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Immortal (1991)

Immortal rose from the ashes of an earlier death metal band, known as Amputation, back in 1990. For one reason or another, it was decided to start fresh despite having lost only one rather unimportant member. What some may not be aware of is that Immortal started out by continuing on the same musical path, playing their own form of death metal. It was sometime after this that Euronymous got Abbath into black metal, thus altering the course of Immortal's career (and quite likely saving them from becoming yet another forgotten band, among countless others that were playing the same style). Though they had just released their first demo in July, by October 1991 Immortal unleashed their first E.P. upon the world. This would mark the first Norwegian black metal release since Mayhem's Deathcrush, in 1987.

This E.P. only contains two songs, plus an intro. In this case, the intro is short enough and does a good job in establishing a dark and ominous tone. "Unholy Forces of Evil" is an interesting song, as it officially introduced the underground to the band's new sound. Abbath's vocals have changed from the very deep and guttural sound that was heard in Amputation, and on the first Immortal demo, to something much more raspy. His voice was very close to the way it would sound on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, but not completely. Much like Darkthrone would do, Immortal chose to recycle some of their death metal riffs, rather than taking the time to create entirely new songs. Perhaps, they were in a hurry to record something that reflected their change in outlook. "Unholy Forces of Evil" includes re-worked riffs from the earlier demo, most likely from the song "Suffocate the Masses" (though it is difficult to tell, since all of those tracks are so similar). For one reason or another, the atmosphere does not manage to match that of the later version. "The Cold Winds of Funeral Frost" has a bit more of an old school feeling, thanks in part to the percussion and the overall vibe of the songwriting. Like the previous song, it moves along at a rather relaxed pace, with some hints of a Bathory influence. Also, like the first track, it builds up to a more intense speed with blasting drums, near the end.

The production is not so much raw as it is kind of muddy. The guitar tone lacks the cold feel of Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. As a result, the guitar riffs are not as sharp and tend to blend in with the rest of the instruments. In particular, the bass is too high in the mix and, combined with the lack of sharpness in the guitar tone, gives the music more of a warm feeling. As for the vocals, they also seem to blend in to the rest, to an extent. It could be due to the levels, just as much as the fact that Abbath's voice doesn't have the exact same edge to it that he would later develop. Little things like this, along with the more subtle nuances in execution on the full-length, make a big difference in the type of atmosphere that is present.

Immortal is definitely an interesting E.P. and is recommended for hardcore Immortal fans, though it is hardly essential for anyone else. Other than the intro, superior versions of these songs can be found on the band's debut full-length, so there is no real reason to go to any trouble in seeking this out. As a matter of fact, within the context of Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, these aren't even the strongest songs on the record. This is the sort of record that was far more important when it was new, though losing its significance once they released their first L.P.
(8 Sept. 2012)

Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism (1992)

Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is the first full-length from Norwegian black metal band Immortal. The album was recorded in Grieghallen Studios, around the same time as Det Som Engang Var, and produced by Pytten. The sound is very similar to that of early Burzum, due to similar production. There is a strong Bathory influence here, particularly from Blood Fire Death. This is evident from the opening moments of the album. As with so many great bands, my first exposure to Immortal came from "The Haunted Mansion". One Winter night, I heard the song "The Sun No Longer Rises", from Pure Holocaust and I wasted little time in acquiring that album. Some time later, while in Oslo, I picked up their debut L.P. and it wasn't long before I had a new favorite Immortal album. It was a close call, but songs like "Cryptic Winterstorms" left no doubt as to which album I preferred and it accompanied me on many late night drives through desolate areas. Often, I seemed to have the roads all to myself and had this album blasting as the cold winds blew in through the open window, blowing through my hair and freezing my fingers. Peaceful times... Abbath Doom Occulta, Demonaz Doom Occulta and Armagedda came together to create a very memorable album of grim black metal. While the following album usually tends to get the most praise, I feel that this one is an undeniable classic and should not be overlooked.

The album opens with a short intro that is very reminiscent of Bathory, especially with the sound of the winds and the acoustic guitar. Already, you can feel the icy hands of Winter taking hold.

"The Call of the Wintermoon" unleashes the fury from the north, as the fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums rage forth like an arctic storm. The riff is simple yet very effective. In no time, the tempo changes and Armagedda employs a very oldschool drumbeat, typical of 80s bands like Venom and Mercyful Fate. Abbath's screams are noticeably different than the severely grim croaking sound that he would utilize on the next album. I actually prefer this style as it seems more natural. There is a coldness created here as well as a sense of doom. The solo is very well done and I wish more black metal bands found ways to fit decent solos into their music. The song evokes imagery of being summoned by the full moon for battle in the cold Winter night.

