What truly defines a black metal record? To some it's a glossy, anthemic Wall of Sound. An impenetrable wall of metallic guitars and relentless drumming embellished with organs, strings, synths, and the occasional caterwauling vocal. To others, it's an astoundingly lo-fi affair, as some of the earliest -- and most revered -- work in the genre contains in grave digging spades. Add to both aspects a heavy dose of darkness, Satan, and general doom and gloom (others might add that the corpse-paint and over the top nicknames are essential) and you've more than likely got a solid black metal record. For the most part, bands like Emperor have done all of these things, and that's what made them stand out in the long run. Groups like Abruptum, on the other hand, are not only in the general musical sense an acquired taste, but in the metal world itself, they certainly defy description and are not the easiest act to get one's head around. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Evil Genius, a Southern Lord-released collection of the Swedish band's early work. Included on this -- quite astounding, honestly -- disc are the demos Hexum Galaem Zelog and the Satanist Tapes, as well as the 7" single "Evil," which showcase the band not only in a nascent period, but also a band working out their sound, which would eventually not consist of one- to six-minute blasts of "evil," but would take up whole sides of albums. The sound here is decidedly under-produced -- it sounds like it was recorded in an old, empty stone church that has been buried underground -- yet it's a huge and heavy collection of bursts of noise and sludge. The drums are bathed in echo so that they, for the most part, cover up any of the guitar work (which in itself is "produced" in such a way as to make it more like just another part of a sonic "wall"). The vocals, at times up front, at others buried or backward tracked, are indecipherable not solely due to their delivery, but also to the fact that they're in Latin, adding yet another layer of mystery. So how does this all fit in with the rest of metal or black metal? Well, It certainly has that metal feel. And even though this is a noise record, there is no way this could be mistaken with the noise genre itself, which has been a distant relative of jazz. Things are in minor keys, tuned down, (occasional) riffing, there is the occasional black metal freak-out ("Feci Factum Sanguine Gladios Made Fieri Factusthere" and "Turannum Bellux Eventus Alci Exeo Sivium Vitae Carhaginis Integra" for example) and an obviously a Satanic fixation. Evil Genius is at heart and soul a metal record, but one that pushes that genre's boundaries to such a degree as to make it an almost distant memory. When looking at Evil Genius as a metal record, it could be argued that this is more doom metal than black metal, but doom has always maintained a distance from that otherworldly Satanic aspect, and never really been at home with buried tinkling piano notes, random bell sounds, and the background sounds of physical torture (not to mention an oddly sexual aspect that leads off the track "Turannum Bellux Eventus Alci Exeo Sivium Vitae Carhaginis Integra," which de-evolves into what may be torture and then into an organ-tinged sludge-fest. ) This is closer to black metal because it does what black metal meant to do in the first place: be completely evil, sonically or otherwise.
Abruptum formed on the notion that they were too evil even to have names (the leader of the group? His name is "It"), and if the theatrics of other black metal artists sacrifice some of that dark credibility to those over the age of 15, Evil Genius is a testament to the notion that evil -- at least in the musical sense -- doesn't need a theatrical foundation (even though there are some theatrics on Evil Genius -- "De Profundis Mors Vas Cousumet" for example, but even that falls prey to what can only be described as a black cloud of cacophony), when a full-on sonic pummeling will do so much more damage. Evil Genius is one of those records that is hard to sit through and listen to, but it never escapes one's memory, almost like a bad dream. That said, for anyone who appreciates what the really heavy and dark characters and artists in the black metal genre have to offer, Abruptum's Evil Genius is an essential piece of work to own.