Abigor, part II
by Niklas Göransson
In a continuation of last week’s exchange – TT of Austrian veterans Abigor offers further musings on both the historical and contemporary ailments of black metal, including how to remedy the situation and return under ground.
The first part can be found here. During the course of my preparatory research, I came across a semi-recent interview which, as the observant reader will notice, proved highly fruitful for crafting talking points. I noticed with interest how TT called for a revival of this ’true versus fake’ business which was a big part of the nineties black metal narrative. ’Agitation is healthy, let´s throw out the mentally and artistically weak’, was one of his recommendations.
– Note that we are now in a situation where the greatest upcoming artists are unable to secure the studio budget they need, while self-declared guardians of morality try to control what people listen to by overwhelming all available channels – flooding them with shit. All this shapes the core of our art, mark my words.
Enforcement of scene dogmas took a rather hands-on approach during the underground concerts of Stockholm in the nineties and early 2000s – and for those fortunate enough to experience this in formative years, it came to define the entire feeling around black metal. Something as simple as dress choice could prove seriously thin ice for the newcomer. Balance was key; flaunting the logo of an unapproved band was good cause for a walloping, while wearing a shirt from one of the particularly revered acts without sufficient metal cred could see the suspected poser both beaten and shirtless.
– Precisely what I was referring to. Thrash and death metal gigs here in Vienna between 1989 and 1991 were also pretty dangerous to attend – fistfights almost every time. Especially for me, coming from the countryside, chances were high you’d end up with a fist in the face from one of the Viennese guys. During concerts, they started to randomly pick out guys and beat them up. How is it in Stockholm these days?
My interviewee will no doubt be delighted to learn how the wrong choice of attire can still generate discourse. Alas, gone are the days of bullet-belts-to-the-face followed by confiscation of the offending garment; today’s youth rages on their podcasts after spotting BURZUM shirts at a black metal gig.
– Good! In all fairness, wearing a BURZUM shirt should actually mean something – it´s not just music but also comes with murder, arson, racism, and so on. Same goes for old EMPEROR shirts; Faust killed a gay man, Samoth publicly supported fascism, and they celebrated everything hostile against humanity with their ZYKLON B project.
TT proclaims this an inescapable heritage of black metal; eternally coded into the music of the time and no amount of whitewashing efforts will ever cleanse those old masterpieces from the raw, destructive, and evil energies that spawned it. Regarding the revival he’s on about, most of the concert pugilists of the time are in their late thirties and early forties now – and I’m unsure how many would still be willing to put their freedom and health at risk to protest someone’s musical preferences.
– Firstly, you must understand what this trivial-sounding ’someone´s musical preference’ means in the bigger picture. Black metal was never restricted to melodies and rhythms, everything has a deeper significance. Boring music coupled with stolen visuals and fake bearings rule our art-form in numbers, public perception and media representation.
This is just the top of the pyramid, he decrees, and the very structure it rests on is compromised – infiltrated from top to bottom.
– Labels, media outlets, distributors and everything else with a vested business interest in the genre – they are pillars in this edifice of corruption. Their vile apparatus exploits a movement that grew organically for the first twenty years – until the end of the 00s, when all black metal except NSBM finally became mainstream.
Had this issue been restricted to poor records, TT reckons he wouldn’t have cared all that much – but these minor annoyances are in fact mere symptoms of the cancer itself. He laments what he sees as the doom of a once strong and independent underground – one that thrived well past the millennia in labels such as End All Life, WTC Productions, Northern Heritage, and so forth.
– This separated underground is destroyed today, and do you want to know why? The blame lies on this ’why should I care, I´m a badass motherfucker anyway’ mind-set, espoused by certain individuals who I ten years ago predicted were paving the way for this. Ego growth is not the be-all and end-all idea of satanic black metal.
Had the confrontational atmosphere of the old days persisted, he adds, the undesirables would have never dared set foot at a real black metal event.
– The entire hooligan element is missing. Let us disregard all higher spiritual aspirations for a moment – isn’t it more fun to live by the sword? I can, however, certainly relate to having enough of a lifestyle with one foot in prison.
So you’re no longer patrolling the local scene, vigilant for signs of subcultural apostasy?
