Anyone with a passing interest in the history of USBM would have been thrilled to see the long awaited return of black metal sorcerers Abazagorath. Their self-titled new EP, their first material in four years, more than exceeds expectations with its hellfire and brimstone delights. It’s the band’s best work yet. Twenty-two minutes of utterly bitter black metal that summons up the Scandinavian demons of yore, and fuses that with the rawness of underground USBM to create a hellish cacophony bristling with icy melodies and dissonance.
Abazagorath formed way back in 1995, releasing an underground USBM classic in the shape of 1997’s Tenebrarum Cadent Exsurgemus. They have not been the most prolific of bands. Which is understandable given their revolving line-up, and the fact that Abazagorath’s current members play (or have played) in a plethora of other outfits such as Evoken, In Memorium, Funebrarum, Ex-Immolith and Angelcide.
It’s not surprising given the band’s lineage that the EP is a magnificent example of bone-chilling and corrosive black metal—that was always going to be the case. But with the introduction of new members into the cabal, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a sense of hesitancy on the first recording with a new line-up. This is not the case. The EP remains focused on exploiting the most odious and scathing atmospheres throughout.
That’s not to say it’s a non-stop blast of noise from woe to go. Opener “Conjuring” begins with a brief flurry of melancholic acoustic guitar, before drummer Warhead lays out some measured percussion, around which Maelstrom works a melodic guitar line and solo. The song quickly kicks into rapid-fire mode, the riffs descend and vocalist Nihilist arrives to deliver his torturous shrieks—rendering that mid-tempo intro mute. But those first few minutes of “Conjuring” revel a crucial feature of the EP’s success.
It’s that juxtaposition of ferocity and melody that lies at the rotten heart of the EP, lifting it from the mire. The more sonically desolate sections on “Storms of Destruction”, “Immortals” and “Lapse” create space for the individual members’ instrumental work to shine. Particularly Nyarlathotep’s bass, which features prominently throughout, bringing some welcome thickness and injecting a little deathly roll into proceedings.
Nihilist is in fine form, gargling his way through each tune with a thoroughly iniquitous disposition. His vocals, while adhering to the time-honored tradition of being grotesque, weave around the cascading riffs and frequently undercut the more melodious passages with cruel abandon. Maelstrom’s work also shows a great deal of resourcefulness. His abrasive riffs and harmonic soloing are exemplary throughout. Whether letting rip on “Lapse”, or holding back on “Storms of Destruction”, his work is always aggressive but superbly gauged, ensuring the songs remain individually distinctive and their specific emotive weight is keenly felt.
Warhead attacks his kit with all the vigor required, but rather than relying on straightforward force, he provides a few more complex fills, giving the EP’s melodic sections significant percussive depth. All this talk of melody doesn’t mean the EP is not blazingly fast and fuming—”Immortals” contains some wonderfully unremitting and scouring passages. This is orthodox black metal, after all, and the songwriting reflects the band’s desire to channel all its misanthropy in a familiar way.
That’s not to imply the EP is generic or obtuse. All the songs are cleverly spiced with intricate flashes of more developed riffs and spiraling solos—ensuring the tunes are always evolving and, most importantly, always interesting. It’s something the production emphasizes well, managing to retain all the gritty primitiveness of underground metal, but leaving enough clarity in the mix so all the rough-hued nuances are audible.
Ultimately, the EP is magnificently diabolic, and an admirable addition to the USBM canon. The obvious question is, where to next for Abazagorath? Hopefully, they capitalize on the momentum they’ve established here with a full-length very soon. While the EP sits firmly within some staunch parameters—this is a release heavily influenced by traditional second-wave black metal—the band ensures there’s nothing uninspired about its contents. They’re willing to cut back on the explicit belligerence occasionally and mine the possibilities of a more solemn aesthetic, meaning the EP’s balance between melody and malevolence sits at the core of its strength. Highly recommended for fans of frosty ferocity.
(Abazagorath EP is out on No Visible Scars)