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Interview – T.T. (Abigor)

Today in unlikely opening sentences: Philosophies of jurisprudence and the discourse surrounding black metal are quite similar. There are two competing schools of interpretation regarding legal texts—like, say, the Constitution of the United States—that often erupt into either acerbic taunting (typically from Antonin Scalia) and throat-clearing pusillanimity (typically from everyone else). Those who follow a doctrine of ‘strict constructionism’ believe that laws exist not to be interpreted, but to be applied as narrowly and literally as possible. Those who treat the Constitution as a ‘living document’ believe that judges must interpret the intended spirit of a law’s original language while acknowledging that laws written hundreds of years ago must often be adapted and amended to modern life.

Black metal is riven by the same tension. Plenty of people—practitioners and fans alike—treat the original codification of black metal with the sort of reverence that turns it into a dead museum piece. Then there are those who take the vivifying spirit of black metal—its aggression and its melancholy, its wild-eyed independence and its fierce vision—and walk with it through fires of unknown origin and past thresholds not yet imagined when the music was young. Orthodoxy can be every bit as sublime and captivating as progression, but it can also be a crutch.

Austria’s Abigor have taken a circuitous, joyfully exploratory path through black metal over the two decades of their existence. In more recent years, with the industrial inclinations of albums like Fractal Possession and Time is the Sulphur in the Veins of the Saint, they strayed far from the orthodox template that was still congealing when they began making music. And yet, the ferocity of their restlessness is what seems to mark them as a band perfectly emblematic of black metal’s power. With the recent release of their ninth full-length album (or tenth, depending on how one characterizes 2012’s Quintessence) Leytmotif Luzifer, Abigor have made yet another cogent argument that black metal is a living document. It is a breathtakingly violent and thoroughly engrossing album, at once respectful of what came before and utterly impatient with creative stagnation. It is high worship music.

I corresponded with Abigor’s Thomas “T.T.” Tannenberger to ask about the new album, the band’s evolution, and the spirit that animates his pursuit of black metal

— Dan Lawrence

The press materials in support of Leytmotif Luzifer made a point to stress that the new album was recorded and created with basically zero effects (other than reverb and delay on the vocals). Is that an indication that you were unhappy with the more electronically enhanced direction the band had taken on the last few albums?

No, not at all, but the content of the very album dictates the form. There should be coherence, ultimately a golden thread running through all the aspects that make an album. Ideally there’s unity, formed by the lyrics and the visual part, by the sound, language, mastering, ‘band pictures,’ everything has a certain task. As opposed to other artforms, in black metal this is vital for the work, and just like it should be, the sound and instrumentation on Time subordinated to the given topic. To be precise: Leytmotif Luzifer wouldn’t be imaginable with the sound and instrumentation of Time, and the other way round.

Your last album (apart from the re-envisioned release of Quintessence), Time is the Sulphur in the Veins of the Saint, was released by End All Life Productions in conjunction with Blacklodge’s T/ME album. How did that come about? Did the two bands collaborate or coordinate at all, or did the label approach both groups independently? Do you see any possibility for similar collaborative efforts with other artists?

I had big respect for their second album, Solar Kult,. We were on the same label and in contact, and the rest was natural. We talked about the topic, Blacklodge brought in the idea to write about the meaning of time from a certain perspective, and we found it an incredibly exciting topic: a work about what this dimension means in relation to the human race, in the light of theistic Satanism.

To your second question; yes, we vaguely talked about another project with two groups recently, two that I ultimately respect for their whole approach and belief, and especially for their recent works. And there should be a fourth group involved, I have an ideal candidate in mind but let’s see. We wouldn’t do an ordinary split, but a project where each group writes about the same topic, and the participating may even form a stronger relation than just the lyrics. In its execution, something that is at least of such magnitude like From The Entrails To The Dirt, but everything is just a blurry vision at the moment—it could become real but also stay just an idea.

