Abnegation: Hopes of Harmony
'Abnegation needs to be thought of in the same regard as Earth Crisis or Integrity' - Scott Mellinger of Zao
"Let's get everything that we did wrong in the beginning behind us and do it right this time," says Jason 'Iggy' Imig, vocalist of Abnegation. The band is set to reunite at Sincerity Fest on May 28, 2022 at Preserving Underground in New Kensington, PA., not far from their home turf of Erie. Their reunion may not set off the same bells and whistles nationwide as other recent nineties bands' reunions have, but Abnegation played a pivotal role in the development of metallic hardcore in their region at a time when regional styles still existed.
"Abnegation needs to be thought of in the same regard as Earth Crisis or Integrity," says Scott Mellinger of Zao, who cites the band as a major influence. "Watching those guys made me want to be a better guitarist as well as a better songwriter."
The band impacted Zao vocalist Dan Weyandt early on as well. "What drew me to Abnegation's sound initially was how overly chaotic, rhythmically sharp and dissonant it was," he says. "They stood out in the sense that their sound was faster and more metallic/technical than most of their counterparts at the time."
Abnegation's roots lie in Erie's early nineties "Lake Effect" hardcore scene. After the demise of their band Breakiron - whose song appeared on the Lake Effect Hardcore Scene Report comp along with key local bands like Brothers Keeper, xDisciplex and Neverfall – Imig and guitarist Paul Nowoczynski decided to start up a new straight edge band. Imig recalls the formation of Abnegation:
"Paul had moved to Pittsburgh to go to school and we had both really gotten into straight edge. I had been straight edge since like '88/'89, and Paul, especially when he moved to Pittsburgh and linked up with other hardcore dudes and straight edge kids there, he was starting to really be about it. So we reconnected and were just on the phone, and Erie had yet to have a full on straight edge band, so we just decided, 'Yeah, let's do that.'"
Located centrally between two colossal hardcore scenes in Cleveland and Buffalo, the band's sound initially drew from a bit of each. Bands like Integrity, Ringworm and Zero Tolerance were key jumping off points. "Earth Crisis, once we heard their 7 inch - and Paul got to see their set at More Than Music [Festival] - we felt the vibe, man," Imig recalls. "We were ready to change the world, for sure."
Like the Syracuse based metallic hardcore icons, Abenegation was talking about veganism and animal rights as well. Says Imig of the stance:
"I'm a very dramatic kid - I like to really kick it up a notch - and veganism and animal rights, it really turned into my mission. I connected with it. It was an obvious progression from even when I was a little kid, how the abuse of animals affected me then and it just continued to grow, so it made sense and it's something that I really wanted to push."
Abnegation's Life For A Life demo tape came out in 1993, followed by their first 7-inch Extinguish The Sickness the following year. Musically they were traversing similar territories as other straight edge bands of the time – heavy, metallic, open E-chord chug-based hardcore; lyrically, Imig had stirred the pot. The words to the anti-abortion song "Birthright" featured the repeated line "The fetus is a life," a controversy that follows the band to this day.
"I couldn't understand how, if in my head conception was the beginning of life, how am I not going to care about that and care about animals?" reflects Imig on his stance at the time. "It really did impact our presence. Every show we would get into screaming matches." Time and life has changed the vocalist's thoughts on the issue, though. "To me, I feel like for one, no man should have any say in what some woman is going to do with their body," he says. "And I don't know that making it illegal, as you see these states more and more are doing whatever they can to make it harder and harder - that is not doing anything for any children or any moms."
While the screaming matches, debates, and potential for violent situations continued, the band carried on, bringing in former Breakiron drummer Chris Leonard who helped to shift the band into more technically complex and metallic territories. "Both [Nowoczynski and Leonard] were just straight up metalheads that started to get into hardcore," says Imig. "Once Paul and Chris were able to reconnect, and Paul really found a dude that could match his guitar playing, he could sort of get a little looser."
With their new drummer and more defined sound, Abnegation laid down the songs for the Catalyst Records released Sown In The Remains 7-inch as well as the track "Hopes Of Harmony." The latter would appear on the Stones To Mark A Fire compilation alongside the likes of Earth Crisis, Culture and Hatebreed and stands as the band's most recognized song. Imig's vocal technique shifted with the more experimental and challenging music as well, bringing in a more piercing scream. "I was sitting in Donny's - the old bass player - in his kitchen and we spent a whole summer listening to Rorschach - the Protestant LP - and Carcass and also Groundwork and Struggle," he recalls of what influenced his new approach.