– My behaviour in public is mitigated by the balance of wanting to keep what I built, versus the need to cleanse my view from the shit-faces. It’s restraining of course, knowing that one could end up incarcerated if the opponent happened to fall in the wrong way.
TT states that this is precisely what he was referring to with the climate of early nineties black metal, the ’no tomorrow’ attitude where such concerns were never voiced.
– We didn’t give a shit and had nothing to lose, and this approach created something very different and pure. Obviously, most of us have built small worlds around ourselves in the past twenty-plus years – unlike the reckless teenagers of yesteryear.
The key to turning this unfortunate development around, he says, is reversing the fact that extremism has fallen out of fashion.
– Look at how perception shifted to the better when Euronymous took those photos and collected pieces of Dead´s (MAYHEM, MORBID) cranium. These acts were nothing less than a black metal representation of the mind’s dark abyss, and we all hailed it! We bought the iconic “Dawn of the Black Hearts” and wanted our own piece of the skull.
”Dawn of the Black Hearts” is a 1995 bootleg album with the vocalist’s post-mortem photo on the cover.
– Today, all the ’good friends’ of Pelle are crying and expressing moral indignation over how emotionally cold and reprehensible Euronymous was. Because black metal draws its strength and inspiration from altruism and empathy with friends, right?
I’ve read quite a few of TT’s musings on the cast of characters from the old Scandinavian black metal scene, and couldn’t help but recall other recollections which contrast ever so slightly to the impression he conveys.
– I have no ’impression’ of them as you’re implying, this is no subjective matter – and it´s not my opinion but a damn fact. This topic comes up so often that I´m sick and tired of having to explain the MAYHEM legacy to rookies and bigmouths, in 2017 no less. As a friend once told me in a discussion about disrespectful people on the internet; ’these guys belittle their own idols, hoping that pissing on the great will make themselves appear even greater’.
TT says that what transpired was entirely in line with what Dead sang about, described in letters and called for in interviews.
– This act fully crowned everything he aspired to be. Now, twenty-five years later, we have people whining that it was heartless, cruel and insensitive – bloody hell, sometimes I think I´m in the wrong fucking movie.
Just out of curiosity, have you read the No Fashion interview?
– Yes. MORBID, who didn’t even manage to release anything besides a few demos during their time – and then No Fashion, who acquired such a disastrous reputation he had to quit.
Before continuing, he points out that he adores MORBID’s recordings – proclaiming the ”December Moon” tape as one of the greatest things of the eighties, and that he bought all the No Fashion releases up until ’95.
– But why the hell are these people now almost thirty years later sharing their private moments, uninteresting memories and irrelevant analyses about the essence of Dead and Euronymous?
Those who then take delight in reading these ghastly fish-wife travesties draw an equal amount of TT’s ire.
– The thousands on the internet who suck in these vanities like headlines of The Sun; ’Oh look; Angelina Jolie looks thin, depressed and anorexic’. It´s exactly that – the lowest form of celebrity sensationalism. Whatever minor human weakness someone might have detected pales in comparison to what they accomplished with MAYHEM, Deathlike Silence Productions, and the concepts developed between 1989 and 1993.
Everything in post-eighties black metal, he says, originates from Dead and Euronymous.
– Should you, decades from now, persuade my two band colleagues to spill the beans on every little mundane intricacy about my person – rest assured it would be possible to build a picture which contradicts what I’ve expressed in letters, lyrics and interviews. As human beings we have several sides to us, and revealing private habits out of context is unlikely to improve the achievement of ABIGOR beyond that of my deeds, my art, and my lyrics.
The same goes for his band mates, and just about every other artist.
– I’m sure that if I interrogate enough local people about you – some will say you are a hero, and others that you’re a cunt. Instead of resorting to biased memories, one’s judgement should ultimately fall only after reading your words and thoughts – evaluation by feats.
TT suggests that if art is honest, the artist’s soul is spread wide open across it and revealing his or her true nature – it is thus to an individual’s creative output one should turn for character assessment.
– So fuck all this weak gossip. Eternal hails to the sole kings and innovators of black metal, without whom there would be no Bardo Methodology, no ABIGOR, no nothing. Christian Vikernes (BURZUM) would still play death grind in OLD FUNERAL – and probably wouldn’t even be hailing Hitler in the first place, had it not started as attempts of trumping Euronymous.