Leytmotif Luzifer reunites Abigor with Silenius, who was the vocalist on your first four albums (but may be more familiar to listeners as one-half of Summoning). Can you describe the circumstances that led to his contributions to the new album?

Not only on our first four, but on six releases—all our old releases except the last. Even in our demo stage we were related. And recently again. Due to our friendship, it was natural to ask him to participate in the 7-inch Supreme And Immortal two years ago, marking our 20th year of releasing black metal. The result was more than satisfying for both. A year later we had the album ready and Silenius’ voice, incredibly rich in variety and expression, was the one it needed—and musically, Leytmotif Luzifer fit him, too. I guess he was interested in the experience as it brought forth new sides of his voice and new working methods, which he could use for Summoning or Kreuzweg Ost. We’re not young reckless musicians doing hundreds of projects, it was not easy to spark his enthusiasm at first and get to the point where he agreed. You shouldn’t forget: he was out of the black metal scene for many years, just remotely appearing as guest in Amestigon. But, he realized the importance of the album and the artistic profit to work on something together, and like a true artist, he fully embraced the task with everything that belongs to it. He even is informed again what developments black metal brought forth: to what deeper level it transformed compared to the early ’90s and so on. The energy and dedication left me speechless, he went beyond the borders of health with his vocal performance. He is a very weird character and great artist.

On a similar topic: Alongside Summoning, Abigor is probably one of the better-known Austrian bands.

I would say Pungent Stench and some other early ’90s death metal bands were pretty well known. Disharmonic Orchestra is another example.

Even though Europe is so interconnected, it seems like the scene in Austria may still be rather small. Do you still feel connected to that local context, or have technological and cultural developments since the early ’90s made geography irrelevant?

Fully. There hardly ever was any geographical relevance except back in 1993/1994, the early days of the Austrian Black Metal Syndicate. You know, back in the early-to-mid-’90s—and this is a weird thought compared to the internet times of today—people only had information from the releases, the flyers and the fanzines. There were rumours and you had to discover small bits, add those to one bigger picture. I almost forgot, but back then, we often were asked if Summoning was a side project—something I could re-read again recently, now that some old magazines are printed as books or spread in the net—just because Silenius was our vocalist and we released two CDs on Napalm earlier than Summoning.

People slowly discovered bands, who they were and what they stood for. Things were more mysterious and listeners were left with great imagination and their own thoughts, not spammed 24 hours a day. There was room to build myths.

So, we were the first two black metal projects in Austria, but even under the ABMS banner, there was no happiness together. Sometimes we collaborated, sometimes we fought each other. This was the scene back then: constant accusations, who is true or not, who is more serious, who betrays the cult—these were the reckless childhood days of black metal, when the characteristics of this genre were to be set and explored.

Do you want to hear an anecdote to visualize how we ticked? Two days ago Silenius told me this story. In the ’90s someone from Varathron was in contact with him, and excitedly told him he just read an interview where PK spoke badly about Silenius. Silenius just answered him in serene manner, ‘Oh yes, he knows, he does the same, we don’t like each other very much, we just create the darkest art together and that’s it, sometimes there’s just hate and misanthropy, that’s black metal.’ So, this should give you an impression about the importance of a ‘local’ scene.

Anyway, to end the story, Summoning quickly departed from BM around 1995 and started to develop their own genre, dedicated to the Tolkien world and fantasy lyrics exclusively, mixing darkwave, folk and neoclassical keyboards with distorted guitars, only keeping the black metal vocals. They rule their own kingdom, so to say. These days Protector and Silenius belong to my group of closest friends and I see one or the other almost every week. We live ten minutes walk from each other, but the internet made the whole world a village, and geographic limitations don’t have much meaning.

Abigor’s style has changed rather considerably over the years—from the more symphonic, almost medieval black metal of your early career, to the atmospheric and almost industrial sounds of Channeling the Quintessence of Satan, and then to the mechanical precision of Fractal Possession and Time is the Sulphur. How do you maintain something that still feels like black metal at its core while also trying to progress with your own music?

