The present essay consists in the portrayal of Abyssum through their work as outstanding, living examples of the spirit within genre and as a creators of transcendental art; that is, interpreted as more than a performance art in the modern sense of the term. These are also works of black metal that go well beyond the excellence of art as a craft independent of the religious or mystical spirit; in these there is a return to —or perhaps there never was a departure from— the concept and action of music as an essential part of the mystical action: that which transforms or enables to transform reality itself through the laws of nature.
It has already been established that the mentality of black metal presupposes an attitude towards reality that is at odds with modernity. It is at once ancient and futuristic, seeing the present as one more superficial variation, a set of conditions within a larger, evolving reality. In its disbelief in man-made value as inherently real, it is also nihilistic. Different artists within the genre have gone about this in different ways, as befits a way of thinking that favours individualistic, solitary and independent development.
What follows is an interpretation of the work of the artists behind an exemplar through an intuitive apprehension of the music, as well as based on an opinion on the little hints known to the author regarding the words, lifestyle and methodology that leads to such a creative production. There is no intention whatsoever of revealing what is meant to be hidden, nor is there power in mere words to do so, for what is transcendent is beyond words and must be presenced; words, however, can signal a way. There is also no conscious presumption of absolute certainty of the veracity of the descriptions and interpretations found herein, for impressions and knowledge remain in motion.
§ A natural spirituality
The methodology of the mystic is characterised by an attempt to presence the sacred, the other-worldly; in short, whatever currents and existences hidden from most human beings attuned only to a direct and superficial way of sensing and thinking about the universe. The methods of the mystic are direct because there is no formal ritual involved, no particular names used, no visualisation of gates being opened, no illusions; rather, and simply, a constant sensing, an opening to the pure influence by persistent observation of sensations while consciously seeking occult influence and contact.
We can observe in the work of Abyssum that compositions tend to resemble a constant flow of living energy, represented musically by adherence to a clear, central melodic idea that goes almost uninterrupted throughout the piece. More follows from this simple idea, but a useful remark here may help further aid our cause in convincing the reader of the plausibility of this thesis. If one takes note of the names given to the compositions, it does not take much effort to derive a few simple conclusions thence.
Firstly, although we may see some passing references to terms formalised in certain occult traditions, these are only done in passing and without relying on them for the emotional landscaping commonly used by the composer to name his creations. For instance, ‘The Sacred Abyss…(of Thelemic Mysteries)’ relates the reader to the T.O.T., while ‘Ilussion of Pan (The Spirit of the Woods)’ rides an archetype from ancient Hellenic traditions.
What stares back at he who explores and attains a certain understanding of the art of Abyssum is a world of relations that only makes complete sense by understanding it all, but lying out of the reach of those who have not the mental means of finishing the inner quest of this discovery. The success of this experience is further aided by taking into account every single clue left for us, be it inside the music, the titles and words, or the images chosen. For this, we may take a look at the front cover art of the two official albums published under the name of the project.
The first of these, Thy Call, bears the image of a treeline behind a yellow field. It is not a photograph, but a painting, impressive in its large strokes yet blurred in its details, giving it a foggy impression that emphasises the unity of the hills and forests. The front cover artwork of the second, Poizon of god, is a monochromatic blue over grey-white depiction of a bare hand pouring liquid from a cup apparently made from a sturdy material such as wood or metal.
None of these images reflects a complex system of symbols, or an adherence to any other kind of system of abstractions, but rather each provides a natural, so to speak, reference to a picture of commonplace reality holding numinous overtones, silently concealing a world within its borders.
The titles hold the same kind of balance between mystic reverence, emotional outburst and landscape painting. The resulting impression belongs to none of them and thus appears incomplete or cryptic when the mind attempts to grasp it by standing on any one of them. Trying to rationalise or derive a complete concept of the three together yields distorted, morphed images that do not seem to completely conform to an interpretation.
Yet, the mind is impacted by them, and their single and incomplete messages are revealed as complimentary, though not like pieces in a puzzle. It would be safer to compare them with augurious signs, blurred tracks in the snow and incomplete markings leading us through a long-abandoned trail through the wilderness.
Music, by its very nature, is hard to grasp in terms of its significance; a combination of experience, mindful study and technical acquaintance opens the doors, slowly, though never to see through them clearly. The more one explores the music of Abyssum, the more the embedded phantasms in words and images previously described become discernible, while they remain difficult to describe in their totality. For such is the way with the shifting of symbols and meanings of mystic expression, that can only becoming perceivable by accepting their often bizarre and contradictory succession of backgrounds and locations.
When under careful scrutiny and appreciated as formal composition, this music betrays a knowledge and deftness of craft applied with painstaking attention to detail. Perfection is seen in the way the expression and structure approaches sentiment and not with a rigid theoretical template. The methodology revealed is reminiscent of that truth discovered by every gifted man of the craft who transcends schooling and discovers the natural rules of organised sound.
This art of dark spiritualty is not a rejection of natural law in itself. For what is rejected is the distortion of it through human interpretation and a necessarily incomplete communication. The art lies in the direct and continues re-discovery of such laws and truths that hold the universe together and determine its flow from singularity to expansion, from a breaking down to the Night. This is an occult discovery, however, and science enters only as a tool.
So we see Abyssum following its own discovery of particular rules, parting from the template of the Western Tradition, though disregarding the complications beyond the Medieval Era, and into transcendental, timeless black metal. We find in Abyssum one of the purest incarnations of the night-time mysticism inherent in the essence of black metal. Not rebellion or self-indulgence for its own sake, but the carving out of a singular path with a unique method that evolves along with the adept of the craft that guides it.
