I have a bit of a confession to make – I absolute love early Abigor. From ‘Verwustung/Invoke the Dark Age’ through to ‘Supreme Immortal Art’, the Austrian trio managed to encapsulate everything that was intoxicating to me about black metal at the time – controlled chaos, menace, mystique, a whiff of the unhinged and a genuine sense of dark atmosphere. It’s truly seminal material.

As ever, the passage of time and the band’s steps towards embracing a more sci-fi/futuristic thematic approach meant that we lost touch in the early 2000s. It is with some excitement therefore that the band’s first full-length in four years wings its way into my in-tray on a tidal wave of juicy rhetoric – bold declarations of ‘minimalism is the law’, being ‘about the Devil and the Devil only!’ and there being ‘a focus on the evil force that sparked Black Metal ablaze at the beginning of the 90s also torched our work again’. Mouthwatering stuff, fully heightened with the classic line-up being in place (TT on strings/drums, Peter on strings and Silenius handling the vox, albeit in a session capacity).

The record wastes no time by hurling ‘All Hail Darkness and Evil’ at us, frantic drumming and snarling, fizzy guitar lines crawling from the speakers. It’s an ugly, ugly sound – dry, trebly, claustrophobic – while Silenius’s vocals bark across everything in a deliciously demented fashion. The song twists and turns admirably, though genuine hooks or moments of menace are few (though one has to respect the lone croak of ‘all hail darkness and evil!!!’ that ushers forth from the silence about three minutes in).

Song lengths are brief and cram a lot in – eerie choral towards the climax in ‘Sword of Silence’, the spidery, haunting guitar passages that open ‘Olden Days’ and the triumphant central refrain of ‘Christ’s Descent into Hell’. Well-chosen samples decorate several songs and despite the album’s short running time, there are plenty of ideas packed into each and every piece. Performances are – as to be expected – first-rate. TT’s drumming is precise, fast and inventive whilst the guitar work intriguingly taut. The highest praise has to go to Silenius however – unleashing myriad sickening voices, from the ghastliest shriek to the most gurgling roar with ease, it is his work that gives this material real character.

Questions remain however as to the real success of Abigor’s approach here. Whilst all the ingredients are fully present & correct, I’m not sure they have been fashioned into as compelling an opus as they could have been. Yes, accessibility and compromise are not words that exist in the Abigor dictionary (and ‘Hollenzwang’ is no exception) but truth be told, this is a difficult album to experience, let alone reap much enjoyment from.

Song structures seem haphazard, with one jagged riff jarringly flying into another with seemingly little thought given to any genuine sense of development or progression. Or purpose, frankly. I’ve given this record plenty of spins but still, after a while things begin to feel like one 35 minute collection of harsh riffs just broken up by the occasional pause. The relentlessly dry production doesn’t help, almost draping an atmosphere of ‘unfinished demos’ across proceedings.

Perhaps this is a little harsh, but with the pedigree of this trio and a back catalogue of such considerable quality, I won’t apologise for having high expectations of this. I truly admire the band’s defiant, confrontational, single-minded approach – and if ‘Hollenzwang’ is anything, it is the sonic embodiment of this mindset – but I sadly don’t see myself returning to it all that often.

(6/10 Frank Allain)