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The early 90's were arguably the golden age for black metal, as anyone remotely familiar with the genre will attest. Abigor were a band that jumped on the bandwagon in 1993, and by the following year, their debut 'Verwüstung', or 'Invoke the Dark Age' was released. While much of the black metal years before had not amounted to much more than blastbeats and speedy chord work, Abigor used that mainframe to create something a little musically deeper. This Austrian trio takes the black metal aesthetic to the next level on the debut, although the journey is wrought with faults.
Some black metal bands who did something 'new' with black metal could be often defined in one word. Emperor, for example, brought the 'symphonic' sound to black metal. Abigor are not truly innovators, but they are taking a number of different fresh elements and sweeping them together. Among those, Abigor brings Teutonic chanting, orchestral flourishes and folky acoustics to light. Each of these is done fairly well, particularly in regards to the acoustic guitar playing, which remains subtle. Sadly, the rest of the progressive ideas that Abigor brings to the table are somewhat gimmicky. The fake orchestra sample only appears for a brief moment, and jarringly so. It's moments like this that rob the excellent concepts of Abigor of some of their prowess.
In terms of songwriting, 'Invoke The Dark Age' is best defined by a series of great moments and ideas, rather than overall structure and composition. Abigor's sound is divided between the unconventional elements, and a straightforward black metal sound reminiscent of their Norwegian contemporaries. In regards to atmosphere, Abigor lack the resonance of Mayhem, or the epic gloom of Burzum. One aspect Abigor does excel in is their performance, however. The production is painfully typical, but the guitars and drums play beyond many second wave black metal acts. Thomas Tannenberger displays a profound use of the doublekick, and Peter Kubik's use of melodic guitar lines and powerful solos is very beautiful. 'Invoke The Dark Age' is a very good black metal album, but as one could guess, Abigor would still had much to learn here.
Black metal to me, is of the genres I find quite hard to get my head around and interpret the music the way black metal listeners do. I have people left, right and center throwing me Gorgoroth albums and Darkthrone albums (Although A Blaze In A Northern Sky is awesome.) but none of them were doing it for me. The sub par production that is supposed to contribute to the music’s atmosphere was the main aspect that turned me off from the genre, but I believe I have found the gateway into black metal. One of my friends threw me this album and said: “It’s not as good as Pentagram, but listen to it anyway.” I now laugh in spite of this statement, as this album is by far the best that I have listened to. It is an awe-inspiring adventure into the dark chasms known as black metal and sends the listener into a spiraling abyss into complete nothingness. When I listen to this album, (especially on full volume) curtains drape around me and close everything off. All of my senses are honed in to the album and the music hits me straight across the face.
This album is very powerful in the way it delivers the music. It’s fast, raw and Silenius’ shrieks are filled with so much hate and despair, but the album still manages to leave behind in its trail of destruction a beautiful and captivating atmosphere. At times the music slows right down, showing acoustic pieces surrounded by magnificently written synth passages and even the occasional doom metal influenced riff, but much more melancholic, slow and emotional. The rhythm plays a chord progression, which even by it self sounds great, (No moving around the circle of fifths with this band.) but what really ties a noose around my neck and pulls me into the music is the melody that complements the riffs. They are simply beautiful, especially throughout the song ‘Weeping Midwintertears’, which is one of my favorites on the album. Sometimes the music makes you want to cry, sometimes it makes you want to scream with Silenius, and this is the absolute wonder of albums like this: The emotions that Abigor wanted to channel through their music reaches the listener. You can feel the hate that is lying within the vocals. You can feel the emotion and despair that is manifested within the guitar lines. Who knew the most extreme and somewhat ‘evil’ genre of music could be so beautiful?
Complimenting perfectly to the slow riffs are the fast riffs. The are definitely fast and to the untrained ear might sound like rubbish, but if you dive into the music, the atmosphere explained before is still there, but displays a different emotion: Anger. The blast beats are like a jackhammer being driven repeatedly into your head but still, the guitar riffs give you the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, and continue to display the emotional tremolo picked passages. It is hard to explain exactly why these guitar passages sound emotional. You’ll just have to take a listen yourself. Unfortunately the bass is almost inaudible on this album, but I guess you could imagine what it would sound like if it weren’t there at all. The production isn’t crystal clear, but this aspect is the main contribution to the atmosphere of this album. If it had perfect production, I doubt I would get the same feelings as I have explained before.
For the person who doesn’t listen to black metal, I suggest you give this album a go. It may be hard to grasp at first, and a lot of the music may seem like a wild jumble of random notes and crazy drums, but if you delve into it and really try to connect with the music, you will be greatly rewarded. This band didn’t intend to sound evil, like some black metal bands in the scene. They wanted to channel all their emotions through their music, which is what music is essentially about. The standout tracks on this album for me are: 'Weeping Midwintertears', 'In Sin', 'Kingdom of Darkness' and 'A Spell of Dark and Evil.' No tracks on this album are fillers though and all of them are great. These few just stand out the most for me.
This album is something very special and it’s for sure an enormous improvement over the band’s demos. Before they recorded “Verwüstung” Abigor kicked their vocalist Tharen and replaced him with Silenius, thereby settling on the ultimate line-up of their early days: PK, TT and Silenius. I never liked Tharen’s vocals that much and Silenius sounds a lot better indeed. The production of this album is very good for the time that it was released. Back then most bands went for as raw a production as possible but Abigor got themselves a surprisingly heavy and clear production. This is good because all the metal tracks are re-recordings of demo/promo tracks, so here one gets to hear vastly improved versions of these. Normally I’m not that keen on bands re-recording lots of demo stuff for their first album. However, in Abigor’s case I hadn’t heard any of the demos before I got this album, so this fact doesn’t bother me.
