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It takes a lot of talent and a very clear mind to pull off a great joke. And as you might know, often times a truly great trickster holds a very serious, more self-conscious side to their craft which is only visible on fringe and scarce works. Such is, I believe, the case with most of Abruptum. The creators of the unexpectedly flawless tribute to trickery and self-parody that was Vondur's Striðsyfirlýsing (perhaps, and if you can stomach it, you should give my review for that album a light read before continuing reading this) make a case in favour of my aforementioned theory with their earlier and perhaps better known (for better or for worse) project, seemingly directionless and tryhard but undoubtedly experimental project Abruptum.
And what is, more or less precisely, the nature of this project? Well.... Let me put it this way: This is free black metal, or rather, improv black metal. All the elements that make black metal black metal are here, but they'recompletely free and semi-random, both structurally and performance-wise. They managed to distill the essence of the genre without making direct reference to them; without actually including them. I don't think, by my count, that you'll find more than five continuous seconds of blastbeats and/or tremolos. I don't think you'll hear any hint towards the Romantic period that influenced the second wave so much, nor the thrasy/crude death metal aura that defined the first wave.
This album and their subsequent efforts (excluding everything from De Profundis Mors Vas Cousumet onwards) are the only thing I could define as "noise ambient" without joining that awful trend of putting two or more words from different genres/subgenres/styles, both within and without metal together and call it a "new genre". Guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and black metal vocals are all here, performed in a chaotic, skin ripping and soulcrushing fashion; there is no proper rhythm or melody to be found, at least most of the time. To add to the "free black metal" description, I'll say that, If the more accepted definition of post-rock is "music performed with rock instruments that uses rhythms, timbres and structures not associated with rock music", then THIS, this is real post-black metal. Not black metal mixed with post rock nor adherent to second wave post-rock* sound aesthetics, but actual post-black metal. That which comes after it. That which truly offers a new sound to it without drifting away from it enough so as to be considered something else entirely.
But let us now be more specific. First I'd like to say that I picked this album as a representative of the bulk of Abruptum's offerings. Their early EPs and demos are no less radical and experimental**, but they're far from displaying the aspects I'm here to discuss. And I didn't choose any of this album's followups simply because this one came first and established basically all the elements that we'll find on subsequent albums. These reasons lead me to believe that this is their most significant release, even if personally I think their second full-length is their most "successful" (that is to say, accomplished within the mindset of the authors) and cohesive effort.
At first listen, years ago, I disregarded it as random noise, as a joke, product of bad taste and a poor sense of humour. I didn't pay much attention to it, perhaps because I was either expecting romantic and blistering second wave black metal, or a more streamlined, Nortt-esque form of funeral black metal. I was very new to music in general back then; inexperienced and far from knowledgeable regardless of genre, so I wasn't used to the more experimental sides of what I like to call guitar-centered music, but after years of exploring, studying and subsequently becoming enamoured with the more experimental and vanguardist examples of music from the last, uh, two hundred years I think, I came back to this band with fresher eyes and a wider worldview. Almost immediately I realised that these two silly swedes had (quite possibly literally) stumbled their way into a masterpiece of the genre.
The album consists of two side-long, ~25 min. tracks of pure, relentless black metal without actually including any passage, composition or hint that resembles the usual and seemingly non-negotiable elements of the second wave canon. So why call it black metal? Bear with me. Imagine the genre; imagine black metal as a painting or a sport or an architectonic structure or any other work of art for a moment. Imagine all the elements that make it what it is and make it not-something-else. That which both defines and differentiates something. Imagine everything from the foundations to the purely ornamental elements. Now take away everything. Take away the colours, the canvas, take away the foundations, the plumbing, take away the rules and the time, the signs and symbols, the materials and the process, take away the idiosyncratic elements of whatever particular architectonic style or discipline it represents. Leave only the naked skeleton, the ethereal and very much personal and often intransmissible body that occupies whatever work you've just disarmed in your mind right now, as long as you've been following me on this thought experiment. That which remains when the more earthly elements have been done away with, the hunger that preceded the cooking; the dream, the idea, the urge and itch that preceded creation. That is what you'll find here. The very essence of second wave, norse black metal distilled to its basic essence instead of its basic elements. This is Abruptum. The Ghost of Black Metal.
