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(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/)
As I sit here with pen in hand and Abigor's Nachthymnen (From the Twilight Kingdom) being channeled from my iPod into my ears, a thought dawns to me: for a band that seems to be so straightforward, Abigor aren't all that easy to digest. I've listened to Verwustung / Invoke the Dark Age before, and even now I can't really form a solid opinion on that album; but that's a review for a different date. I did give a few songs from Verwustung another listen to dscern a few differences between that album and Nachthymnen. What I can safely say is that Nachthymnen is better produced and puts for emphasis on keyboards. Mind you, Verwustung had keyboards as well, but Nachthymnen the make themselves more at home. I guess they have to be if you want to give your album a subtitle like 'From the Twilight Kingdom' (*chuckles to self*).
You know what? The reason why Abigor are more difficult to digest than some other black metal bands is because they put so much time into writing riffs. To test this theory, I listened to "Unleashed Axe Age" and "Reborn Through the Gate of Three Moons" one more time; I counted around ten individual riffs in the former and around 14 individual riffs plus two acoustic riffs in the latter. And these songs are only around six minutes long as opposed to another black metal song with a similar length like Mayhem's "Freezing Moon" which only had around 5 riffs in the song. Abigor may seem like a run-of-the-mill black metal band at a distance; but after picking the song apart like I just did, the music writers seem like very overlooked geniuses. Granted this is still black metal; it has the production, melodic style, and atmosphere of 90's black metal. Abigor just provided more proof that there's more to the genre than the cliched kvltic nonsense that outsiders perceive.
The atmosphere served up on this album compliments the guitar work here very well. There's keyboards, timpani, bells, acoustic guitar, and female vocals. These elements are used in exactly the right way to portray the mystical atmosphere of this Twilight Kingdom. None of them are used excessively, and I would not classify this album as primarily symphonic black metal. Even the keyboards are used sparingly; when I said they were more emphasized, I meant easier to hear.
In the end, I'm going to sincerely say that I really enjoy this album. If you don't pay attention to it, it will just go in one ear and out the other; but this album is very special when you really get into it. Abigor are very good at what they do, and are definitely triumphant in portraying it with these Nacht-hymns.
I always had mixed feelings about Abigor – how I really never could finish any of their albums in one sitting, how I got bored during the songs, and how I could just have more fun watching porn. However, their atmosphere is unmatched as it properly blends evil, melody, and gothic influences together in culminating some sacred art. I only dig the albums with Silenius on vocals, though, since this man is one nasty beast when it comes to gurgling, screaming, and shrieking in the most tortured fashion. The overall sound of the music is comparable to Summoning’s first album, but with more substance and less contrived moments.
Get used to tremolo, because it’s everywhere here. Thankfully, it never gets tiresome because of the sweet interludes breaking up the moment, build-ups to guide the rhythm, acoustics to provide more classical support, and just overall harmonious riffs. The higher the notes go the more thin the guitars sound, but otherwise they’re crunchy and sadistic. No bass at all, but the air of the atmosphere isn't too thin to have it become an issue. Abigor were able to work around the bass-less issue with layering guitars on top of each other, so listening to this doesn't bring up any concerns of lacking bass. Yeah production qualities are typical for black metal, so I really can’t butcher it down in those departments. The quality is enhanced a little bit when acoustics or keyboards play a more central role, though.
What I love about the guitars is how they crash between each other in a concerto; tremolo attacks whiz against each other like sieges between medieval kingdoms. Amidst the incredibly dark atmosphere is an authentic, neoclassical tone that’s more traditional than contemporary. Fears of the occult and the supernatural rub off with each song, couple by mutilated screams and we’re in for a dungeon sleepover. Female vocals are available, but limited to just a few songs and in sparse scenes, and thankfully they’re not terribly operatic.
I must say that the drum sound is mighty weak, since the double bass just gets clobbered in the mix. You’ll barely hear it and the cymbals crash out every other piece of the kit. The toms do have a natural receiving beat, so I’m not too worried about that part. Blast beats are the norm, but otherwise there’s a decent amount of catchy patterns employed.
So yeah, it’s a royal sounding album with some classical inspirations and dark undertones. Probably the best mix of such during the golden years of black metal, and from the heart of Europe this time.
A good friend of mine once told me "black metal bands have some of the most amazing musicians in the world -- the vocals just suck ass".
Well, Abigor certainly live up to that stereotype. The vocals are Burzumic in nature, if not a bit higher pitched. Oddly enough they mix with the music to perfection so they're not really much of an issue, they just help keep the emotion flowing throughout the whole album. And there is quite a bit of emotion put into this album.
The tremolo picked guitars are some of the best on any black metal album ever. What separates Abigor's dual tremolo guitar attack from other Darkthrone clones is that: a) they play quite a bit faster b) they play quite a bit more complex and c) nearly every riff is derived from some form of classical music (Mozart or Wagner if I was to guess). Very complex guitar lines indeed, with beautiful song structures that are about as far from traditional verse, chorus, verse as one can go.