The whole of the method is not systematised or killed by its formalisation, and thus the mystic himself is seldom fully aware of it; this happens not out of ignorance or ineptitude, but because it is contained within him, and its flow is his own, changing through time, bringing and birthing as a gate between worlds.
§ The synth as emanation of the soul
The stylistic choices of Abyssum serve as platform and parting point for a personalised musical language. This basis consists of basic, pure black metal instrumentation with only one guitar voice and synths. The duty of each instrument follows a foreseeable partition, with the synths taking care of creating a feeling of wideness, while the guitar provides power, thrust and penetration.
There is also much to be said about the very sensitive and mindful percussion arrangements that reflect traditional black metal drumming filling in much more than a metronomic function, and rather showing the good taste with which these can enrich the content of the music as texture and dynamics mediators.
An originator as an emanation of the voice of the soul, the synth carries the bulk of the expressive content. It is difficult to tell just from listening of the completed recordings which of the three instruments came first in the creation process. For as soon as one focuses on any one of them, one discovers, at length, that each is possessed of an independent role and personality while, at the same time, being intimately related to the other two. That is to say, each is a guiding light until itself, with figures, gestures and curves finding significant correspondences and complements in the others.
The great twist lies in that this braid-fashioning requires a third string that is found in the percussive agency; thence the unsuitability of conventional of conventional means of analysis and music interpretation which relegate percussion to a different domain. Without the need for encumbering complications and without any explanations given, this black metal breaks barriers naturally in search of a proper voice that brings something from beyond, that gives birth to a spirit new to this world.
Wherefore and whence do we arrive at the conclusion that the synth is the major or main instrument in the music of Abyssum? The arrangements of the synth span a wider range than the other instruments, sometimes even splitting into two voices, often carrying more melodic content than the guitars, and being almost solely responsible for harmonic contextualisation. The synth does not dominate tyrannically, and the leading command passes from hand to hand amongst the instruments, often being comprised of a veritable multi-instrumental attack. However, the greatest breadth of expression and dramatism undoubtedly lies in the synth.
In the early work of Thy Call, we hear the synth carry the melody while also providing the main transitional material between main sections, each of which have their own distinctive theme. This distinctive and section-identifying melody retains a narrative link with the rest. Thus, the main thematic and unifying aspects of compositions belonging to this first work lie in the expressions of the synth.
Compositions refined, rearranged and realised for the second album, Poizon of god, present a more complex relation between the instruments that now do not appear so much layered in a clear top-to-bottom assignment of functions, but rather as flexible elements within a series of relays and tags where any of the instruments can take the lead, depending on the effect and nuance wanted by the composer. Nonetheless, when the music is in full gallop, there is an unmistakable impression that the synth precedes or leads everything. In short, we can see the rest of the instrumentation as extending and contracting from the fluctuating content expressed by the synth.
Again, however, this apparent centrality is not obvious and only reveals itself when the listener performs this test and analysis on each of the parts and throughout all the pieces. Otherwise, the organic interaction between the delicately balanced, flexible composition imparts a commanding illusion of tenuous and almost ungraspable centre without actual location.
When referring to the synth as the soul of the music, the preceding argument may illustrate the physicality of the phenomenon, but there is also something to be said for the narrative sentimentality that develops through these instruments. While not relinquishing its duty within the black metal ensemble, the composer behind Abyssum applies the type of thinking one would associate with a dungeon synth kind of ambient project to the expression of the synth within the black metal context.
Such an integration of uncommonly seen techniques in a personally developed manner is done with great care and not in the vulgar manner which would allow us to point this out simply by pointing out interruptions and interludes. For the interludes themselves, composed of either synth voices or chords arpeggiated on an acoustic guitar, do not differ in their basic presentation from the standard black metal interlude. The ambient synth techniques are seen applied to the needs of the music at hand, therefore never breaking out of character or introducing outright extraneous elements.
We find, at times, the simple application of the synth in the manner used by Emperor; for instance, in ‘Be Thou Bliss Forever’, although the dynamics and development of the music as a whole proceed by very different avenues. ‘Thy Call Beyond the Stars’ commences with an extended interlude that foreshadows the themes of the main body, and although somewhat indulging in repetition, careful attention reveals subtle variations and micro developments that justify that repetition when everything is captured in total attention.
One would be remiss to speak of this second piece from Thy Call without mentioning, at least in passing, the absolutely exquisite handling of the drum arrangement that is only made possible by grace of the spaces created and left open by the interweaving synth melodies.
Poizon of god’s ‘The Sacred Abyss…(of Thelemic Mysteries)’ sometimes displays more flat repetition sequences that are balanced by elaborations towards the middle of the piece. This middle section sees the synth subtly transitioning between its own voices and moving between themes, brining riches or more humble textures as per an organic dictate that allows for no rigid division. A more thorough and diffused application of such an approach to theme-weaving may also be observed throughout the development of ‘Illusion of Pan (The Spirit of the Woods)’.
As with all great music, all that can be provided here are clues and insights attained through a combination of methodical observation, aural openness to reception, emotional surrender; and thence an intuitive elaboration tested and refined by subsequent appreciation; a repetition of the process in a natural, non-systematic way in concentric circles until the eye of storm is reached.
It remains the great pleasure of the avid reader and explorer of aural mysteries to try and fathom the elusive expanses of one of the most accomplished, and still developing black metal projects to have ever existed. Obscurantist in its disposition and esoteric in its revealing method, its external logic will reveal its internal richness indirectly as it becomes alive in the expanding mind of the listener.