But it does go beyond the limits of the essence of the genre it thoroughly deconstructed back when it was still relatively fresh out of the oven (much like what PiL's First Issue or Wire's Pink Flag did to Punk Rock), because emanating from the bleeding cracks, the damp holes and the variety of festering wounds that this album displays like war trophies comes something else altogether. I hinted at the noise ambient idea earlier on because that's as close as words will get me from this massive gas giant that comes snowballing towards the listened from the first instant the album gives way to its meaty content. I'm talking about the kind of aural avalanche that sweeps both your ears and your perception of time. Something that affects you at a level you don't quite understand, like Coil's Time Machines or Tangerine Dream's Zeit. There is a very real phenomenon of time distortion within works like the ones I've mentioned in this paragraph. Something so massive and seemingly shapeless, endless and drunk on the elusive fruit of the Constant Present that is time, is bound to drag you with it, to the point where you cannot keep track of the passing minutes and everything becomes one huge, boundless Now with no visible horizon. That's possibly the strongest, or at least the more discreetly effective character playing its role on this album.
Quite obviously the final product was the result of a rather uniform mix of chance, hazard and premeditation, as there truly is an art in "organising" chaos (or at least swerving it towards the general area of your chosen path). But it's in that hazard where the final charm of this work lies. The reaction the metal community might have expressed towards this work, especially one as elitist and afraid of change as black metal seems to be most of the time, must not have been unlike the reaction the jazz community had in store for works like Coltrane's Ascension or AMM's AMMMUSIC. Seemingly formless, pointless, random noise performed by a number of musicians with no consideration for tempo, synchrony or their fellow bandmates' performance. Now, in the case of Coltrane, we know that's not the case. In the seminal free jazz album Ascension, we're treated to complexity that borders on ecstatic randomness but never quite crosses the line. In the case of AMM it's a mixture of said disregard for shape and tempo with a very tight and reciprocate performance, with each musician playing along with (and playing off) the other, even during the truly chaotic moments. In the case of Abruptum's Obscuritatem [...], we get a more explicit compromise with hazard. Being a duo, this shows not to be excessively problematic. It is very easy to perform chaotically and still retain some level of cohesiveness when it's just you and some other bloke. Now, whether this was intentional, the product of hidden genius and sudden revelation, or a happy coincidence, a completely unexpected successful byproduct of two men resolved to fuck around is certainly up for debate. But all evidence, both the daring nature, amazing end result and overall complex-in-its-simplicity-ness of Abruptum, and the razor sharp wit and completely self-aware parody of Vondur, all the way to the higher echelon of artistic-minded metal that is home to Ophthalamia, it is hard not to notice (and even harder to outright deny) the talent and potential these two entities that are IT and ALL possess, even if the latter only made it in this band as far as 1991.
Quick summary and conclusion: Within, around and surrounding this seemingly random mix of wailing distorted guitars which present no melody nor sense of continuation (nor solace), everchanging but engaging drumming which can go from a crawling funeral doom tempo to the rare bronze-saturated blastbeating to marching tempos and outbursts of what I hesitate to call "soloing" to the strange and sparsely distributed FX which includes keyboards and vinyl fuckery, to the dually echoing, decently ranged vocals, growls, shrieks, gargles, guttural deathly sounds, lies an essence that cannot be explained nor dissected, but only hinted at or alluded indirectly. This essence is the very extraction of that which most of us understand when we say "black metal". In this album, within this band, this essence is free of any and all restrictions, forms and conventions. This essence is plainly free. That is basically the gist of my fleeting point: This is Free Black Metal.
*Think GY!BE, Mogwai, DSMT and their numerous clones.
**Think funeral doom tempos applied to a mix of black and death metal that manages not to sound like either, nor like a very segmented, heterogeneous mix of both as tends to be the norm. Like a more distorted, heavier and overall darker version of the "dark metal" style pioneered by bands like Bethlehem, only some five years prior and with a more sinister, abysmal effect.
