Rejoice for the fact that one of the most brilliant yet savage bands from 27 years ago has released an album, in spite of drama with losing their original frontman and hit the ball out of the park just being Immortal. This is really picking up, and I know these are big words, where the band left off in arguably their most creative, active, and possibly relevant periods. Demonaz’s guitar performance is precise surgical art sounding somewhere between Blizzard Beasts and At the Heart of Winter or after the latter and before Damned in Black. I’ve been a fan since Battles in the North, and Demonaz and Horgh have tapped into that classic, brutal, epic Immortal, the band that despite the over the top corpse paint and dark medieval props and imagery (like an amalgam of inventory from “Baldur’s Gate” and classic role-playing games on the table top as well) became empowered from their own savage universe. The band will always reign among the ranks of Extreme Metal’s most elite statesmen.
The album begins with the title track, and for those who have yet to hear, it is nothing short of the soundtrack to being captive in the midst of your surroundings being blown up with the old source magic of fire, leaping and chasing its own tail in the cold, frozen night. The song is relentless. It is overwhelmingly similar to material off their classic album, Blizzard Beasts for the majority of the song, but toward the end, it has an interlude of sorts where the riffs meet the keyboard at the same intersection as on Bathory‘’s timeless Blood Fire Death. While some riffs on this release are characterized by extreme blasting and a brutal onslaught of that precise, lethal, and cold formula that’s always worked for the band, it’s more than obvious that a sense of Bathory pervades throughout. That is certainly not a bad thing, for it isn’t hero worship in a copycat type of way but rather boldly accepting the flag from Quorthon to carry on the fight ad infinitum. In the Hard Rock world, it’s like looking at the influence of AC/DC on The Cult, again, something that’s certainly obvious though definitely not dastardly derivative. If not, The Cult could have sounded like The Cure considering the scene they came from and time period, and there is certainly only room in the world for one Robert Smith.
“Gates to Blashyrkh,” the third track, is the crescendo for the first third or so of the album. Demonaz is in his element. Though I haven’t seen any live clips of this new lineup, on the album he is definitely making himself known as the new reigning tour de force, chief persona/master of ceremonies of the band. One is transported, flying through the night time air whilst soon piercing the gates and on into the realm of the infinite and the arcane. Honestly, if Immortal had an MMORPG (massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing-game), I’d free up some hard drive space, spend one less $20 bill a week on booze, reallocate the funds to video games, and try it out. It’s so convincing and entangling that one can, through the aid of the memory of smell, draw in and absorb the biting, frozen mini-pulses of ice darts raining down from the heavens with their sinister breath, ensconced with the ashy smell of the lighted torch that accompanies you on your journey.
“Grim and Dark” and “Called to Ice,” the fourth and fifth track respectively, are like classic mission statements. Hopefully, rather undoubtedly, the sheer enormity of powerful riffs, relentless drumming, and satisfyingly- edgy vocals from Demonaz will aid the band in their mission to recruit hordes of new initiates. If there is a song that encapsulates where the band’s ethos and artistic direction lay, it is the thriving, pulsing epic and soon to be legendary, last track, “Mighty Ravendark”. Any old school fan will immediately benefit from the memories and be returned to those woods where the band originally practiced their LARP (live-action-role-playing) activities, but recognizing the theme, or certainly, a timeless character in the band’s brand and lore, adds a layer of appreciation. The song is over nine minutes long, but like listening to “Kashmir” or “Powerslave,” time flies when the guitar’s technically blinding riffs join forces with Horgh’s epic, double bass-killing machine.
This simply isn’t an album of the band just overtly returning to a sound either because they like their own material best from that era or to please fans and critics. Immortal instead have taken inventory of their arsenal of riffs and rhythms and finely sharpened the blade of their attack. The sheer speed of the right hand (assuming Demonaz is right-handed) picking the notes and hitting the chords is bafflingly impressive. Evidently, his tendonitis is in remission or he has found a way to work around it. While he isn’t known for changing keys or insanely long arpeggios up and down the fretboard, the way that he maintains the chord structure (sometimes only the root and/or fifth) while blazing through his riffs show a mature guitar player who has not lost touch with the need to be daring, all the while never relenting the brutality. Vocally, Demonaz fits right in. He’s certainly not an Abbath clone, yet the feel is not lost. There’s definitely less “Popeye” in the mix. Thankfully, Peter Tägtgren is a wizard in the studio and captures the epic melding of the pummeling drums and gigantic riffs. It’s the classic Immortal sound, though the production is modern without sounding fancy, trendy, or prissy. You can focus on the drums or the guitar while listening but soon, you will find your mind absorbing it all as one musical entity. That’s the result of a producer par excellence. Horgh’s drums literally sound like Dave Lombardo playing Black Metal, though they aren’t near as loud. Despite that, one can clearly discern the various blasts, tom rolls, and cymbal smashing that’s taking place. He’s all over the place, much like Demonaz, and furthermore holding it all together perfectly.
This review is not meant to be the rantings of a fanboy. It truly is rare that I’m met with something that makes such a resoundingly striking impression such as Northern Chaos Gods. Immortal is back on track having now exited the phase of picking up all the pieces as a true success. Usually when a band loses (what people often assume, evidently) one of its key members such as Abbath, something about the band dies too. Something seemingly must always be shed in order to advance. This is not the case with this album, though. The band have not veered down any other path, turned anything down, or run out of stunning examples of technical Black Metal. I cannot help but wonder about the extent of Abbath’s role in the band after hearing this album. Demonaz has unquestionably the tone of Immortal in his hands, his voice, and on the sheet of music he’s written. Whether into Black Metal or not, I cannot recommend this album more for any fan of heavy music can appreciate this (certainly so when considered under the light of the widespread appreciation of Meshuggah). Hail to the frozen land of Blashyrkh. I don’t want to go home!