As progressive and heavy as that material may have been, though, it was when Abnegation landed on the lineup of Imig, Leonard, Nowoczynski, guitarist Nate Black and bassist Dave Steele that they really developed a unique sound. "Chris, the drummer - me and him used to fucking listen to death metal all day every day," says Steele. "We worked together and all that kind of shit. He was like, 'Hey you should come play.'" Steele added an even more metal element to the band and the songs shifted even further in that direction. "For me, all I remember listening to nonstop was Meshuggah, Deicide and Carcass," he adds.
The whole hardcore musical landscape was beginning to shift as well, as the influence of extreme metal bands became more prevalent. Recalls Steele of the shift he saw happening around him:
"I came from more of a metal background than a punk and a hardcore background, and just Ringworm, Integrity, any of these bands coming out, were throwing out these crazy squeals and solos and amazing riffs. Just watching the whole turn of events from what they started [as] to what they fucking turned into. It was definitely inspiring. It was nothing short of amazing."
In 1996 Abnegation released a demo tape titled …As Stone Strikes The Cedar and a split 7-inch with Pittsburgh based experimental hardcore band Chapter. While the more thrash and death metal elements took over the music, Imig's lyrics moved into a more personal, less agenda-driven approach. Relationships, depression and the general challenges of life took over, but he also saw the band shedding its vegan straight edge roots. "Veganism was not their thing, straight edge was not their thing," Imig says of the members that had joined along the way. "And even though I still felt super compelled, I felt like I was being dishonest by just putting that stuff out there the way we were."
While the band was crossing over, drawing audiences from both the metal and hardcore scenes and riding a wave of progression into their strongest material to date, things began to fall apart. Nowoczynski reached his breaking point on an ill-fated tour, leaving to start Creation Is Crucifixion. Without the only other vegan straight edge, hardcore-minded member Imig saw the end for himself as well. "I had expressed interest with wanting to stay in Abnegation and I was trying to stick it out," reflects the vocalist, "but I could sort of see the writing on the wall that it was going to be definitely a different sound."
With the two original members gone, Leonard and Steele continued on, assembling a new lineup with Steele taking over vocal duties. The group released a full-length album, Verses Of The Bleeding, on Good Life Recordings to shocked reactions. The record, along with its disturbing cover image, was a clear departure from anything they had released before, moving into a full on, straight ahead death metal sound. While Steele has fond memories of the music and the final formation of the band, he does note they may have perhaps started fresh:
"After the record came out [Good Life] got a lot of shit because it wasn't Abnegation, which is 100% correct. It was not Abnegation. But for the most part, do I regret it? Not one fucking bit. I played some awesome music with my fucking awesome friends. That's what it's all about, just about having a good time. Do I wish we would have changed the name? Yes. It was not an Abnegation record. It was something totally different."
The second era of Abnegation ended not too long after, relegating the band to the confines of pre-internet era hardcore lore. Their influence was certainly felt by the bands that came after them, though. "Abnegation songs have a perfect flow, there's always highs and lows in the dynamics," says Mellinger. "Zao still uses that when we write now."
Over the years Imig has kept the name alive, pressing runs of shirts for fundraisers, and the band even quietly reissued a remix and remaster of the …As Stone Strikes The Cedar demo last year. But this reunion surprised everyone, even Imig himself. "AJ [Rassau of Preserving Underground] was like, 'Do you guys want to play a show?' So I was like, 'Well I'll ask the guys, but I doubt that will ever really happen, but let me run it by them,'" says Imig. "Sure enough, we were all able to get it worked out and here we are."
The lineup consists of Imig on vocals, Steele on bass, Leonard on drums, and Nowoczynski and original bassist Steve Maynard on guitars. Whether or not there is more to come from this iteration of the band is yet to be determined. "It's just leading up to the Sincerity Fest," says Imig. "If that all works out then, you know." Adds Steele, "I think there will be some stuff in the future, it's just trying to figure out what goes on."
Sincerity Fest features a stacked lineup including Cipher, Sect and Zao. "It's truly an honor to finally get to share the stage with Abnegation," Weyandt says. "I personally never have had the opportunity (and never thought I would). They were a big part of my initial introduction into this whole world."
"I'm floored," Imig says of the bill of bands, particularly noting Racetraitor who hold a special place in his heart for personal reasons. Steele is perhaps a little less sentimental, but just as excited. "It's a fucking powerhouse of a show. I couldn't ask for anything better," he says. "There's no sleepers in the fucking lineup. I don't like festivals, I don't like big shows, but this one I'm like, 'Damn I want to see every band.'"