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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.