"The most extreme intensity raises our experience to excess, to raging, painful happiness. The excess of the play is ordained by ominous music and ecstatic screaming." - Hermann Nitsch.
Swedish Black Metal duo Abruptum released their second album "In Umbra Malitae Ambulabo, in Aeternum in Triumpho Tenebrarum" in 1994. It was brought out on Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth's record label Deathlike Silence Productions, and was to be Aarseth's last release: he would soon be murdered by Burzum's Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes.
Praised by Aarseth as "the pure essence of audial evil", the duo ('IT' and 'Evil') reputedly recorded their music during orgies of self-torture. Aarseth on the album in 1993: "A couple of weeks after this, the Abruptum LP will be released. This will be the most gruesome and black album ever, it's not ordinary music but pure EVIL on vinyl. The guys were torturing each other in the studio, they were whipping, beating, cutting, burning and pouring boiling water over each other DURING the recording, and you can HEAR it from the music that they were SUFFERING! " (link).
The music on this album can be characterized as a decentered and destructured installation of Doom Metal, Black Metal and cavernous Ambient. Instruments which are unusual in Black Metal, such as piano and violin, are part of the musical material. The only human sound on the album is that of cries, screams, groans: the sound of human anguish. That 'In Umbra...' is a recording of a physical event rather than a conventional album of music, is borne out by the fact that it is a single, hour-long track.
I interpret Abruptum's music as an audio documentation of transgressive performance art actions aimed at the sensory experience of pain and suffering. The performance art actions explore existential experience. Abruptum's vocalist IT: "Some 17 years ago I was in an unfathomable hunt for certain parts, buried within the foundations of myself, prying ever deeper to conjure up my personal anguish, hate, desire and the gloomy, spiteful darkness, lurking profound within my corporeal shell".
For me, Abruptum's releases are a Black Metal 'Orgien Mysterien Theater' (a "Theater of Orgies and Mysteries"). Could not the next text have been written by a more literate, more intellectual IT?:
"The truly new about my theater is the victory over role-playing, brought about by staging real events. Real events automatically lead to a total art work. They can be experienced with all five senses. They can be tasted, smelled, can be heard, be seen and felt. Besides the visual dominance of my theater, which tries to make one let go of speech, noise is an essential factor. First, noise takes the role of music in my total art work. My music has it's roots in the cry, in noise, is connected to the most extreme excitement, which is a necessity for the theater. In the history of man, the cry comes before the word, and the cry occurs when the excitement is so strong that the word no longer suffices. My music is in no way illustrative or an addition to the Actions. The music comes literally from the excitement of the event. The music intensifies the Action, the Action activates the music. She delves deeper into the catastrophe of the drama. As a consequence, my acoustic formation has developed beyond the extreme, archaic expressions that I nevertheless do not wish to abandon. The instrumental timbre becomes ever more essential. (...)
Orgiastic music should place us in an intense state of 'finding existence'. The O.M. Theatre can be likened to a giant symphony in six parts. The intense impressions on the senses, which the O.M. Theater's orgiastic desecrating actions bring about, the visual, olfactory and taste sensations of blood, flesh and innards should grow into roaring, thundering tones."
The text is, of course, the work of the notorious Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch. Nitsch, together with Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, and Rudolf Schwartzkogler, is associated with the art movement known as Wiener Aktionismus, an art movement infamous for extremely physical, transgressive performances. Nitsch's performances are rituals of sacrifice which incorporate the ceremonial slaughter of animals, the drinking of their blood, being smeared with their viscera and entrails, crucifixion, drunken excess and nudity. Nitsch's performances have no audiences, but only active participants. He calls these rituals 'Das Orgien Mysterien Theater'.
Many photographs of these rituals in my 1983 catalogue of a Nitsch exhibition in the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, could also have been made at one of Abruptum's self-tormenting performance art actions. And wouldn't Abruptum's music have been the perfect expression of the happenings filmed by Nitsch's close colleague Otto Muehl? Or vice versa, wouldn't these disturbing films have been the perfect music videos for Abruptum's music? Both music and films are filthy, disturbing, destructured, decentered, evil.
Both Nitsch and Abruptum use elements of Roman Catholic ritual in their work, and both use these elements in a heterodox way. Where Nitsch uses the ritual implements of Catholicism (chasubles, monstrances) for their association with a 'cheerful, rural, attractive' paganism, Abruptum uses the ritual language of the Catholic mass for it's association with occult sorcery. IT: "Why the 'Latin only' lyrics? Unquestionably for the plain reason that the composition and atmosphere fuses to the form in the only way viable for me, and because we find this language has been used in occult practices in a fairly near past."
In their musical and theatrical performances, both Nitsch and Abruptum de-privilege text: lyrics and playscript are lost in cries of torment and ecstasy. Where Nitsch spatters canvases with blood and gore to create tachistic paintings, Abruptum can be said to create tachistic Black Metal. Like Nitsch's theater, Abruptum's music works with extra-ordinary power. The music heralds the most extreme forms of mental activity - bloodthirstiness, intoxication, orgiasm, ecstasy, agony, mystical perception, etc. In Abruptum, destructive passions reach their fulfillment.
Some of Nitsch's recordings you can find on the dmtls Merzbau blog.
The recordings include the clucking of chickens, part of the listening environment of the Prinzendorf castle where the Wiener Aktionismus rituals took place. These 'pet sounds' I would have loved to hear in those of Abruptum: for me, few sounds are as sinister as the clucking of chickens. Perhaps it is that I associate that clucking with Tobe Hooper's 1974 film 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'; perhaps it is that they remind me of one of Skinny Puppy's most ominous tracks, 'Epilogue' from their 1987 album 'Cleanse Fold And Manipulate' which samples the chickens from Hooper's film; or perhaps they remind me of Pierre Verger's terrible photographs of Voodooists which bite off the heads of chickens. Abruptum with chickens would have killed me.