Abigor have been around for a long time. Since ’93 they’ve added layer after layer of experimentation to their black-metal foundation. They’ve never settled for one truly defining style. Satan has always been at the heart of their aesthetic, but musically they’ve shot between most of the blackened subgenres. Abigor‘s previous full-length, 2014’s Leytmotif Luzifer, was an unorthodox and atmospheric affair that relied on dissonance and ambient-noise. 2012’s Time is the Sulphur in the Veins of the Saint utilised the 20-minute song format to present their chaotic, abstract, dark ambient infested sound. 2007’s Fractal Possession relied more on a hyper, space-age tone that ran through the album with a schizophrenic intensity. Their 90s output had an old-school second wave approach, tightly structured and layered with mystical ambience. Höllenszwang (Chronicles of Perdition) is the Austrian band’s tenth full-length. Nobody knows what to expect anymore.
You can get the gist of the record from the first five seconds of opener “All Hail Darkness and Evil.” It’s a mangled and withered tourniquet of Darkthrone-esque menace, Mayhem-esque mayhem, and softer, atmospheric chord movements. The old school second wave tone is strikingly clear to hear. The production is thick, full and layered in crust. Vocalist Silenius (the driving force behind fellow Austrian juggernauts Summoning) puts on a gnarled vocal masterclass, sneering and gargling with a rough and gruff freedom that drenches the album in, um, evil. “All Hail Darkness and Evil” opens with Silenius’ rough, isolated growls before the song crackles into life. Twisting riffs, sudden cuts to bass-led marauding, and jazzy drum fills merge at the foreground whilst choral elements and softer key sections throb in the background. It’s theatrical and melodramatic, not taking itself necessarily too seriously, but remaining dense and bludgeoning with its constant string of impressive riffs, bass work, and drumming. The feeling is loose and improvisational – Höllenszwang is the musical equivalent of navigating a fog-filled, demon-infested labyrinth.
“Sword of Silence” continues this further. Drummer T.T utilises strange sounding wooden percussive elements, tapping along at his kit like a blackened Neil Peart. P.K, lead guitarist and bassist, delivers a cascade of dissonant riffs, glorious grooves, and deft shards that merge to create a disorienting and fulfilling listen. Vocal samples from what sounds like straight-to-VHS Italian horror movies litter the album. “Black Death Sathanas,” a steadier affair that unravels at a menacingly slower pace, begins with the sophisticated proclamation of ‘Satan!’ from an unknown narrator. In the riff-extravaganza “Christ’s Descent Into Hell” the manic laughing and incantations of a seductive European temptress asks us to ‘think of his body, torn by the nails, the blood oozing over his hands, which twitched with every horrid blow – and he suffered.” During this speech, the sound of hammers on metal, spitting, and bells, merge with melodramatic wonder. It captures the essence of Höllenszwang perfectly.
‘The Cold Breath of Satan’ is chanted with an eerie lightness in, you guessed it, “The Cold Breath of Satan.” During slower songs like this, Abigor spread their crooked and peculiar sound with greater aplomb. The structure falls apart during the song’s end, sounding like a more melodic mix of Dodheimsgard and Deathspell Omega as shorter shards of instrumentation are shaped by clever use of gaps and silences in the sound. What makes this album so great can also be seen as being a minor limitation. Rare incoherence and a lack of hook can hinder a song. “None Before Him,” the middle song of the album, fails to live up to the standards of the opening and closing songs, adding little depth to the album. Follow up “Olden Days” reignites proceedings though. It lingers at a more depressive level, with Silenius’ vocals – at their frothing best – dragging above a wash of dreary and doom-laden sound.
P.K and T.T, who have been the duel driving force of Abigor since the early 90s, are incredible musicians with incredible ideas. In the past these ideas may have been too ambitious. But with Höllenszwang Abigor have placed songwriting and succinctness prominently at the front of their minds. It is a great success because of this. At 36 minutes the album is short and sweet, lacking over-indulgence and superfluity. Riffs could even be dragged out at times, things taken a bit slower, but less is more, as someone once said.