The acoustic segments are interwoven into the black metal segues perfectly. This is what black metal is about. There is an abundance of blast beats but the drumming is actually quite superior to even what is considered "elite" drumming in black metal (Hellhammer, Frost). So basically, the drumming is fucking awesome and unrelenting while keeping up with the insane structural changes found within every song.
The production is perfect and dark. This album will leave you feeling dark and desolate after every listen, and isn't that part of what black metal is all about anyways?
While Abigor may have gone on after this to release less than stellar albums, this album is one of the greatest black metal albums ever. And it's raw as fuck... classic shit indeed.
Here is Abigor's shining moment. On this album Abigor creating the ultimate of what they had been stretching for up to this point. On all albums after this there is a sense of searching for the next level, and though at times they woudl manage to find new ground to cover, they would never return to the beauty, majesty and utter darkness of this release.
On here Abigor define the idea of raw neo-classical black metal. What I mean by that statement is this, there is almost no use of keyboards on here, meaning it really has nothing to do with the symphonic black metal movement as defined by Emperor, Graveland, Dimmu Borgir, etc. Instead the focus is put upon the complex and neo-classical movement of the guitar riffs, which seem always to follow an internal logic connected to the shifting patterns of classical music. Abigor really created their own style of black metal on here. Somewhere in between the raw hatred of their first album and the medieval metal feeling that was on Orkblut (that was like a more avant-guarde Dark Medieval Times). The guitars sound very harsh, and this is one of the reasons that this album can be hard to get into. For all of the album is laid upon the guitarists, very rarely in this form of black metal will you hear an album where there is almost no keyboards and in fact the whole classical element is containted in the guitar riffs. And what riffs they are. Moving from chordal figures to melodic riffs to riffs that are somewhere in between, like the abstract riffing of death metal, but without any emphasis on brutality like most death metal, simply the abstract quality that seem to be like patterns of notes without any co-ordination of melody and rythem.
Often you'll find both guitars going off on different tangents, like classical counterpoint you will hear figures that interlock and create a dark dense pattern that weaves together then parts, always on here you will find constant flowing movement. The vocals, drums and the rare use of keyboard seem to be the aspects that tie all this together into actual songs. The vocals by Silenius mark some of his best work in all the bands of his I have heard. We're talking a dark hateful presence that seems so filled with hatred and intensity that I am often left breathless. Combined with the beautiful (and amazingly well used) female vocals by Elisabeth Toriser (who is in the Austrian dark wave band Dargaard which features the previous vocalist of Abigor), the vocal performances rival the amazing riffs. All this creates a dark spectral beauty and atmosphere that really is quite inspiring and different from most black metal bands.
Abigor were a very mystical and dark band, somewhere in between Satanism and Paganism they simply focused in on mystical atmospheres and feelings that are connected to the roots of the European consciousness. Like all the best of the black metal movement, Abigor were not interested in mindless brutality or overt fantastical elements. Instead they seemingly desired to create a mythic atmosphere that takes from many different sources to create their own dark nocturnal realm. This combined with the intense music that succeeds where most fail, to do anything else but praise this album is misguided. Abigor were a very important band, and none should forget it.
If neo-classical complex and yet raw hateful black metal sounds very appealing to you then pick this up. Abigor never quite rose to this level again, as it is the summation of everything that was great about them (although the rest of their work is pretty good as well). So buy this and revel in the nocturnal twilight realm of Nachthymnen.
The opening of this towering monolith of black metal artistry is deceptive. Simple one-note synth sounds produce a thin and low-budget ‘eerie astral’ feel. However, from the thunder of the first unfurling of the band’s thick and spectral twisting sound, you know you are not listening to a typical black metal band. In fact, this is the one so called ‘black metal’ band that uses every single overdone and so often cheesy trick in the book to sound majestic and evil, and despite this, actually achieves results to amazing effect.
For those unfamiliar with Abigor’s chaotic sound: imagine, perhaps, a semi-raw but decently clear black metal band with the talent and energy of early Emperor or Immortal, but more of the structural qualities of Obsidian Gate, earlier Satyricon, demo-era Moonsorrow, and other bands that incorporate many voices into their vision of rather raw yet complex black metal. Add to this mix a strong classical and heavy metal influence, similar perhaps to the middle era of Diabolical Masquerade, and finally add all the cheesy elements of black metal (the samples, the German spoken word, the keys, the flutes, the tympani) that normally make you roll your eyes. Take this lump of juxtaposition heading in 15 different directions, keep that sense of unbalance, and toss everything together in the most amazingly haphazard yet perfectly orchestrated way, and you have an approximation of what Abigor, on this album, sounds like.