"Unholy Forces of Evil" is next and begins with an oldschool style as well as Abbath's possessed vocals. Demonaz's guitar riffs have an sense of something ancient and produce images of old, forgotten tombs and battlefields littered with corpses long dead. The song features some very 80s-based riffs, throughout most of the song, but also some faster parts with the typical tremolo riffing of Norwegian black metal.

"Cryptic Winterstorms" begins with a cold, mournful acoustic guitar as the song begins. The song is mid-paced and carries an epic feeling. The acoustic guitar appears again, throughout the song, and the main melody is very mournful. This song is reminiscent of Bathory and Burzum, without sounding too close to either one. This is, absolutely, my favorite Immortal song ever and is included on a mix tape I made for my car, somewhere between Darkthrone's "Paragon Belial" and Burzum's "Black Spell of Destruction". The solos are perfectly done and Abbath's vocals add a lot to the atmosphere. His screams could be described as very wild and animalistic as compared to later albums.

Following this epic masterpiece is "Cold Winds of Funeral Dust". This song begins slowly and includes some thundering drums. This is pure oldschool black metal, and could have easily been released in 1989 or so. The pace is similar to something you would find on Blood Fire Death, yet there are enough harmonies layered on top of that that give it a distinct Norwegian sound. Abbath's vocals are evil as Hell, here. Near the end, the song speeds up to a furious pace, somewhat similar to something found on Gorgoroth's debut album, before fading out.

"Blacker Than Darkness" continues the album and starts with a mid-paced riff. In a short time, the song speeds up to a thrashy pace that would not be out of place on The Return... The riffs are very memorable, as every song in here possesses an identity of its own. There is no filler here.

The album ends with "A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland". This epic song begins with a somber accoustic piece that leads into a very evil tremolo melody as the drums slowly build up and the song takes off at a pace quite like that of the title track from Blood Fire Death. An intense spoken word part precedes Abbath's vocals, slowly appearing like some ghoul rising from a forbidden crypt. While Pure Holocaust is like a journey through the frozen lands of the North, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism seems to explore only the immediate area surrounding some lost Medieval castle, inhabited by spirits of pure evil, as they roam the surrounding forests and mountains, never straying too far. There is a sense of dread and melancholy in this song as it takes the listener on a long and dark journey. Late in the song, there is a slight bit of keyboard use, accompanying a spoken word part. It is done very well and only serves to add to the atmosphere as Abbath then screams:

"This Winter is forever!"

Indeed, that would be glorious... As the song continues, evil and yet sorrowful melodies inspire visions of another world where the sun freezes to dust. The same acoustic melody that began the song then returns to end the album. In a way, the title is very appropriate, as one gets the impression that only a brief vision was allowed and yet there is so much more. If only the barrier can be crossed...

(12 Sept. 2008)

Pure Holocaust (1993)

Pure Holocaust is the second album from Immortal. This was recorded in Grieghallen Studio in 1993, produced by Pytten. Most seem to consider this their best album. Indeed, this was the album that introduced me to the band, all those years ago. I would have to rank this album a close second, coming in behind Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. That being said, this is a very good album, worthy of much praise.

Many consider this to be a classic album of Norwegian black metal, though it must be said that neither Immortal nor those in the Norwegian scene considered this to be black metal, despite the musical and aesthetic style. Immortal's themes are based around the nature and the natural environments of their homeland, or rather of the world they invented called Blashyrkh, a world of eternal cold and ice where various "blizzard beasts" lurk. The band does not write about overly done satanic themes. As Abbath pointed out in various interviews, the band members are not Satanists.

As "Unsilent Storms in the North Abyss" begins, you may first notice the change in sound. Everything is colder and the guitars are a bit sharper. Regarding the production, the band seems to follow Burzum, once again. The sound on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism can be compared to that of Burzum and Det Som Engang Var; however, here, the sound more closely resembles that of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. The vocals also changed, becoming more trollish and grim. It was at this time that Abbath established his trademark style. With the loss of Armagedda, Abbath also took over drumming duties on this album, and the difference is hard to miss. Here is found far more double bass and just a totally chaotic way of drumming. The riffs played by Demonaz seem to have less in common with Bathory, as on the previous album, and far more influence from Mayhem.

"A Sign For the Norse Hordes to Ride" erupts with the fury of a merciless blizzard. The tremolo harmonies are chilling to the bone; the kind that could freeze you in the middle of summer. This may be the one improvement in sound, from the last album. There is no protection from the bitter cold melodies on this album.