In various early interviews, Euronymous expressed support for Socialist leaders such as Joseph Stalin and Nicolae Ceaușescu.
– Dictators and tyrants, anyone bringing misery upon the human plague. Further on, without Euronymous and MAYHEM – almost no one outside of Sweden would have heard of MORBID, and the world wouldn’t know the name of Pelle Ohlin.
The visions of these two men, he says, shaped and changed the world for hundreds of thousands of individuals.
– If you’re so consumed with curiosity about their private lives, read Hellhammer´s quotes in last year´s reissue of “Live in Leipzig”. He speaks about Euronymous´ authentic belief in the Devil, how he changed and became a kind of dictator; all genuine in what he did and earlier than anyone else in the scene. We’ve already learned that Hellhammer never intentionally glorifies Euronymous, quite the contrary.
TT adds how it seems to have become a typical ’black metal 2.0’ internet sport to demystify scene royalty.
– Wait a few years and see – once enough time has passed, people will turn on the key figures of today as well. By then they will have gathered the courage to ridicule icons such as Jon Nödtveidt (DISSECTION), merely to boost their own egos. Scandalmongers and meddlers will figure out one private detail or another – then proclaim it to the world in a bid to appear relevant, believing themselves to be far above those of us who worship the achievements of these immortal artists.
The previously mentioned interview also featured some jubilation over what TT described as the renaissance of uniting the scene with ‘sinister esoteric organisations and satanic orders again’. Through the years, we’ve seen quite a few black metal councils, circles and brotherhoods – and I’m curious why their return warrants hailing.
– There were a multitude of interesting attempts in the nineties; Order of Nine Angles, Order of the Left Hand Path, The Black Order, The Balder Brotherhood, and so on. From summer sports camps with pagan lectures right through to long-existing satanic groups who still influence people to this day.
I’m not entirely sure I would regard all of the above as in any way metal related though. I’m reminded of the first ABIGOR interview I ever read – in Tales of the Macabre, where they had recently jumped ship from the Austrian Black Metal Syndicate (ABMS) in favour of a new outfit.
– That’s not comparable in any way. We were a bunch of teenage musicians in Vienna – loosely connected through the local scene and history. There was a common preference for some occult books and emerging satanic ideas stemming from the eighties, including the will to violently fight Christianity.
Most of the fighting appears to have been of internal orientation though, since many of these organisations tend to collapse following in-house drama. Case in point; in the aforementioned publication I also remember another Austrian band, PAZUZU I believe, lamenting ABIGOR’s defecting and condemning them as false.
– It was about childish political issues and ridiculous scene policies, mainly driven by a few posers hanging around like flies. Back then, we just didn’t get along with PAZUZU as well as we did later – I am now realising a worthy focus in their early efforts concerning satanic content.
TT points out that the entire ABMS thing was over and done with in a matter of months during the mid-nineties, and he hasn’t spent much time pondering it since.
– Funny how almost twenty-five years later, it somehow remains of crucial importance to certain people. This is what I get asked about in interviews, while the content of ABIGOR albums released within the past decade usually remains entirely untouched by discussion.
My groundwork included not only scourging old interviews but also stalking TT’s private Facebook profile. After a bit of reading I had to concede myself intellectually unequipped to comprehend how a grown man, who is obviously quite knowledgeable about all manner of topics, can invest a second of energy fuming over something like MYRKUR – I ask for help in understanding.
– I trust this meticulous investigation of yours also uncovered the fact that I retired my social media activity some nine months ago? The initial idea with my online agitation was to entertain myself in the online nether regions, denouncing that which needs condemning. I just copied what Euronymous and Dead and Grishnackh and Nödtveidt and everyone else did; pointing the finger at the sick excretions of the scene.
TT confesses that his occasional weakness was spending ’three sips of morning coffee’ engaged in the chastisement of metal degeneracy.
– Some people watch Hollywood films, a waste of time I personally loathe. Others watch sports which – as opposed to actually performing them, is the most senseless, inane activity a man could engage in.
He states resolutely that however laughable, the scene should never tolerate dishonest art since what follows in its wake is fundamentally harmful to black metal.
