour de force, recalling both the best parts of latter-day Immortal and classic mid-period Bathory. The songs have a confidence and swagger lacking from the self-titled debut, providing a product that is both punishing and catchy, with welcome melody and – perhaps surprisingly – some excellent use of classic rock/NWOBHM soloing that lifts this to another level of pomp and majesty. Abbath’s vocals are recognisable as his usual croak, but he has expanded his range to incorporate elements that recall Attila Csihar, which works incredibly well. The drumming from Finnish (relative) newcomer Ukri Suvilheto is superb throughout, beautifully aiding the mix of thrash and black elements on display here. The production here is somewhat thinner than the previous record, in keeping with the album’s overall theme.

As with the debut, Outstrider ends with a cover version, in this case ‘Pace ‘Till Death’ from Bathory’s landmark Blood Fire Death album. It’s a perfectly serviceable cover, and as with the previous record seems to highlight what was foremost in Abbath’s head when he recorded Outstrider.

This represents a step-up from its predecessor, and a gauntlet to the floor for Demonaz’ Immortal. A top-drawer modern black metal release for 2019, nodding to the genre’s illustrious past, whilst embracing modern production and keeping its eye on what its voracious fanbase is looking for.

A note on editions: I have the box set edition of this album. There has always been a hint of visual gimmickry associated with Abbath (who can forget the awful/awesome photo shoot around the time of At the Heart of Winter, that has been the subject of so many internet memes since?), but he appears to have embraced rather than run from this, by including not just another patch, but sponge and black/white make-up so that you can yourself look like a black metal panda whilst listening to this record, as I am now.

Score: 82%

Abbath – Abbath

Author: Brendan Blake

Abbath – Abbath
  • Artist: Abbath
  • Album: Abbath
  • Year of Release: 2016
  • Country: Norway
  • Label: Season of Mist
  • Format: Digipack CD Boxset
  • Catalogue Number: SOM 366B

Olve Eikemo (Abbath Doom Occulta) should need no introduction to black metal aficionados, being one half of the untouchable legacy left behind by Norwegian legends Immortal. After a publicly acrimonious split from long-time collaborator Demonaz, he’s set his stall out as a solo act, backed by a bunch of solid not-quite also-rans of the black metal scene (King, somewhat controversial ex-Gorgoroth bassist, and Kevin Foley aka Creature, ex of Benighted). I think I’m somewhat more charitable towards this album than BD Joyce is, but agree with his summation that this sounds like an album recorded too soon, whether in an attempt to beat Demonaz to releasing a new Immortal record, or just to get back out on the road performing those Immortal classics that he knows people really want to hear.

This is certainly not terrible though – far from it, in fact. The production is top-notch, which can either be a good or a bad thing when it comes to black metal records; in this case Abbath sounds thunderous, and the production allows this heavily riff-based record to truly shine. I’ve read some quibbles about the drum sound, but to my ear the drum sound perfectly matches the thick guitar tone. This should come as no surprise to listeners though, as Immortal albums since At the Heart of Winter have embraced modern production values, and no-one should be under any illusion that this is not a continuation of Abbath (the man)’s work with his previous band. Musically this stands as a continuation of the previous few Immortal albums, notably Sons of Northern Darkness and All Shall Fall, with largely mid-paced black/thrash riffing, interspersed with occasional bursts of (sometimes d-beat) pace to break up what could otherwise have become monotonous. You can’t get away from the impression that this is a collection of songs written to be played live, and I stress that that is not necessarily a criticism. This is classic festival fodder.

Opener ‘To War!’ is a fast and furious thrash number, as many earlier Immortal had begun, but there are moments of subtlety here… ‘Winterbane’ contains a clean break that cannot be accidentally reminiscent of Immortal’s anthem ‘Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)’. There are occasional uses of synth that might be otherwise incongruous, but somehow seem to work in the context of what Abbath has woven together here. ‘Count The Dead’ and in particular ‘Fenrir Hunts’ are vicious fists to the face, but the standout for me is ‘Root Of The Mountain’, which recalls the epic majesty of the best of Immortal’s back catalogue. Another touchstone throughout the album is Abbath’s sole black/heavy metal I record, Between Two Worlds, in which he straddled the thrashing blackness of old with classic rock touches from Motorhead, Deep Purple et al., although I sense none of the Rush-influenced progginess of the likes of ‘Antarctica’.

Individual performances – Abbath’s trademark croak is present in full force. He’s never demonstrated a great deal of range, but that’s not what you’re looking for; he sounds totally in command here. Abbath also handles the vast majority of guitars on this release, and continues to prove he is an expert at producing catchy, groovy and when necessary mournful or epic riffs. Creature on drums is a revelation; this is not overtly technical music, but he is clearly a powerhouse drummer, underpinning the varied pace of the record. I should also note there are some excellent guitar solos spotted throughout the album, provided by Ole Andre Farstad. King’s bass is somewhat buried in the mix, but this is hardly crucial to the sound.

Ultimately, if you are looking for a return to the older, colder sound of early Immortal albums, look elsewhere (Demonaz’s own Immortal album would be a good place to start). If you are looking for a solid, well-played, well-produced slab of later Immortal, this album is no slouch and well worth giving a spin.

A note on editions: I have the box set edition of this, which contains a pin badge, patch, and a rather fetching wrist band, which keeps my wrist warm. It also has two bonus cover tracks. One is of Judas Priest’s ‘Riding On The Wind’, which is surprisingly good, and makes sense in the context of what has come before, with Abbath embracing his trad-metal roots. The other is a cover of Immortal’s ‘Nebular Ravens Winter’, which means he’s… covering himself. OK. It’s fine, and I guess improves on the production issues associated with the Blizzard Beasts album, but sort of unnecessary and certainly doesn’t help if he’s trying to distance himself as a solo artist from the parent band, but maybe that’s precisely the point.

Score: 70%