The self-titled album from Abhoria isn’t your typical black metal album. There’s a lot of touchstones of second-wave black metal within it, for sure – tremolo-picked leads, blasting drums, icy atmosphere – but there’s also a sense of musical exploration that can be lacking in a record that stays so rooted in the more accessible side of the genre. This isn’t Blut Aus Nord or DHG shooting for the stars and taking us to other worlds; instead, Abhoria brings to mind the likes of Immortal and Satyricon, without ever really sounding like any of them. It achieves that rare feat of finding fresh life in familiar sounds and styles, making second-wave inspired black metal that’s full of life and energy. In short, it’s highly exciting.
The opening tracks give a good indication of what Abhoria are about. There’s more than a touch of Battles in the North-style blasting aggression, especially during the opening moments of second track ‘Mountebank’; but it soon transforms into something very different, dropping the tempo slightly to focus on a real groove that wouldn’t be out of place on an Amon Amarth record, before bringing back the blast. Elsewhere, as on ‘Unevangelized’, uncomfortable atmospheres sit next to riffs that recall Satyricon’s strongest moments since the turn of the millennium. It’s all topped off with a surprisingly bright (by black metal standards) production, giving the album an accessible edge, which works to its benefit. There’s a lot of strong, immediate riffs and hooks liberally scattered throughout Abhoria, and they deserve to be heard clearly, especially given the intensity of the album. Such blasting black metal can suffer from its own intensity (think of the production on 1349’s Beyond the Apocalypse, for example, and how the drums could overwhelm some excellent riffs during that album’s most intense moments), and thankfully that is not the case here.
That sense of intensity and the constant forward-motion it creates is what really makes Abhoria so enjoyable a listen. Though it’s not all full-on blasting and speed, the more mid-paced tracks such as ‘Grave Expectations’, while hardly bad, feel less exciting than the more up-tempo songs, and the contrast between the two does sap some of the energy in the middle of the album. That said, they do let Abhoria show a different side to their song-writing, with the songs hinting at the kind of atmosphere and grandeur that Enslaved did on Ruun.
That so many different bands have been referenced so far in this review should give a good indication of what Abhoria achieves. Whilst it is never anything other than black metal, it’s clear that the band are able and willing to explore different facets of the genre, demonstrating that even within the phrase “second-wave black metal”, there’s still a lot of variety. It’s also to the band’s credit that they steer clear of the stereotypical lyrical fare of the style, eschewing worn clichés about Satan in favour of more realistic, concrete darkness. Overall, it’s exciting to hear a band take an otherwise well-worn style and make it seem fresh and exciting once more, especially so given that the album was written and recorded remotely. Abhoria is a fine debut, and it’s exciting to consider what the band may be able to do in a post-pandemic world.
Abhoria is out via Prosthetic Records on 4th February and can be ordered here.
Words: Stuart Wain