As diverse as Satanism could be understood, as many possibilities as you have lyrically, as dramatic was the so-called ‘change’ in the early days, too. Nachthymnen was kind of accessible, welcoming to the listener in a broadly viewed as ‘well produced,’ while Apokalypse was a rough, ugly, keyboard-less vortex throwing you directly onto the battlefield of Megiddo. Supreme Immortal Art, on the other hand, was pompous and thickly covered with additional sounds, almost like lava from hell, while Opus IV had those ice cold spheres and the timeless yet infinite black space sounds.

Not only on a macroscopic discography scale, the microcosm of Fractal Possession offers a field just as wide—if you look for such theoretic understanding of our music. the opening part of “Lair Of Infinite Desperation” wouldn’t be misplaced on an old Burzum record, while on other songs we moved further back in metal history to Iron Maiden-esque parts, and then there’s weird complex ones—you have the whole development of black metal and metal mapped out there at some points, because this is where we come from, this is our history. The defining element is the concept of an album, everything else has to be done according to that, but we can do whatever needs to be done—slow, fast, technical, primitive, it always is 100 percent black metal. This is our artform and the flesh which encompasses our music’s bones. We are black metal, and we are pure black metal, and I tell you once and for all, we are traditional black metal, because the tradition and origin of this music was always highly individual. It was rebellious and fresh and unheard of before, and there were never limits in those old days. The copycats are a relatively new and modern phenomenon. Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Rotting Christ, Mystifier, Thorns, Abruptum, Dissection, Von, Unholy, Necromantia, Master’s Hammer, Sigh, Beherit, Samael, Emperor and so on—you just needed 10 seconds to identify a band, so strong was the individuality of each group! The imitators have understood nothing of the ‘tradition’ and the old days of black metal!

Is your motivation for creating music the same now as it was when you began? That is, do you still see a clear relationship between the Abigor of 1994 and the Abigor of 2014?

The context and the coherence is as intense and direct as never before. I see Lux Devicta Est, the second demo written in 1993, as a work closer to us than ever. Some years ago I realized how much we returned to these contents, actually. We started with primitive and blasphemic wordings, but the core was unlimited devil worshipping and original music. Later, during the ’90s, we explored many topics both musically and lyrically, some successful, some not. Back then, it was part of black metal to have very emotional lyrics dealing with despair and loneliness. Burzum was maybe initiating these topics. Such things belong to the development and early stage, but in retrospect seem feeble, and we would not write something like that again. The ‘change’ came very naturally, because the history of Abigor is, at the same time, our youth and development into grown up men.

Nevertheless something was totally right in the very beginning—we were maybe less forceful with our own expression and rather listened to His words. This direct line between the early demos and the end of a period, namely 1999’s Channeling The Quintessence Of Satan, through to our present form was shown on Quintessence, the A5 digibook released in 2011 and limited to 990 copies. These roots are so strong that they are always present, no matter how much we explore the musical possibilities as mature artists.

With its formalist structure for song titles and the large amount of deep, chanted vocals, Leytmotif Luzifer feels very liturgical. From your perspective, is the album structured as some sort of mass or ritual?

That’s what you hear, and therefore ask us? Perfect, you sensed the absolute right thing. We’ve even stated it in previous interviews: Leytmotif Luzifer is an album ‘written in liturgic form,’ and at the same time it is a ‘black mass’ from first to last note. In the past years, we wrote about various topics and therefore used various sonic clothes, from philosophical aspects of theistic Satanism coupled with a razor blade sharpness in sound, to lyrics based on medieval writings and sacral art—the devil worshipping core and mashy tape sound of Channeling 2011. But this album we offer now is satanic doxology, and therefore exactly like you describe it. Everything else would not fit.