The next song is "The Sun No Longer Rises". What a pleasant thought; no more light or life, just the freezing darkness. This was the first Immortal song that I ever heard, thus being responsible for getting me into this great band. It begins with a furious speed, but becomes more mid-paced as it goes along. Giving the riffs some room to breathe aids in creating a colder and darker atmosphere.

"Frozen By Icewinds" has much the same pace as the previous song, yet the barrage of drums makes it seem faster than it is. At this point, you feel very tired as you wander the endless forest and frostbitten plains, seeking a place to lay down and close your eyes one final time, seeking suicide by freezing. The lead solo at the end is utterly chilling.

Bizarre riffs begin "Storming Through Red Clouds and Holocaustwinds". The pace is absolutely relentless and harsh. There are some odd time changes in this one. Abbath shows some minor variation with the vocals on this one, but not much. This is a song of battle and total destruction of one's enemies.

"Eternal Years on the Path to the Cemetery Gates" continues the onslaught, starting with fast, punishing riffs and drumming, but alternating with more mid-paced parts. There are certain riffs and drum sections where the sound is more reminiscent of the first album.

"As the Eternity Opens" is, possibly, the best song on the album. This is a more mid-paced affair, containing many freezing melodies and an almost mournful atmosphere. This really shares similarities with Burzum. The guitars are bleak and icy while the bass has a somber feeling. The lyrics are dark and perfectly suited for this. The speed picks up, later in the song, but only briefly. Much like the songs on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, this possesses a very grim and epic atmosphere.

"The light will was never here"

From the distance, one hears "Pure Holocaust" slowly fading in to annihilate the forces of light and warmth. After a raging and furious assault the song sets into a calmer pace, as the banners of winter are unfurled. Vast glaciers slowly march south, clad in mail of ice and armed with spears of frost and lashes of freezing hail, devouring all life. Listening to the bitter cold riffs, your skin turns blue. The holocaust has claimed yet another victim.
(30 Jan. 2009)

Battles in the North (1995)

Battles in the North is the third L.P. from Immortal. It was recorded in Grieghallen Studio, produced by Pytten, in September 1994. Just as with Pure Holocaust, everything here is played by only Abbath and Demonaz. As a side note, the promo and the first version of this album had a bad mix and gained terrible reviews in all magazines. Due to this, the very first edition was suddenly replaced by the one we all know.

The sound is very similar to the previous album, yet less organic. On this album, the guitars seem to merge together to create a impenetrable wall of ice that slowy crushes everything in its path, like a glacier. The lyrics of Demonaz are still dealing with the same themes, sending ice water through your veins.

"Battles in the North" begins the album in a very intense manner. The riffs swirl around you like blizzard winds and Abbath's vocals are more venomous than before. This completes his transformation into a winter demon from the farthest north. He no longer sounds like anything human. The drumming is incredibly violent, as one gets the image of a horde of frost giants storming through the land, destroying everyone in sight. This song never really lets up and is a great way to open the album. The one calm moment, near the end, only serves to leave you unsuspecting for the coming deathblow.

The next song possesses one of the best titles, ever: "Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms". Abbath's dry croak is accompanied by more battering riffs. The sound has really transformed from being frozen by icewinds (on Pure Holocaust) to being repeatedly crushed under sheets of glacial ice. This song is rather short and is over a little too quickly.

"Descent Into Eminent Silence" begins with less intense drumming, at first, before speeding up again. One gets the impression here, and on "Throned By Blackstorms", that they sped through the songs and lost something by not allowing them to breathe. The compositions are a little too compact, as there are brief moments where certain melodies seem poised to unfold and take you within their icy grip, yet it never happens.

"Moonrise Fields of Sorrow" begins with a memorable riff; however, this gets cut short before really having time to do much. This song seems to be an endless series of blasting drums and a thick wall of guitars that seems to suffocate the listener and the melodies that attempt to take hold. There are some really nice moments here, yet the song could have been even better.

An extremely brief acoustic section leads into total winter holocaust riffs on "Cursed Realms of the Winterdemons". This is another fast and intense song, with Abbath's vocals creating a lot of tension. It is a vast improvement over the few songs that precede it. The only thing that might this song better would be for the drumming to be lowered in the mix and for the guitars to be a little louder and sharper. Otherwise, this song is one of the best on here. It is also one of the longer pieces on the album, clocking in just under four minutes.

"At the Stormy Gates of Mist" continues to solidify Battles in the North as the most brutally intense and violent Immortal album. You really have to concentrate, closely, to pick up the cold tremolo melodies that are flowing beneath the monstrous pounding of the drums. For some reason, parts of this album seem reminiscent of the Mayhem song "Buried By Time and Dust".

