If there’s a way to positively spin spinal compression injuries, then that would be the perfect description for Höllenzwang (Chronicles of Perdition), the latest release from Austria’s Abigor. It’s a harrowing journey of a record – running the gamut from frostbitten graveside dirges to blistering calls to war – and a very fitting return to form for the duo. Probably the greatest obstacle long-running black metal bands face when delivering new music is having purists compare it to their older, pre-internet ‘kvlt’ releases. In this case, though, Abigor’s 25-year history counts for them, as this experience refines Höllenzwang into a gorgeous distillation of Satanic excess. The album easily stands alongside 2014’s Leytmotif Luzifer and favourably calls to mind their mid-90s golden age – records like Nachthymnen and Supreme Immortal Art – in terms of complexity and emotion.
Technically speaking, the characteristic layered guitars that drive the songwriting process are still firmly in place, tempered with shifting melodramatic vocals in the line of Attila Csihar. Returning guest vocalist Silenius’ dynamic range, from eerie whispers (on “Sword of Silence” and “Ancient Fog of Evil”) to rumbling spoken word (“None Before Him”) right through to unhinged screams on “Olden Days” are engaging and provocative, adding even more depth to what are already dense compositions. The occasional incidental movie samples (such as the introduction to “Black Death Sathanas – Our Lord’s Arrival”) add spice to the 1990’s flavour the whole album is steeped in. T.T.’s drumwork may not carry the machine-like precision of Frost or the technicality of Hellhammer, but relies instead on simple, effective assaults that underscore the guitar-led melody. “The Cold Breath of Satan”, for example, has an understated, minimal drum presence that nevertheless provides all the rhythmic backing needed: the feeling imparted, especially in the song’s coda, is one of respite after the blasting in the earlier parts of the song.
What really makes Abigor unique in my black metal experience is the guitar work: P.K. and T.T. are both fabulously skilled guitarists in their own right and the music they write tends to showcase this far more than traditional black metal would. The genre famously rejects death metal virtuosity in favour of raw, emotive – almost tribal – musical content, yet Abigor compositions are technical, complex pieces with multiple harmony lines that nevertheless satisfy the black metal yearning for atmosphere, evil and discord (see “Christ’s Descent Into Hell” for example). Emperor’s Ihsahn also fits this mould, evincing technical ability far beyond most black metal guitarists: but even the great riff-writers of the genre (Gorgoroth’s Infernus or Immortal’s Abbath, for instance) fail to demonstrate the twin guitar intricacy – and ferocity – of Abigor.
Höllenzwang all comes together as relentless, powerful black metal that recaptures the early 1990s second-wave spirit, but couples it with diverse, multifaceted compositions and quality production values: all in all, this is the record Abigor could have made back when they formed in 1993 in terms of attitude and aggression, but all that has been tempered with 25 years of experience and access to contemporary studio equipment. A definitive ‘best of both worlds’ album, indeed.
Höllenzwang (Chronicles of Perdition) Track Listing:
01. All Hail Darkness and Evil
02. Sword of Silence
03. Black Death Sathanas – Our Lord’s Arrival
04. The Cold Breath of Satan
05. None Before Him
06. Olden Days
07. Hymn to the Flaming Void
08. Christ’s Descent Into Hell
09. Ancient Fog of Evil
Run Time: 36:02
Release Date: January 3, 2018
Check out the band’s full new album Höllenzwang (Chronicles of Perdition).