Like, when you envision old Gothic cathedrals, in your mind you hear choral chants, and don’t want anything else. While when you think of futuristic glass and metal buildings and try to find music for that, you end up with Kraftwerk maybe, but not with folk music. A great vision means coherence in word and sound!

I guess to explain the lyrics would make no sense here—they’re printed and should be read with the accompanying images in the booklet. I am sure you will fully understand what the album is about.

On Leytmotif Luzifer, it feels like there’s a bit more open space than on previous Abigor albums. The songs occasionally pause for ambient pieces, but even more than that, there are plenty of places where you pull back from the taut, highly aggressive riffing and move through almost freeform sections, where the drums feel less structured. I think it allows for greater contrast, both within and across songs. Was this an intentional part of the songwriting process?

Hard to answer. Well, we didn’t really plan the arrangement of the calm parts you speak of. Although, as opposed to previous works except partly on Time, there are some fundamental differences.

What we worked out before writing the album was this: the individual “Temptations” are composed in one continuous tempo, there is not one single tempo change within one song. Still, there are rhythmic variations, sometimes drastic ones. I’m trying to explain this in a way so that someone who isn’t into basic music theory could relate to: tempo and rhythm are totally different measures. If you beat with your fist on the table 1-2-3-4, you can do this without change from beginning to end during each song, no matter how it is rhythmically structured, no matter if the drums play slow or fast.

This approach was natural because each song represents something, musically and lyrically, one definite thing, and the steadiness and identity of a song compared to the other was very important. Yet the complete album is coherent and ongoing, moving and developing. The songs ultimately have to be listened to in the given row and context. There is the introductory part, “Temptations” 1, 2 and 3. Although the album’s opening crashes down like a storm you just had summoned, the first three songs build and lead the listener in. Then there is the main part, the clear peak, with songs 4, 5 and 6. The end of 6 already resumes something, followed by the epilogue, the long last song.

This is a clear structural bow, this is the black mass you spoke of, and I really hope the new generation of listeners has the focus and attention span necessary. That´s [the attention span] often already ruined by MP3 ´song playlists´ and random youtube skippery. For some it is already impossible to really embrace a whole album, but concentrated following throughout its whole duration is the ultimately rewarding experience, like it always should be with real albums. That´s no random compilation of songs!

The other fundamental decision composing it musically was: the songs aren’t based on huge precise riffs—each with the task to contain the whole musical world in every chord progression and melody, like you usually often try—but to create a web of guitars forming a kind of string-chamber orchestra, considering the bass, too. Simpler, more basic riffs, but a more complex guitar orchestration building on it—a wall of sound rather than every note piercing like a knife. This guitar web, plus the bass being as important, the continuous tempo and natural sound, was the foundation, and everything else just moved like the tides, came naturally. The drums, and musical ebb and flow of the arrangement, all this was a movement sparked by the very first guitar riff.

The writing and recording of a satanic black metal album is still a mysterious process, no explanation would fully describe it.

How does your work in Abigor relate to your everyday life? Is this music a release that you wouldn’t have otherwise? Or do you think of it as an extension of yourself?

The old standard black metal answer would be: you live a metal life and play this music and it’s one and the same. I rarely wear band shirts, don’t have long hair, and have a broad horizon when it comes to art. I’m not leading the cliché ’80s or ’90s metalhead life. On the other hand, we have overcome this anyway and a ‘black metal life’ means something different than it did in 1993. In 1993 you were attacked for wearing the wrong t-shirt. Having fun was always ‘wrong,’ at least in public. Now the understanding is deeper and more serious.

For sure there is no difference between T.T. in Abigor and myself. I didn’t water down my views or extremism. On the contrary, I just became more honest over the two-plus decades, I don’t pretend anything. I don’t play the violent misanthrope who only listens to black metal and enjoys snuff movies exclusively. That’s not what it is about, and it never was, for no one.