"Through the Halls of Eternity" features some unsettling melodies. It starts out like most of the songs on here, yet the tempo does change at certain times and this eerie spectre is allowed to spread out like a poisonous shadow. A few of the earlier songs seem like filler, honestly, but this definitely belongs here.

"Circling Above in Time Before Time" begins with icy cold tremolo melodies, with a nice acoustic part underneath, and has kind of an epic atmosphere. These are really some of the best and most memorable riffs of the whole album. The distant atmosphere that Pure Holocaust exhibited as a whole has been replaced with an up- close, drier, and more deadly atmosphere where the blurry guitar riffs and twisted ravings go right for your jugular. If the first two albums were like having your throat sliced open and being left to bleed to death in the winter forest, this is like being bludgeoned with hammers of ice.

The album ends with "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)". This song is reminiscent of "As the Eternity Opens", being mid-paced and epic. Early on, there is an acoustic part that seems more in tune with their first two albums. The tremolo melodies weave through the song, circling the power chords like winds blowing from a glacier. The riffs really get a chance to breathe here, creating a very cold and dark atmosphere. The calm, acoustic section really adds to this feeling, while Abbath's grim screams suit this, perfectly. There is even a brief touch of keyboard use, only adding to the overall mood.

Battles in the North is a good album, but not quite as great as the first two. Despite the savage ferocity displayed throughout, there are moments where a sense of melancholy and darkness pervades before the the stroms of snow and ice begin again. A couple songs feel as if they could have been developed a little further and the production (especially the drums being too high) was distracting from the riffs, at times. However, these are minor complaints and the second half of the album is very strong. The songs actually seem to get better and better as it goes along. With this L.P. Immortal firmly established their trademark sound. This is not recommended for those of faint heart.
(9 Feb. 2009)

Blizzard Beasts (1997)

My introduction to Immortal came with hearing the song "The Sun No Longer Rises" on a college radio show, many years ago. This cold and grim atmosphere was enough to draw me in. As a result, I quickly sought and acquired Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Pure Holocaust. A short time later, I got my hands on Battles in the North. Though each of these albums had their own sound, they were all similar in spirit and they constitute the classic era of Immortal. Blizzard Beasts, however, represents something far different.

This album was recorded in the autumn months of 1996, in Sigma Recording Studios. This is their first effort to be recorded outside of Grieghallen. Certainly, that may play a small part in the change in sound. Blizzard Beasts also saw the recruitment of new drummer, Horgh, though he did not really contribute to the songwriting.

The album starts with a brief intro that seeks to create a nightmarish feeling through the horrific sounds. It does not serve much of a purpose, really. The album truly begins with the song "Blizzard Beasts". This sounds pretty similar to the songwriting from Battles in the North. The major difference here is the atrocious sound. Again, the guitars are buried underneath the drums and that is especially terrible here, as the drum sound is awful. The song ends with some random thrash riff and fades back into the shadows.

"Nebular Ravens Winter" begins with an interesting solo and the typical Immortal sound. The songwriting seems far less inspired here than on previous albums. There are more thrash riffs that might have been more appropriate with more of an old school production job. The chorus features some effect on Abbath's vocals. At this point, the listener may wonder where this is all going. There are a couple of decent riffs, but that is all that can be said for the song. The production really kills any chance that this has to be decent.

"Suns That Sank Below" really carries more of a death metal feeling. It is pretty awful. "Battlefields" isn't much better, though it does foreshadow the style that the band would employ on later albums, such as Sons of Northern Darkness. There are some okay tremolo melodies that are quickly displaced by mediocre thrash riffs. Again, there are more effects being used, this time on the riffs instead of the vocals. At some points, this album sounds like it was recorded under water.

The next song is "Mountains of Might" and this seems like one of the few worthwhile songs on here. It begins with a synth intro, creating a melancholy atmosphere as the sorrowful tremolo melodies come in, mixed with thrashier riffs. This song actually possesses an epic feeling and is comparable to "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)". This song is probably the only redeeming quality to this abomination. It's still mediocre when compared to the earlier material, but it definitely stands out on this album filled with atrocities.

"Noctambulant" begins with more useless riffs that hint at the band's later style. This couldn't be farther from black metal, though the argument could be made that Immortal was never actually a black metal band. Either way, this is pointless. "Winter of the Ages" continues this terrible sound. The shift in style might have been easier to digest if they hadn't gotten such a wretched production job. I'm not typically a fan of the Abyss Studio sound, but they might have benefitted from going there a little sooner than they did. "Frostdemonstorm" doesn't even sound like it was recorded during the same session, as the guitars and vocals are vastly different than the rest of the album. This is more of the same trash that can be found on the rest of the album, as Immortal doesn't know if they want to play black, death or thrash metal.

