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Abruptum - Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectére Me - 100%

Avestriel, January 26th, 2013

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.