Emperor’s Samoth never was the ‘lord that never laughs’ as he called himself in earliest days. and I can only smile at those pantyhose ‘warriors’ who really try to pretend they are honorable battle lords with their sheet metal swords, who never have fights, who don’t live a hooligan life. I eat those posers for breakfast, be sure.

But on the other hand, I hate the look and approach of the so called ‘post black metal’ hipsters, the tree huggers. Between these two things I would always choose extremism and uncompromise!

I have adored Sonic Youth since the late ’80s/early ’90s, but I hate seeing Thurston Moore now being in a ‘black metal’ band. That’s simply wrong. Remember the old punk or the original hardcore scene, where ‘outsiders’ weren’t welcomed? You had to be part of the scene and live a punk life, you couldn’t just hop in because you like the music and form a band. It’s the same in black metal! if you want to play this music, you have to be part of it, fully, and be part of its ugliest sides, too, because this music was created and developed by Satanists, murderers, fascists and misanthropes. There was arson, suicides, violence—and ones who supported all this back then.

Don’t get me wrong, you could be loving father, altruist and a peaceful person, but you are playing music that still vibrates with those things and have to accept it, fully embrace it. Your hands are getting dirty. There is no nice, clean cut and now-whitewashed scene. You are playing with fire.

As listener, you can decide to glance into this world, smell the reek of danger, and get back to ‘normal life’ and goodness again, but as a black metal artist there is no way back, you have to jump and never return, otherwise you are producing fake art.

Taking everything into account, this art form is the greatest method to fully express my belief, to review and consider what I have in my mind every day, and again to develop those metaphysical worlds I’m living in as spiritual person.

So I can conclude with yes, there is no difference between my art and myself. We spread out our deepest thoughts and beliefs before you if you read the lyrics. And what you hear as our music are our most naked, stripped and honest moments, where we are wide open. That’s why I would like to beat up those scumbags writing ‘reviews’ that just spit on our art on the internet because they think it’s cool to do so. If they play down something, it gives them higher authority, and if they spit on something great, it makes them appear even greater—that’s their theory. But they do this directly to me as person, and if someone ever dares to be that disrespectful near me, not hidden anonymously and safe behind a laptop, I will straight knock that person out, because that’s pissing on my shoes.

I am accepting negative opinions and I am my worst critic, I can give you more reasons than you need to slaughter our work, but in such ‘reviews,’ I never read real and well-funded reasons, just insults and ignorance. That’s when I’m one with the music and can feel it directly, in a negative way. Steven Wilson explained this topic very well on his Insurgentes DVD.

Particularly with the last several albums, Abigor’s music has become increasingly precise and carefully controlled. Do you ever feel that there is a conflict or contradiction between that type of precision and the sort of wild, Satanic creativity that one might assume motivates your music?

People think that recording to hard disc instead of tape—and the possibility of editing—made the process less intense, less direct and a more technical one. In our case, the complete contrary is true! Only now do I have the possibility to lock myself in the studio and claim all solitary and time that I need for truly intense performances. Amongst hundreds of such recorded performances, we hunt for the one, the very take where something magical happened. Only in this isolation and without anyone counting the hours can I become the priest, the beast, the monk, the monster—whatever the music demands. Because then I can repeat every part a hundred times, until the membrane that separates our earthly reality from the abyssic one is permeated. I only stop ‘torturing’ myself in the studio—that’s what it sometimes is when you already have tendonitis and bloody fingertips, or spit blood in the case of the vocalist—when ‘something’ happens. Then I catch myself hitting the ‘stop’ button almost so hard that it ruins the gear, breathing heavily, the body—every muscle—still tensed up. We could never have done that in the old ’90s studio situation, under pressure, with other people and engineers present, where the result was depending on the very afternoon, if we were in good form improvising something or not.