Blizzard Beasts is entirely worthless and Immortal fans are encouraged to avoid this piece of shit by any means necessary. Don't even allow yourself to be in the same room with a copy of this travesty. If you see if on a store shelf, smash it with a hammer. All copies of this should be gathered and destroyed, utterly. At the Heart of Winter and Sons of Northern Darkness were not in the same vein as the early albums, either, but they were executed far more successfully. Blizzard Beasts and its companion, Damned In Black, are truly blemishes on the legacy of Immortal. Even the few decent riffs that exist on this album are, ultimately, pointless as you can hear the same concept done much better on the albums that came before and after this one.
(9 Feb. 2009)

At the Heart of Winter (1999)

At the Heart of Winter is the fifth L.P. from Norway's Immortal, released in February 1999. After hitting a creative brick wall with the previous effort, the band returned with renewed energy, though utilizing a different approach, somewhat. In November 1998, they went to Sweden to record at Peter Tägtgren's Abyss Studio. Say what you will about this studio becoming the Morrisound of Scandinavia, but it was a vast improvement over the terrible job they received on their previous album and it sounds pretty suitable, especially considering their change in musical direction.
Some time after releasing the awful Blizzard Beasts album, Demonaz encountered some health issues that resulted in him being unable to play the guitar. Because of this, Abbath handles the guitars on this album, as well as the bass, synth and vocals. Despite the fact that he could not play guitar, Demonaz still wrote all of the lyrics for the band.

The album begins with "Withstand the Fall of Time". The trademark freezing cold tremolo riffs are ever present, chilling your skin. The band’s death metal roots carried from Old Funeral have been all but completely abandoned here in favor of a clean cut riffing style based very closely on the German thrash scene. Tremolo picked melodies occur sparingly alongside varying melodic breaks and rhythmic breakdowns. The bass and drums provide a powerful back-up to these crushing riffs. Everything seems to have a purpose, working toward the same goal. Around the 3:00 mark there is a sorrowful and cold tremolo melody that will haunt you in your deepest sleep. It must be said that Abbath's vocals are in top form, as well. Truly, Immortal seem to be embracing their own past as this is sort of a return to the epic song structures found on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. While the sound is not the same, the atmosphere has not changed so much. Looking at most of the other Norwegian bands, they had all changed (drastically, in some cases) yet Immortal remains true to the same freezing cold spirit that they always have.

"Solarfall" begins with another epic and sorrowful melody. The production is the only thing modern-sounding about this. It is amazing how much better the songwriting is just from the previous album. After a couple minutes, there is a quiet acoustic section sounding as if it was recorded through a wall of ice. This builds up to some mid-paced thrash riffs followed by bitter cold arpeggios. The song then returns to the main theme (which sounds quite similar to Iron Maiden's "Where Eagles Dare") as the coldest winter winds wrap you in a cloak of frigidity.

The next song is "Tragedies Blows At the Horizon". This is mid-paced and still possessing the same feeling that has been established with the first two songs. This is a band that started off with something unique now coming around full circle and all but completely rediscovering the original magic that they had during the glory days of the Norwegian scene. Though perhaps not stylistically in line with their debut, At The Heart Of Winter carries the same spirit of epic sorrow and woeful coldness, combined with a form of aggression tempered by a sense of organization, opting to save the truly chaotic moments for when they are called for, rather than blasting straight through at full speed for two or three minutes at a time.

"Where Dark and Light Don't Differ" begins with old school thrash riffs, entwined with a cold sense of melody. It is almost reminiscent of some old King Diamond or Destruction. Abbath shows great skill in sliding from thrash riffs into more frost-covered tremolo melodies. The song construction, here, is far more formalized than any previous release. Riffs and melodic material recur with much greater frequency, ideas are extended much longer and given ample time to mature before moving on. This was somewhat of a problem, even on Battles in the North. The vocals here are much deeper and overdubbed to give even more of a sinister and demonic effect. About midway through the song, Abbath unleashes a beautiful lead solo, surprisingly. At some points, there are even slight similarities to the feeling created on Dissections' Storm of the Light's Bane.

Possibly the most epic composition of the album is the song "At the Heart of Winter". This begins with an ominous and somber intro. The acoustic melody is enough to cause your heart to wither as the cold winds are blowing in the background. The synth use is actually very suitable as an intro, helping to create a mystical aura. Indeed, this is a very ambitious song. The powerful and melodic guitar riffs are accompanied by the most grim vocals of the album, with Horgh keeping a moderately relaxed pace throughout. Certain riffs create a real sense of tension and anxiety, before the frostbitten tremolo melodies carry you deeper into the realm of Blashyrkh. There are plenty of tempo changes and even another brilliant solo to be found here. Out of an album filled with great songs, this is probably the highlight. Much like "One Rode To Asa Bay", this possesses an epic atmosphere that has to be heard to be truly understood.