In the early days Abigor were seen by many as being very influenced by Nordic black metal bands but I disagree. To me Abigor’s brand of extreme yet very melodic black metal is unique. Every song (except for the two synth tracks) relies heavily on guitar melodies but the music never becomes even remotely wimpy and more importantly, has nothing to do with melodeath. This is black fucking metal from start to finish. The band also successfully employ acoustic guitars on several tracks in order to create beautiful medieval parts that balance the otherwise ferocious black metal onslaught. Synths are used here and there but way too little for this to be called symphonic black metal, they just add some extra atmosphere. Like many other black metal bands, also Abigor occasionally use kettle drums to add a warlike touch to the music.
Silenius has a very high-pitched and aggressive voice, which fits the material like a glove and takes these tracks to a whole new dimension compared to the demo versions. Tharen, who often sounded like a croaking frog, would only have ruined the brilliant music. At times the vocals are a bit too low in the mix but that’s basically the only real flaw to be found here. Tharen is present on this album though, since he has composed the two ambient tracks: “Beneath A Steel Sky” and “A Spell of Dark and Evil”. The first really succeeds in creating an atmosphere of hordes gathering in order to fight “Eye to Eye at Armageddon”, which no doubt is exactly what it’s supposed to do.
“In Sin” is actually a combination of “Dance of the Dead” and “In Sin” from the first demo. The biggest improvement on this track compared to the demo version is the maniacal blast part with insane screams at the end of the song. Silenius performs this part in a much more insane manner than Tharen did. From “My Soft Vision in Blood” they decided to drop the very last part of the song (with acoustic guitars and whispered vocals) that was on the demo version but this doesn’t matter. The track that has been reworked the most compared to its demo version is “Weeping Midwintertears” (which was called only “Midwintertears” on the “Lux Devicta Est” demo). This new version is almost a minute longer and a lot more impressive than the demo version. They’ve e.g. added a new part to the beginning of the song and the calm part, which on the demo version was played on acoustic guitar, is played on keyboards here. The mood of this part is truly solemn, with Silenius’ harsh wailings contrasting the beautiful piano melody. On the demo the last part of the song consisted only of guitar riffing but on this version they’ve added both drums and vocals to the last part of the song plus some fine acoustic guitars at the very end – fucking awesome! The other tracks follow the demo versions pretty closely with some minor alterations to arrangements. Some tracks are also played a bit faster than the demo versions.
All in all, one of the best debuts ever in black metal. Abigor managed to create a style of their own and I can’t recall hearing many bands imitating them either. “Verwüstung/Invoke the Dark Age” is a unique piece of black metal art.
Quite often, debut albums by some of the leading Black Metal bands are looked back on with a certain degree of condemnation. Take simply Darkthrone’s rather powerless “Soulside Journey”, Immortal’s unfocused “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” or even Mayhem’s wholly unrepresentative “Deathcrush” effort. All certainly have their place in the history of the genre but were undoubtedly bettered upon the releases of each band’s follow up album. However, for Austrian Black Metal band Abigor, their debut album shows an inventiveness far beyond that of a band trying merely to settle on the direction of their own sound.
Released in 1994, debatably at the peak of Black Metal’s creative and unique output, “Verwüstung/Invoke The Dark Age” is an album which immediately stands out from the releases of the perhaps more renowned Norwegian bands. Not only is there a strong utilisation of haunting keyboards within the music that was quite uncommon in early Black Metal, but there is also a poignant use of ambient acoustic guitar pieces throughout, both helping to enhance the band’s somewhat Pagan-influenced sound and adding to their creative and unique approach. Tracks such as “A Spell Of Dark And Evil” and “Kingdom Of Darkness” showcase such an ambience and create a definite melancholy atmosphere, devoid of the chaotic nature of some of the less experimental bands within the genre. Furthermore, guitarist Peter’s style of playing is not nearly as one-dimensional and linear as Black Metal often seems to expect. The epic nature of his guitar playing, combined with the ever-changing and often mid-paced drum patterns and an undeniably despondent tone, emphasise a unique talent that does not often show itself on a debut release.
Album highlights “In Sin” and the superb “Weeping Midwintertears” show that emotion and Black Metal can indeed co-exist and are actually an extremely effective pairing, with the sombre and slow guitar riffs duelling with gloomy keyboard passages and a painful barrage of torturous screaming vocals to generate an almost doom-laden mood. Nonetheless, “Verwüstung/Invoke The Dark Age” is an album that should appeal to all fans of Black Metal, as it still maintains many of its traditional traits. Although not as harshly produced as, for example Darkthrone, the sound of the album is clearly primitive and relatively unpolished, with even the keyboards sounding quite coarse in the overall mix. Also, tracks like opener “Universe Of Black Divine” and “Diabolic Unity” emphasise a more conventional and established Black Metal style within the album’s overall distinctive feel.
Not only is “Verwüstung/Invoke The Dark Age” an exceptionally impressive debut effort, but it is a truly unique, if not wholly underrated and unnoticed, gem from a period when mainly Scandinavian Black Metal was on the rise. Abigor offered a different stance when Black Metal’s decrees already seemed fixed and predetermined and so they should certainly not be overlooked as pioneers of intelligent experimentation within the genre.
Originally written for http://www.blastwave.co.uk