There was a time before the Internet when musicians were scary. Glen Benton was an animal killing, Satan-worshipping maniac instead of an angry divorcee. Slayer were about to slit open a woman’s throat, all in spikes and leather instead of looking like they are on line at Chuck E. Cheese’s in a Spongebob t-shirt. The only scary person left in extreme music now that GG Allin is dead is Gaahl from Gorgoroth/God Seed and I’ve been too out touch to not know if he’s considered frightening these days. Abazagorath are from Wayne, NJ – strip mall central – yet, despite hailing from suburbia, they’ve crammed so much dark atmosphere, creepy melody and downright nastiness into these ten tracks that black metal actually sounds evil again. They’ve been around almost two decades, but have only released three long players and a handful of splits, EP’s and demos and have been consistently good, but on The Satanic Verses they’ve reached a new level of intensity.
I’ve spent most of my formative years searching for extremity to the point that I missed entire movements in culture because my head was so buried in underground books, movies, and music. Now, at 40 years old, when an album makes my skin crawl, it sparks the excitement I felt when I went into my neighborhood tape store back in ’84 and bought a cassette copy of Cirith Ungol‘s King of the Dead. 33 years of extremity later and Abazagorath have blessedly cursed me with another sick thrill, long after I stopped expecting to find one.
On The Satanic Verses, Abazagorath have taken the style prevalent in the 1990s and made it vital again. Opener “Mahound” kicks off in very traditional Scandinavian black metal fashion before veering into a chugging groove and USBM-levels of spite and hatred with an catchy chorus that I find myself mindlessly rasping when driving alone or robotically Swiffing the kitchen floor. Keyboards swoop in and open things up after the solo and a painfully beautiful melodic guitar line over carcinogenic blood-curdling screams mashes beauty and the grotesque to forge an absolute black metal beast. “Visions of Azrael” is another standout, containing my favorite section of the album about 2:50 in with an ominously frantic blasting section that I’d expect to hear while being cast from Heaven down to Hell. The sprawling, almost ten-minute title track and the nine-minute “Return to Jahilia” demonstrate the strength of the songwriting as, despite the length, they never feel overlong or bloated. Sadly, in this digital age, lyrics are seldom included with promos, but this is clearly a concept album about The Satanic Verses, which (according to WikiIslam), was “an incident where Muhammad acknowledged the goddesses of the Pagan Meccans in a revelation, only to later recant and claim they were the words of the Devil.” A fittingly controversial and dangerous subject for such unsettling music.
The vocals are incredibly varied. A spiteful, raspy scream is used most often, but there are also VON-like piggish grunting, Burzum-levels of shrieking, monotone gurgles straight off De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, and even a bit of clean vocals in “Return to Jahilia.” The guitar work is clean and tasteful with a great sense of melody and spectacular use of consonance and dissonance, often alongside one another, creating a jarring listening experience. The distorted rumble of the bass keeps up with the most frantic riffs and is never lost in the guitars, sitting along side them as an equally important instrument rather than an enhancement. The production has all the cleanliness of a modern studio with the atmosphere of classic black metal releases, fitting the material perfectly.
Abazagorath perform with the authority and keen ear of a veteran band, knowing when to be barbarically primitive, yet with chops enough to create black metal at a level of sophistication not possible in the genre’s formative years. If you are a jaded fan that only listens to what most consider the “classics,” The Satanic Verses is a new add to that list. If you weren’t around for the first or second waves of black metal or missed the boat entirely, this album may be just the tsunami to drown you in what was once, and now still is, so engrossing about the genre.