"Years of Silent Sorrow" begins with a total old school feeling from both the drumming pattern and the guitar riffs. That is one great quality about this album: the guitars are the focal point, much as it should be. The thrash riffs lead into more cold arpeggio riffs, transitioning then to some brief tremolo bits, before returning. While the pace is more relaxed than on some earlier albums, the structures seem more complex. With this song, you can truly feel that you are nearing the end of an epic journey. The lyrics do well to support this:

"Farewell... nothing breathes within me
Harnessbells... sounding cold behind me
A demon... with frozen eyes opened
This journey black behind me..."

There is definitely a sense of finality that is conveyed through this song. A stream of wintry melancholy flows beneath, rising up and overtaking you at certain moments. This song brings At the Heart of Winter to a fitting conclusion.

Regarding this masterpiece, I may be a bit biased as I first discovered this during one of the few pleasant periods in my existence. It was the middle of winter, I was spending all of my time studying Norse mythology, reading Tolkien and walking through the forest where I would get lost for hours, on the coldest days. This also preceded me meeting someone very important, so the sentimentality may cloud my opinion. Either way, I recommend this to fans of Immortal, as well as those who appreciate Dissection, Bathory and even German thrash such as Kreator.
(10 Feb. 2009)

Damned In Black (2000)

Damned in Black in the sixth full-length album from Norway's Immortal. For this record, Abbath and Horgh were joined by Iscariah, on bass. All of the lyrics were, of course, handled by Demonaz. Recorded in Abyss Studios and produced by Peter Tägtgren, that would only mark the beginning of the mistakes made with this collection of songs. In April 2000, when Osmose Records released this album, Immortal fans were likely expecting something else, entirely.

My first impression was that this was a horrible album. Despite Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Pure Holocaust being my favourite Immortal albums, At the Heart of Winter won me over and I hoped for something similar. Sadly, the epic, melodic feel of that record was replaced with the jerky, stop/start riffing reminiscent of Blizzard Beasts. The terrible modern production made things even worse, as even the Teutonic thrash riffs seemed strange and out of place. I was tempted to return the CD, several times, and kept changing my mind on a daily basis. Being such a fan of the band, I wanted to like this and gave it many chances, but eventually just gave up and let it collect dust for a while before randomly tossing it in a couple years later.

To get the negative things out of the way first, the songs seem rather short and uninspired when compared to the previous album. Even worse, the lyrical content that Immortal had come to be known for was largely absent. The grim images of winter landscapes and frost demons were now a thing of the past, which was rather disappointing. The overall feeling was that they had gone out of their way to abandon what they started on At the Heart of Winter in order to try making Blizzard Beasts Part II. However, in that context, it should be stated that they did a much better job the second time around.

The album begins with "Triumph", which is the most memorable and energetic song to be found here. It features a great deal of thrash riffs, but to call this black/thrash would almost be misleading, as it would conjure images of grim 80s bands instead of the polished and modern sound that Immortal achieved on this release. The only thing that really saves it is that it is quite intense, and the feeling is there. Other than the middle section, the song keeps a frantic pace and has a sense of violence and force that was lacking on the last record.

"Wrath from Above" keeps the fury going, as it sticks to the intense (almost death metal-like) riffs that reminds one more of Morbid Angel than any Norwegian black metal band. Again, the middle section sees a slower pace but it soon speeds up and proves to be completely ineffective. In later interviews, Abbath admitted that the album was somewhat rushed and that seems quite apparent here.

The next song is "Against the Tide (In the Arctic World)" and this one sounds reminiscent of At the Heart of Winter, while not managing to be as epic. One noticeable difference between the two albums is that Abbath's vocals seem weaker, as if he was battling some sort of illness while recording. The song features a few changes and a decent solo and, while standing out when compared to other songs on this record, it still falls somewhat short of what the band was capable of.

"My Dimension" goes right back into the speed, with rather generic Thrash riffs that do little to convey any sort of intensity or feeling. Later riffs seem a bit more natural, though the song seems carried by the percussion more than it should be. The slower riffs, in the middle and at the end, are far more appealing and could have been used to build a different song, altogether.

Next up is "The Darkness That Embrace Me", which is a little more subdued and flows more naturally. It would be one of the better songs on here, if not for the breakdown in the middle, which completely kills the atmosphere, dead. Eventually, the song recovers, but it is hardly worthwhile after that disgusting display.