When you think of black metal, the first bands that come to mind are Mayhem, Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, Darkthrone, and many others. One band you might hear of is a sort of obscure band named Abruptum. I say obscure because I doubt many people will listen to noise that makes you want to go out and murder. Abruptum is not music one little bit. It may feature instruments, but this is used to heightens the evil in your mind.
This album, titled "Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectére Me", is a very good example of that statement. The album is one 52 minute song, broken into two parts/tracks. Track one is titled Obscuritatem Advoco and track two is tiled Amplectere Me. Both of these songs are, as I said, in no way, shape or form music. You might hear guitars, bass, drums, and the occasional Latin, but the majority of the noise you hear is band members IT and Evil torturing themselves. This is like taking an acid trip on whatever Dante was on.
There really isn't much in this album to review because it is nothing but men being tortured with the background of guitars and drums. This is one of those things to not do alone or in the dark, let alone both as repeated listening can cause seizures, homicidal thoughts, as well as other bad things. On a lighter note, the artwork on the cover is pretty cool.
If you wish to hear what Hell might sound like, this the album to buy. It's fairly cheap and is available at your local Amazon.com, so follow the link on the side to one of the various sites. And once you buy it, listen, listen to the noise of evil.....
What we have here is the departure of Abruptum part one and with a dirty, bloody fist, Evil and It unleash Abruptum, the second and subsequent chapters. Let us look at what we have here: an album of noise, consisting of sludgy guitars, random screams, groans & yelps, strange sound effects & drums which seem to have no sort of obvious direction.
No one within the black metal circle was making this sort of music (if you can call it that?) and that had to be their unique selling point, for want of a better phrase.
Here is where they left behind the demos of old which were death like in their approach and started this pattern (which ironically, has no pattern) of noise. There isn't much to add that others before me haven't already described, but here, on their first full length, it is just that. Random noises, varied drumming, screams in a raspy or high pitched style. Some death like growls with reverb and added effects, all accompanied with sporadic guitars.
This is their finest moment and in my opinion, this is a fuck off in the face to people who think/say that music should follow certain rules to make it audible and enjoyable. I am not a fan of noise per se, yet I have always liked this album. I think the fact that this seems completely unpalatable to almost everyone makes it even more desirable!
I prefer their debut to the later releases as it's more grungy and filthy in its attack. It is relentlese and ugly and I can see exactly why Øystein Aarseth would've signed them to DSP. It stands for everything he believed in! Non conformist... It's not black metal as such, yet it signifies exactly what black metal used to stand for! An unacceptable form of metal, played for the chosen ears that can decify the beauty within!
To piss off EVERYONE you know, get this and play it loud! It makes no sense, which is why it's so good!
I find that Abruptum are an oft misunderstood band. On the one hand you've got raving fans declaring that they're the epitome of true evil, absolute audial torture and anyone who doesn't like them must fear Satan, and on the other hand you've got naysayers denouncing them as moronic, talentless and horrendously overrated. Well I think both are pretty much wrong. There are some other qualms I have with Abruptum's status in the black metal scene in general, most of all the fact that they get called black metal at all (which I blame primarily on their association with Euronymous and his Deathlike Silence label). Furthermore a lot of the hype surrounding this band is just annoying bullshit, such as the claims that the singer was actually being tortured and his screams are completely genuine, or that putting on an Abruptum album will make you go into a Satanic trance and kill everyone. I mean gimme a fuckin' break.
