ABRUPTUM "Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectère Me" CD
Mischaracterising the Cold War’s end as the end of history has since morphed into an amusing theoretical anecdote; a historical touchstone for our own turbulent age; as if desperately exploring every aspect of the early 1990s will provide clues to our future. For underground metal however, a case can be made for our history’s end lying somewhere between 1990 and the turn of the century. The radical changes brought on by the internet are still chronologically too close to construct a long term historical analysis. One that explores the internet's effects on the natural evolution of musical styles. Or to put it another way; stuff is still happening (new bands forming, new releases, decent music), but the stories we use to understand said stuff have collapsed into analytical irrelevance.Releases like this contributed to this decay. The classic genre demarcations have gradually collapsed around us, so too have the benchmarks we we use to judge music.
Stockholm’s Abruptum started life as what could loosely be described as death metal with their debut EP ‘Evil’ in 1991. But then things took a turn for the freeform with the release of 'Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectere Me'. Originally a duo made up of founding members ‘IT’ and ‘All’, the latter bowed out due to alcoholism. ‘IT’ then recruited ‘Evil’ *sigh* from up and coming black metallers Marduk. By the release of 'Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectere Me' in 1993 Abruptum had devolved into a power noise project with black metal aesthetics. ‘IT’ daubed the obligatory corpse paint for photoshoots, and headed up The Satanic Black Circle, the Swedish equivalent of Norway's Black Circle. This – and the rumour that OAAM featured recordings of the band members self-harming – probably lent undue fame to this work.
'Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectere Me' is made up of two tracks, each around twenty five minutes in length, each feature a distorted, droning guitar, drums heavily laced with reverb, a keyboard locked on a synth/string sound with the pitch-bender stuck in a state of flux, and agonised vocals. They are all playing separate pieces of….sound, and over the course of the fifty minute runtime they sometimes sync up to what could be described as coherent music. Of the actual sound nothing more can be said. So we are left to endlessly debate the legitimacy of this as art, and whether it deserves an audience. This recording was not supposed to be enjoyed, it is not background music even by our standards, nor is it (once the novelty has worn off) engaging enough to sit and follow as one would a well written piece of music. And something tells me its appeal as a late night soundtrack to occult rituals is limited.
So what’s it for? Few metalheads give it much credit in this day and age. However, I am sceptical of dismissing it as worthless noise outright. I have listened to this album a few times now, and each time my expectations are slightly different, and each time this affects the experience I am likely to have. For instance, if I go in expecting free form noise of varying intensity, I am surprised by how many and how long the passages are that could pass as coherent music…of sorts. It set a new precedent for where the boundary between really noisy metal and ‘noise’ proper should sit. Has it revolutionised extreme music? No, but it remains an interesting cultural artefact nonetheless. A reminder that even in the early 1990s metal was flirting with some pretty off the chain ideas long before Brooklyn hipsters shat their art theory all over black metal. Don’t write Abruptum off entirely however, Evil’s later solo ambient work with the name is worth a spin, as is 1995’s compilation of their early material ‘Evil Genius’.
'Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectere Me' struggles to be more than the sum of its parts. The emotional and intellectual range it invokes in the listener does not extend much beyond ‘...urgh’. If extreme art is to make an impact, it has to contextualise itself in the familiar, i.e. the ‘not extreme’. It has to first offer rhythms and melodies that we recognise as such before removing them and delivering unadulterated abrasion.
Abruptum on the other hand, despite playing soft and hard, never vary the atmosphere or intent, whether pummelling or creepy, we are given very little ‘normal’ musical context to understand that what we experiencing is horrible beyond redemption. In short, we are left emotionally numb, and not in a My Dying Bride kinda way, but in a way that leaves no lasting impact on the listener after the album has played itself out. The fact that this goes on for fifty plus minutes adds to the obnoxiousness. It’s the equivalent of placing a 10ft by 15ft green square on a wall in the Tate Modern as opposed to a post-it sized green square. No more or less complex, but more demanding of our attention cos it’s like…made bigger….or like…recorded for longer. Nevertheless, give it a listen, it is an interesting deviation in metal’s history; maybe not the end of it, but certainly a signpost to metal’s post-modernity.