"In Our Mystic Visions Blest" starts out with the intensity of a death metal song, and the effects on the vocals only add to this feeling. For one reason or another, it reminds me of something that belongs on Covenant, by Morbid Angel. This is not a huge surprise, as they once said that they were inspired by them. Later in the song, some more interesting guitar melodies are introduced, though that is not quite enough to give the song a better rating.

It all ends with the title track, "Damned in Black", which starts out as if it is going to be epic as hell and thus represents the last hope for any traces of the previous album to be found. The more epic parts alternate with parts that can be described as slow staccato riffs as well as some restrained Thrash bits. Later in the song, the speed increases and hearkens back to the old days, before a calm acoustic section leads into another mid-paced riff. Some of the riffs drag a little, but this is still one of the better songs on the album.

Damned in Black is an odd album in that Immortal seemed to run away from the style that they utilized on At the Heart of Winter, in an effort to revisit and improve upon Blizzard Beasts. While the result was better than that atrocity, it was still a let down and many fans were grateful that they got back on track with Sons of Northern Darkness, a couple years later. This is certainly not essential.
(11 Oct. 2006)

Sons of Northern Darkness (2001)

Immortal's musical journey has taken many twists and turns, over the years. No two albums sound alike, yet the core spirit of the band manages to survive the countless changes. From the barbaric fury of Battles in the North, to the disappointing piece of garbage known as Blizzard Beasts, to the epic masterpiece that was At the Heart of Winter and then the utterly pathetic Damned In Black, Immortal manages to tie all of this together on their final album. There are even moments that hearken back to Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Pure Holocaust, if not in sound, then in spirit.

Sons of Northern Darkness is the seventh full-length album from Norway's Immortal. It was recorded in Abyss Studios, in September 2001. While the production has a certain modern sound to it, the band intentionally went for more of an 80s approach to the songwriting, while still maintaining their trademark sound. The traditional heavy metal influences are stronger on this album than any they have done before, as well as keeping with the spirit of old Venom and Bathory. Demonaz, as usual, contributed all the lyrics for this album, and it is easy to see that he was much more involved this time as the lyrics are some of the best in Immortal's career. He also played a part in some of the song arrangements.

The album erupts from the silence with the song "One By One". The riffs are very thrashy and this kind of sounds like a more successful version of what they attempted on Blizzard Beasts. Everything sounds much more natural on this album, rather than seeming forced. Also, Abbath's vocals seem to have recovered from whatever affliction that they suffered on the previous album. The songwriting has a nice, old school feeling to it, while Horgh's drumming is simplistic when needed and inventive enough to keep things from sounding stagnant at any point.

The title track begins with an interesting drum intro that precedes some of the coldest thrash riffs ever written. Somehow, the band manages to keep such an atmosphere of frost, no matter how they choose to approach the music. The slower sections truly freeze the blood in your veins, as the thrash transitions to open-arpeggios and then to fleeting tremolo parts. It all flows so effortlessly. Abbath's vocals channel the grim essence of a battle-worn troll. The brief lead solo, near the end, is also a nice touch.

"Tyrants" is a dark, mid-paced epic. The melodies are very memorable. Near the middle of the song, there is more use of open-arpeggio riffs, followed by a calm acoustic section. The feeling is cold enough that you feel you have been encased in a block of ice. This serene atmosphere is interrupted by a scream that is accompanied by tremolo riffs and double bass that serve to carve you out of the ice, leaving you to lay on the frozen ground, gasping for air.

The next song is "Demonium", beginning with more furious riffs that have become synonymous with Immortal. The spirit of Battles in the North is quite strong, here. After a couple minutes of this blistering assault, the song takes on a different tone. The songwriting is very skilled, as they manage to take the listener on some sort of journey with each outing. Nothing is awkward or out of place.

"Within the Dark Mind" starts out kind of mid-paced, keeping an utterly cold feeling with the guitar riffs. The vocal delivery perfectly captures the grim and diabolic nature of the lyrics. This song conveys a deep desire to see the sun forever extinguished, as shadows creep over the frozen landscape, swallowing the world for eternity. The latter half of the song sees limited bursts of the more typical barbaric pace that Immortal is known for, which strongly contrasts the atmosphere created up until that point, allowing those moments to make more of an impact.

Bitter cold guitar riffs begin the song "In My Kingdom Cold". Open-arpeggios quickly transition to thrashier moments, before flowing into icy tremolo riffs. The winter ambiance is aided by the incredible lyrics.

"In my kingdom cold...
At the mountains of madness
Unending grimness
This kingdom is mine..."