– Remember how the assembly line ’death’ metal industry was ridiculed by the emerging black metal movement? I liked this tradition, and believe it should be kept alive. People who support such lowlife shit – that go so far as to flaunt their ignorance by posting pictures of their retarded coloured ’limited editions’ as the Holy Grail of tastelessness, I don´t think they should be allowed to feel too well in doing so.
Instead, he explains, the ignorant sheep must be bluntly informed that their vacant heads bow in adulation of false idols.
– They need to know they serve as brainless consumer cattle, exploited by a cash-driven mainstream which defiles what everyone who took this seriously built over the past two and a half decades. You can however seek comfort in the knowledge that before I switch on the computer in the morning, I have my books in bed to start the day with. Perhaps this is better suited to your image of a grown-up educated man, but I stand fast in my conviction that mocking the fools every now and again is refreshing.
Speaking of mockery, some bitterness was aired in the UNPURE interview, pertaining to the cover design of their self-titled 1995 debut album. When they voiced their displeasure to the label, Austrian Napalm Records, they were told that ’Tommy from ABIGOR’ was to blame. This work of art is something bass player and vocalist Kolgrim has been ridiculed for in Sweden for the past twenty years, so I was curious if TT has any riveting reminiscence to share about its creation.
– Not much, except I remember finding it a bit weird to put a photo of your leather jacket on a black metal album – unsurprising though, since the metal supermodel covers of IMMORTAL seemed to be the flavour of the week. UNPURE’s next effort; that pastel-coloured pinkish sky, snow and bush cover which looked like a take on ARCTURUS´ ”Constellation”, wasn’t really a much luckier choice I guess.
Alas, the extravagant palette on the following year’s “Coldland” was another work of art from Napalm Records’ resident artistry – hitherto also assumed to be Herr TT.
– If you thought I had anything to do with either of them; no. I touched a computer for the first time at the turn of the millennium. I just got the physical stuff like photos and paintings and cut-out images from Napalm, and brought it to the layout companies in Vienna.
This was a time before everyone was a Photoshop wizard, and labels had to use horribly expensive layout agencies.
– For the debut album, “Verwüstung / Invoke the Dark Age” (1994), we handcrafted the fold-out booklet complete with rub-letter text and pasted images. We did the same with our demo covers, handmade and printed at a copy-shop. At least the layout guy managed to convince me to re-type the text with computer font, because at first I insisted that he just scan the handmade booklet, to be printed exactly the way it was.
This leaves us with one final old quote to take out of context and torpedo him with; in this repeatedly referenced interview, TT encouraged listeners to meditate on the albums of ABIGOR. Being somewhat inquisitively inclined, I sat down with headphones and an eye-mask – focusing on my breathing. I did not find this beneficial to awakening kundalini, so I’m curious which trance-inducing techniques are suggested for this venture and what the desired state is.
– Which album did you listen to while following my advice?
The latest one.
– Hah, he scoffs, it is hilarious envisioning you practising Eastern meditation techniques and trying to rouse your chakras by rinsing “Leytmotif Luzifer” (2014) at full volume. My encouragement really had very little to do with abusing black metal albums to practice laya yoga.
By all means, do enlighten me upon the ways of proper black metal meditation.
– I meant it as a vague blend between the Latin root word and a more general sense, corresponding to the Eastern practice just a bit. I wouldn’t recommend any one technique, as you really shouldn’t be learning to meditate while listening to black metal.
A good way to start though, he says, is to seek out a relaxed setting and fully immerse oneself in ABIGOR – embracing their work with all senses.
– Let what’s presented to you become your own – allow it to lull you into deeper levels of consciousness, and then drift away on the findings you receive from our art. Blank out everything corresponding to everyday life, and as opposed to your attempt; focus should not be on yourself but on what we present.
As it happens, it was my breathing I focused on – to disconnect from my self and give the album undivided attention. In other words, pretty much in line with the generic mindfulness instruction I was just subjected to.
– What I described sounds pretty normal, yes – but enjoying albums this way is the absolute exception today. The art of listening, as it was commonly practised in the 1970s to the nineties, got lost. You’re supposed to almost be in a state of lucid dreaming once the music ends, that’s when the ideal is reached. And this is even possible with such ’difficult’ music, as opposed to soothing oriental soundscapes.
A more personal side to TT will be portrayed in the third and final part, available in print later in 2017.