Complex and writhing yet melodic and energetic passages abound from the first song onward, from the riffs at 2:14 and 5:01 which show the band’s attention to melody, harmony, and structure similar to metal greats such as Iron Maiden. Then, at 6:06, a simple horn flourish that would sound laughable on its own takes on a bizarre power as furiously fast guitar arpeggios of surprising originality run raging beneath the keys. This album is the apotheosis of all the disparate and conflicting elements that make Abigor an amazing band amidst a genre filled to overflowing with paradoxes of sound. Triumphant heavy metal guitar passages fold in upon themselves amid synth ambiance only to slam unexpectedly into intricate passages of jittery buzzing rage, only seconds later to wash into strange interludes of acoustic guitar and flutes that would be downright laughable, and still in a sense are here, but they move so quickly and with such a mad grandiose passion into spiraling towers of lush distorted guitar counterparts as to seem confusing yet self-evident. The paradox here is the key to this album’s, and indeed all of Abigor’s, insane genius. This is brilliantly dense hyper-melodic metal that also is campy and tongue-in-cheek: samples of icy winds garishly color the acoustic guitar passages, only to mutate into baroque passages of triple guitar counterparts, two distorted and one continuing on the nylon strings.
One of the hallmarks of Abigor is their ability to craft a vast latticework of melodic music that sounds deceptively like a distorted J.S. Bach partita, and yet have it stand alongside harsh atonal blocks of dissonant chords on one side and simple classic metal breaks and emotional dynamics. This comes into sharp focus on the third track of this album, particularly 4:41-5:24. This is Abigor at their paradoxical best. Deceptively simple guitar riffs are embellished and driven thematically astray by almost over-harmonizing and counter-riffing, each musical idea sputters, stops, and collides with others in a mad but obviously orchestrated drunk opera of riffage.
Those doubting Abigor’s classical training and heavy metal inspiration, listen to the lopsided 4th track, Dornen. The song opens with a lush baroque 3-part triumphant guitar opus, only to seemingly sadistically abandon it’s grace for a long slow passage of modal jazz-based slow guitar harmonizing with further alienating female vocals, only to come back at 3:59 with a blazing balls-to-the-wall guitar shredfest as the lead guitar becomes absurdly muted given the acrobatics it displays, providing a churning sea of twisting counter melody to float the main simple riff upon. Classical and heavy metal are not the only influences upon Abigor’s unique sound, as midway though the 6th song, one finds a distinctly jazz melody carry another of the absurd yet not terrible section of female vocals. Later this riff leads to a passage of unique modern anti-modal almost atonal dark strange beauty, as guitars build vast intervals to contain dissonant masses of chords not normally heard in any musical genre. It is hard to gloss over and provide a musical overview of such a unique piece of work, yet there is a definite sound here that could only by Abigor’s. The tympani alongside traditional metal drumming is one element, the near-constant counter-melodies and coexistence of distorted and acoustic guitar another, the amazingly varied percussion section another, and of course the definitely unpolished production despite all this intricacy helps as well.
Drumming here is an amazing find in the mediocre rhythm sections so representative of the raw black metal orthodoxy. Requisite blasts, double-bass, and standard metal drumming are all here (and some times furiously paced) throughout the songs, but the added dimensions of syncopation, particularly among the bass drums, provide differentiation between the 7 or 8 basic drum patterns black metal usually has at its disposal. The bass drum sound of Abigor is unique in that it is miked with even less low end than one might imagine a black metal band would want, becoming quick clean clicks uncharacteristically distinct and audible in a such an otherwise unpolished recording, on the other hand, the snare is so soaked in reverb as to become more secondary in the drum patterns, which gives Abigor’s drumming a bizarre reverse emphasis. Vocals are a weak point, however, as the main screeches and screams seem almost monotone in register, and lacking of any soul. Within the dark splintered spirals of desolate cosmic void that is the Abigor universe, however, this works with the overall aesthetic very well.
Despite all the dense and opaque riffage on this album, there is a definite feeling of space and atmosphere, provided mostly by the scant use of female vocals (they average about 10 or 15 seconds per song), slower harmonized sections of non-tremolo melody, and distinctly non-modern synth sounds such as strings, flutes, and bells. Where bands like Dimmu Borgir or CoF manage to create a sense of simple majesty for the simple-minded, Abigor manages to create a complex feeling akin to the emotions of vast and cold spaces: majestic and cosmic, yet trembling and utterly earthly. This is the quintessential album of black metal paradox for me; a lumbering chimeral beast that inspires awe, terror, confusion, and even some laughter. If you can get past the silly elements that certainly are here (some fans try to pretend these elements have deeper meaning I do not see), and certainly the lyrics are no magnum opus, as nearly no metal lyrics are, you find a rare gem of black metal that never dulls. For all its faults, it still deserves to be hailed as a fearful and breathtaking god in the pantheon of black metal.