Anyhow... on their demos and the "Evil" EP (collectively the "Evil Genius" CD) they were essentially death metal, or black/death metal at the most. Their style at that point, while still bizarre and disjointed compared to many bands was still death metal at its core. For their first full-length release they went astray from any basic genre distinction. The only thing you could call it is improvisational black/death metal. And I mean completely improvised, I doubt any of this stuff had been written beforehand. The album is split into two roughly half hour parts rather than songs. Most often the album follows a basic structure in which a drum beat comes in (and I really like the recording on the drums, it's very powerful and primitive) and then a heavy filthy chord rings out over it, sometimes working into sections of basic heavy riffs and pounding drums, but often sinking into disarray. A great deal of the album is sunk into more minimal and purely improvised parts not resembling normal song structures. This is where most of the criticism of the album comes from. In these parts they'll play disjointed notes and chords and drum beats beginning and then falling apart or going into a blasting frenzy at random and stopping abruptly. The vocals are all over the map too, varying between lower death metal grunts, higher screams, and strange off-key chanting and moans. Everyone involved is just going into a frenzy, and it's something you will rarely find in any band associated with black or death metal that isn't emulating Abruptum. The sound production here is actually quite clean, or at least much moreso than one would expect for a cult early 90s "black metal" release. Played at high volumes the drums absolutely pound and in the heavier guitar sections it's quite a sound to be heard. Understandably, the problem many people have with this band is that rather than sticking to the more structured death metal sound of their earliest material they stray off into cacophonous improvisation for the larger part of their first three albums.
Abruptum is quite an interesting band, but fuck the hype and fuck the naysayers. For those who are into sick, heavy, filthy and disgusting mayhem it's just what the doctor ordered. That being said I understand the criticisms and why so many people would stray away from their first three full-length releases and prefer the disgusting death metal found on "Evil Genius". Also I should mention that this stuff being called "dark ambient" is a piss off. Dark ambient has just become a cop-out for anything different that's supposed to be related to black metal. Although admittedly their final album should probably be called dark ambient. But I don't like that shit.
Disbanded Stockholm band Abruptum played a style of free-form black metal that predated later post-metal trends, and as such clearly has no idea how to go about it. One of the smellier releases to come from the respected Deathlike Silence Productions, owned by murdered Mayhem guitarist Euronymous and responsible for launching such notable black metal acts as Enslaved in the early nineties, Abruptum’s first album caters more towards avant-garde noise enthusiasts than black metal fans, entirely lacking the ambience or artistry that would have taken it to a much higher level, or made it anything other than an insult to the eardrum and cochlea.
Contrary to popular opinion, this fifty minute mess-around, split into two tracks for no reason other than to cater for the vinyl market (because, like, this would sound so much better if you bought the authentic 12”), is actually music, performed by the usual black metal instruments of guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and snarling voice, and grounded in regular rhythms and repeated riffs. It takes several minutes of listening to raise suspicion that something is awry, as the instruments slowly form themselves into something resembling the usual introductory song of an album evoking a dark atmosphere, but it’s more a realisation that the song is simply going nowhere than a reaction against an alienating avant-garde sonic extravaganza in the style of John Zorn. ‘Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectére Me’ is a seemingly improvised lengthy recording that goes absolutely nowhere and, despite its obvious intentions, fails to evoke any kind of atmosphere other than disappointed boredom and restlessness.
There are many bands, inside and outside black metal, that concern themselves with creating dark, mournful or hateful atmospheres at the expense of technical accomplishment, and many albums that succeed tremendously. Abruptum have the excuse of forming a relatively new (though inevitable) niche in the burgeoning black metal market, but I find it hard to imagine anyone being truly engrossed in this pointless, amateurish music, or finding it truly evocative of hell, hate and despair, which was clearly the band’s intention. Burzum’s compositions from the same era were long-winded and repetitive, but truly distressing and terrifying, as well as being damn catchy. Later bands such as Black Funeral released albums entirely composed of evil incantations and endlessly cyclical inhuman noises which I find similarly unpalatable, but at least provide something to go to sleep to (especially keeping fingers crossed for a nightmare). Even the most comparably boring and tedious album-length compositions of bands such as Monolithe succeed in dragging the listener into their depressing world for at least twenty minutes or so before ears start to itch, but I got bored of this far sooner, and loaded up a game of ‘Columns’ while the remaining forty minutes or so plodded on to an unsatisfying conclusion. The only real change is that IT’s vocals become more vomit-sounding towards the end, which is just unpleasant. The moans and yells allegedly record the band members cutting and injuring each other, the f***ing idiots.