"Antarctica" tells a tale of the frozen continent moving and spreading across the world, taking all under its icy dominion. It may not be very Nordic, yet this subject matter could not be more fitting. The song begins with a very eerie synth intro, accompanied by the sound of frigid winds. The riffs have sort of a somber tone, though heavy enough to represent the massive glaciers depicted in the lyrics. The keyboards from the intro seem to continue on, flowing beneath the surface, adding to the dark and epic feeling. Near the end, the song becomes very still and calm, as the bass rumbles beneath the acoustic section, with Abbath's dry croaking.

Sons of Northern Darkness is brought to its conclusion with the majestic epic, "Beyond the North Waves". This reaches back to the earliest days of Immortal, being somewhat reminiscent of "A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland" in all its glory, having a similar feeling to Viking-era Bathory. The song begins with the sound of waves gently crashing against the side of a ship. For anyone that has sailed across the North Sea, you know the cold purity of those waters. This feeling is evoked by these sounds. The accompanying acoustic guitar sounds almost as if it was recorded under water. The guitar riffs crush you with their frozen might. This is slow and mid-paced, engendering the sense that one is being taken on a great journey. The brief tremolo riffs that blow through, like winter winds, chill your flesh. Lyrically, this may be one of the most powerful pieces in this band's history. Rather than the mythical realm of Blashyrkh and tales of fantasy, this song remains rooted firmly in actual Norse history and pagan ideology.

"For he who battles for his land, his pride and for his men
Shall be remembered and stand eternally named
In the legends of our land"

The open-arpeggio riffs, in the latter half of the song, truly envelope you in the cold and dark waters of the North. The clean, spoken part only adds to this utterly epic atmosphere. The solo that follows captures this feeling, perfectly. The lyrics serve as a proper epitaph for what may very well be the climax of Immortal's musical career. It is quite fitting that the last song on their final album leaves you in such an awe-inspired state.
(12 Feb. 2009)

Sometime in 2003, it was announced that the mighty Immortal was no more. In the years that followed, Abbath, Demonaz and original drummer Armagedda collaborated on the Between Two Worlds album, from the side-project I. It wasn't too long after this, in 2006, that word got around that Immortal would be reuniting for some live shows. Still, it was unclear whether or not this was purely a nostalgia deal or if the band was truly back. In January 2008, Abbath, Horgh and Apollyon began rehearsing and writing material for their first album in several years. Of course, Demonaz was still there to provide lyrics, as always. After playing many gigs, the band finally began recording in April 2009. They recorded in both Abyss Studio and Grieghallen, for the first time since Battles in the North. Finally, in late September, All Shall Fall was released.

This album can be summed up with one word: forgettable. While it is a competent effort, it is ultimately unnecessary and feels overly safe and predictable. Musically, this record does well to pick up from where Sons of Northern Darkness left off. The passage of seven years, in between, is hardly noticeable. The guitar riffs are freezing cold, throughout the album, which is dominated by a good number or blackened thrash riffs, with a decent amount of inspiration from early Bathory. Quorthon's influence can be heard throughout the album, from time to time, such as the acoustic sections that come along to give you the feeling that you are sinking into frigid waters. The title track is one of the only memorable tunes here, even including a sombre and haunting tremolo melody. The songwriting isn't bad, with tracks like "The Rise of Darkness" and "Norden On Fire" easily capturing the same feeling that was present on the last few Immortal records. Several of the compositions are boring and lackluster, making it a tedious endeavour to sit through the album as a whole. It ends on a high note, thankfully, as "Unearthly Kingdom" returns to the traditional theme of Blashyrkh and is the most epic piece on All Shall Fall. From the eerie intro to the cold and desolate mid-paced riffs, as well as the sorrowful clean guitars and insanely grim vocals, this piece best captures the epic vibe that the band was going for.

"Entering the sacred world of might
To where the stormy kingdoms home
Here naked winds blow cold and free
All black and dead on frozen ground"

Lyrically, it's very good to have more material from the mind of Demonaz, as it's gotten rather lame that most Black Metal bands are getting deeper and deeper into Judeo-Christian mythology for their lyrics, in recent years. As for the production, it suffers from the same overly modern sound as on the previous records, but it could be worse. For what it is worth, the guitars possess a sharp edge that give the riffs a very frozen sound. The drums are thunderous, at times, but only when necessary. Otherwise, they sound quite similar to At the Heart of Winter. Of course, the vocals receive enough clarity to allow the utter grimness of Abbath's voice to be felt.

Several years ago, Immortal had gone out on a high note, so many were skeptical of whether or not they could live up the standards that they had set for themselves. While All Shall Fall exceeded the expectations of most, it occasionally drags and listeners may get the sense that they have heard this all before. Nevertheless, there are a few decent tracks here, and the album should please fans of the band's later efforts. 
(23 Oct. 2009)

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