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The way Ken Bergeron sees it, success came to Abigail Williams far too quickly. When guitarist/vocalist Bergeron and the first of several keyboardists formed the black-metal band in 2004, it was as a bedroom project, with other players joining in to flesh out the live show. But before the band even played a concert, European metal label Candlelight showed an interest in them. As Bergeron recalls, the band didn't want to pass up the opportunity to share a home with some of their favorite groups, so they ran with it.
By the time the signing was finalized, they had done few shows, and the act were opening for respected black metallers Emperor without having a record out. Pressure swelled from booking agents, the label and the band's management. "We didn't know what the hell we were doing," says Bergeron. "We needed time to become a real band. Unfortunately, we had to do that in front of everybody."
Things didn't take with the band's early lineup, sparking revolving-door-membership problems that would persist for years. In April 2007, the band released a breakup statement, referencing the personnel issues, but by the following fall, they were back together. "I had to gain control of my own band," Bergeron recalls. "I don't even remember why it was said that we were broken up, to be honest, because I never stopped working on music."
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During the downtime—the front man hesitates to call it a breakup or a hiatus ("This hiatus shit was mostly media fucking crap")—Bergeron kept himself occupied with another band that ended up getting signed to Roadrunner Records. That deal, however, fell apart before a record was released. "It was sort of a relief," he says. "It made me realize I wanted to do the Abigail thing at the time."
Today, Abigail Williams are a lean LA-based trio (adding a second guitarist for live shows), and Bergeron (who also goes by the alias Ken Sorceron) is the sole original member. While the band gradually bulked up their discography, observers have had a hard time pinning a genre label on them. Their early work has been repeatedly described in the press as metalcore or deathcore, and the guitarist bristles at these associations. "I never thought we were metalcore," says Bergeron, who heard his band's early work as "melodic death metal."
With last September's In the Absence of Light, Abigail Williams took a crucial step to solidify their aesthetic, shelving those keyboards and drawing out a dense, feral grimness. This record is all about hopeless black metal. While Bergeron spent far more time fine-tuning the music versus lyrics (he recalls writing the latter on the day he was to perform the vocals), In the Absence does have somewhat of a concept guiding it. "In the physical universe, darkness came before light, so in the end, all's going to return to dark. It's sort of based off that," he says.
To properly capture the "pretty fucking bleak" spirit of the album, Abigail recorded in Bergeron's former hometown of Cleveland, a place he calls "a really fucked-up, shitty city."
Even with those past difficulties involving stylistic alignments, Bergeron doesn't want to grow particularly comfortable with what the band built with In the Absence, lest Abigail Williams become boring. "I like when a band completely redo their shit, and you're like, 'Oh, it's still good—completely different, but still good,'" he says. "At the end of the day, you can't make a record for the fans. You've got to live with this shit."
This article appeared in print as "Axes & Alloys: Whatever kind of metal you call it, Abigail Williams' bleak, black sound is never predictable."