So, yes, it is not played continuously in one take, like in the ’90s, but be sure, every single note, every slide from one chord to the next, every piercing lead is the absolute most intense possible, is the one where we are in sync and vibrate with the oscillation of the fiery spheres. Every beat is the most intense, every note the most emotional, trance-like, possessed one that is possible for this music and these compositions.

Perfection is what we hunt for—but right now, while I write this, I have Volahn’s Live Ritual LP on in the background, where you hardly can hear the notes they play. Good release, and a legitimate way to do it. One of my absolute faves is S.V.E.S.T. who have a very distorted, rough sound, and the Swedish Ancient Records demons, who do their work in a spontaneous way, absolutely excellent. I hate ‘artificial’ music, or music that is technical in its intention, or forced or without blood and soul. For us our method is not technical but a natural approach, Abigor’s only possible way.

Do you feel like Abigor can keep progressing forever, or can you foresee a time when you think to yourselves, “Well, that’s as far as we’d like to take this?”

We already quit once, as we felt we were at such dead end and could only repeat ourselves. t was 1999, Silenius left first, and half a year later I quit. P.K. went on for another year and also laid it to rest.

And when it comes to not being able to continue an idea, well, Time was kind of an end of a thread, to go that route one further step would have been senseless to impossible.

Abigor will exist as long as there is something new for us to tell, and be it a primitive Ildjarn kind of album, who knows. I can imagine a few things. But if we just come up with something we’ve already done, then we will quit. We will not pollute the scene, this mass of releases, with the same thing twice, or something inferior. We proved our honesty towards our inspiration, the black flame of Luzifer, the promethean fyre we’re priviledged to burn with. Only real opposers can become real artists.

How connected do you feel to the evolution of black metal? Do you think Abigor is either cause or effect of that evolution?

For sure as an artist you are always inspired by what other people do. Sometimes consciously—not like ripping off other ideas but more like wanting to top a certain atmosphere created by someone else, picking up an idea of intensity or atmosphere. Or, you’re trying to avoid something because you witnessed it doesn’t work, hearing others fail—I guess much of the greatness of the post-millennial artists was built on the failure of the ’90s bands. They knew what worked and what was an error by judging ‘us old ones,’ and we made mistakes for the next generation bands, and now in return, are again inspired by them. But I guess the major part happens unconsciously, you can’t control it. Music and art is my life, and how could it not influence my own music, yet manifesting through complex processes and developments.

On the other hand, aligning this thought with the statement that we just channel but don’t ‘create’ art. The question of influence becomes just a formal one and isn’t essential to us.

To the other part of your question, we may not be the cause, nor effect of the scene, but the greatest reward I ever got was hearing that my fave black metal artists valued what Abigor did, not to use the unsuitable term they are ‘fans’—although I’m fan of many groups, I think the word belongs to rock music, to stardom, which has no right in black metal, as we all just humbly contribute to the metaphysical temple in one way or another.

If you decided to stop making music, is there another artistic pursuit that you would replace it with? Is there another discipline in which you could pursue the same goals? Physics, mathematics, sculpture, artificial intelligence?

I am the worst mathematician in this world, and sadly I am a horrible drawer, although I think nevertheless my taste in fine arts and design is well educated and enthusiastic. But that you have taste and knowledge doesn’t mean you’re good at doing it yourself. You can be a good music critic, a good fanzine writer, a good label head, these are all valuable, partly artistic, functions in the scene, but it doesn’t mean you’re good at playing instruments. And the other way round. But to answer your question, I would love to be composer in the classic sense, not having to do the ‘dirty job’ myself and just write music, performed by different people. There are many forms of music that interest me, but although I tried, I can’t do other styles anywhere near as well as black metal. I’m best in this art form, not any other. It’s a blessing and a curse, as much as I like and try to do other things, I would mask and transform music which in its core is always satanic black metal, so I surrender to this ‘gift’ and am exclusively writing black metal. I enjoy other art forms, too, sometimes even more, but my task is to do black metal and I will not throw away what He has granted me.

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