IT and Evil (real names Tony Särkkä and Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson, not that they’d want you to know that) mess around on their instruments with no sense of direction whatsoever, resulting in something weakly experimental when compared to things like Naked City, and too distracting to create or maintain any atmosphere or mental image other than two blokes in face-paint wasting time in a studio. Assuming that over-dubbing was necessary to layer all the instruments, it means they actually listened back to this and played along, at no point thinking, “hang on, this is just complete rubbish isn’t it? What the hell are we doing?” The sound quality is very impressive for such an underground release, making this seem like even more of a waste. Nothing is drowned out in the noise, and it accurately captures the changes of intensity as the drums and guitars speed into a brief fast section before getting bored and slowing down again, knowing they’ve got thirty or so minutes more of this crap before they can get back to playing ‘Super Mario World.’ There is one single piece of studio trickery employed in the form of arbitrary fade-out and fade-in sections that serve no purpose whatsoever, other than perhaps to give the musicians an undeserved break, and although this music is particularly suited to loud volume, the risk of anyone catching you listening to it will probably act as a deterrent. Unless of course, you’re seeking to cultivate a false sense of intrigue from your flatmates, hoping that listening to tedious noise makes you seem interesting.
‘Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectére Me’ was obviously intended as a revolutionary and rebellious album from stupid young Satanists that ends up sounding more like the contractually obligated filler churned out by more famous artists, Vangelis’ worthless ‘Beaubourg’ being foremost on my mind. Evil released a remastered version on his own BloodDawn label in 1999, but you shouldn’t by that either. It is rubbish.
Have you ever felt the compulsive need to slice your wrists or those of all the people around you? Have you ever truly gazed into the Abyss? Have you seen the crimson demon wings demanding utter obedience and urging your pathetic waste of flesh to commit unspeakable atrocities? This album gives me just that. From the very first second you get plunged into the darkest depths of Satan's Hellish empire. Darker than black and infinitly more bloody than all the gore bands combined, this is extremely wicked and unpleasant. The chaos and pain that It and Evil have put to tape is so vile that mere human words fail to describe the sheer evil that drips from my stereoset. All things unpleasant and distasteful suddenly become very rewarding. In this trip of blasphemy and intolerance all that is human gets stripped from your soul until there is a bleeding corpse left. Upon closer viewing you realize that the corpse is you. This album is pain, suicide, rape, torture, violence, intolerance, war, all things evil into one burst of negative emotions. There is no way anyone can review this album with a musical point of view. How can you give a musically based judgement on something that is not, nor tries to be, music? The rating above is simply a matter of taste. Very effective to be played at maximum volume in a completely lightless surrounding. It will truly kill your sanity.
I don't know where to start. First of all, this is not music, it's directionless noise. Some noise recordings are okay because they can be somewhat hypnotic, therefore giving them at least some value. This sounds like a couple of dumbasses improvising with guitar and drums, but without trying to play anything at all. Of course you can't forget the keyboards and "vocals." They are just as stupid since the keyboards just sound like someone is playing them with their face and the "vocals" make me think of someone trying to sound like they are evil and in pain while someone shits in their mouth. I can't believe Aarseth would waste his money releasing this garbage. At least he did manage to scoop up a few good artists like Sigh, Mysticum and Enslaved. This album in no way sounds evil, but it sure as hell tries. You could cut off both of your ears and slam your head in a car door a couple of times and it will still sound better than this piece of shit.
From the genius behind Opthalamia and to a lesser extent War, It, comes an album so completely out of sync with anything ever before released under a black metal nominator, that indeed it is a hard thing to review.
Why? Because this isn't music anymore, this is audio Hell. This pure damnation drizzling through your speakers.
Where most music seems a way for either the musician or the listener to deal with pain and inner turmoil, Abruptum loose themselves completely in the horror and pain they (say they) endure. Abruptum is an amplifier for pain and suffering. This is actually what it would sound like when Neurosis or even Esoteric would get REALLY depressed.
I'm not even sure the term metal aplies anymore, this is Noise with the atmosphere of some of the more grim and somber Black Metal Albums (try Burzum times ten).
It is in any case an interesting album and deserves the Cult status is has achieved over the years.
Not for the weak hearted.