Retrospective: Abigor – Opus IV (1996)

A stylistic example of shredding, ripping, lacerating 90s black metal, Abigor‘s Opus IV is a descent into veritable snowblinded madness. A challenging listen not in the sense of later Abigor works where threads of narrative development get arrogantly upended just because they can be, but due to its overwhelmingly suggestive musicality, redolent of a wide variety of moods and sensibilities, from the pastoral to the virulently hateful, and frequently in the same breath, too. It is some irony that T.T., the more outspoken of this duo, has in recent times plumped in favor of black metal breaking away from the cliche Norwegian sound. And with good reason, too, for anything that becomes a by-rote representation of an artform – especially in the mainstream – to a degree that it obscures all other expressions of that artform, rings, unbeknownst to it, the death knell for the genre. Black metal is dead, has been for a long time, so goes a particular school of opinion, mine included; the likes of Abigor in recent times, however, have taken that assertion as a challenge to diversify, to bring in influences from outside the original ambit of black metal, nay, heavy metal itself, while retaining the darkness that distinguished it in the first place.

Noble as that rebellious objective is, whether it has been successful is a different topic altogether. The Norwegian sound may be a cliche, susceptible to abuse in the hands of less conscious practitioners enamored simply and only by its more melodic overtures, but there is also a reason why it has gathered such traction in the hearts and minds of metalheads at large, that reason being the access to the vast reservoir of feeling that its melodically-grounded framework affords. For all its dark esoteric-cinematic pretensions, modern black metal struggles to musically identify with the human element at the center of existence. For an age as herd-minded and robotic as this, that may yet be its ultimate triumph, but what is black metal if not the almost-imperceptible shifting of the senses from the phenomenal (i.e. the musical, the melodic) into the numinous and the supranatural, an ascent, or a descent, through degrees towards the dwarfing realization of our insignificance in the face of…what? The mind, the soul, the heart, the universe, God? The treasure, as always, lies concealed in the crevices of this transition, but what treasure to seek, much less find, when the ground on which transitions arise itself is barren and singly-hued?

Opus IV, however, is replete with transitions, residing inside an ensorcelled snow globe, changing from the picturesque to the malign like only a force of nature can. Undoubtedly, there is a restless spirit at work within these songs, wanting to express as much and in as many ways as it can conceive of. Splintered is one word that comes to mind: this is an album of multiple facets, each showing itself only fleetingly, yet it is far from disjointed; it has an acute sense of contrast, of proximately orienting even the most disparate musical phrases, walking a tightrope between intuitive seeking and lusting overreach. Furious, too, in the sense of a candle burning at both ends, drinking in the oxygen of life to the limit, while exuding an inspirational ideal, to live, to live well, to live to the fullest.

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