Immortal has returned, but not only have they returned, they have come full circle back to the blisteringly fast black metal sound that pioneered early releases such as Pure Holocaust and Blizzard Beasts. While the bulk of the conversation around Northern Chaos Gods seems to revolve around the fact that Abbath, guitar player and vocalist on the last four releases Immortal unleashed in to the world is no longer a member of their ranks, I find this to be a pointless exercise. If you want Abbath helmed songs, seek out his solo project. It is a fun, mostly uptempo, easily digestible project, with a strong root in black metal that manages to remain accessible and catchy. This is not that project. This is the return of fucking IMMORTAL, fronted by the now rehabilitated Demonaz Doom Occulta, who fell victim to Carpal Tunnel, and had not played guitar on a recording in nearly twenty years .Until now.
Now, getting this discussion out of the way and putting it to bed for the duration of this review; I love Abbath helmed immortal. Sons of Northern Darkness and At The Heart of Winter are two of my favorite Norweigan Black Metal albums. They are unassailable classics. They are perfect exercises in melodic, thrashy, and relentless riffs, bolstered by blistering percussion, and Abbath’s trademark croak. In no way am I shitting on them at all when I say that Northern Chaos Gods breathes necessary new life into Immortal. Their 2009 album, All Shall Fall is NOT a bad record either. However, this, at the end of the day, may prove to be their finest pure black metal record.
While early Demonaz fronted Immortal was certainly nothing to sneeze at, Pure Holocaust and it’s ilk lacked the technical proficiency of Northern Chaos Gods, but Northern Chaos Gods certainly contains the group’s trademark fury. Right off the bat, the title track opens the album at a blistering pace, announcing that those who may have written Immortal had made a grave mistake. Demonaz does not inject a lot of melody in many of his riffs, but his playing is precise, and does not ever devolve into noise nor technical wankery, instead choosing tasteful solos and layers upon layers of breakneck speed tremolo picking. Horgh is a one man battery machine, transitioning between blasts and fills with seeming ease, always keeping things interesting but never insisting on being the center of attention.
“Gates of Blashyrkh”, the third track on the album, finally slows down a bit and gives Demonaz a bit of room to arpeggiate some beautiful chords, and allows the drums to stomp along, creating an almost mosh inducing tempo. Make no mistake; there are no dalliances into metalcore, nor clean vocals, pandering to trends, or any other songwriting choices that will make the “old guard” of black metal cry foul and complain that their precious Immortal has sold out. There is no reinvention of their sound to be had here. However, as showcased on “Where Mountains Rise”, the sense of urgency that carries most of the riffs on Northern Chaos Gods is not forced at the expense of song craft. While the tempo for most tracks remains fairly high, nothing is lost in the shuffle, and the clever arrangements chosen by Demonaz (and perhaps assisted by session bassist, Peter Tägtgren) allow for memorable songs, not just “cool parts”.
And on the final song of the 8 track affair, “Mighty Ravendark”, that it is incredibly apparent that Immortal has truly returned at the top of their game. All of the high points of the band’s whole career are somehow expertly blended into one 9 plus minute opus. The tempo is slower than many of the tracks, but this just gives the beautiful melodies and creative chord choices more room to make themselves obvious. This song may truly be one of Immortal’s finest moments of their whole damn glorious career.
I have nothing bad to say about this record, and judging from the internet’s dumb opinions, I’m hardly the only one. Is the album kinda one speed, and are many of the songs a little interchangeable? Sure, but who the fuck cares? It’s so well done, and it is THEIR damn sound, so frankly, Immortal sounding like Immortal could hardly be described as a remotely bad thing. If I have any complaint, I could have used this being a double album with songs of this high quality.
As the last men standing out of the progenitors of True Norwegian Black Metal still releasing records in that style and doing it well (Emperor just plays live shows of their old material, Burzum is a joke now, Darkthrone has evolved into a wonderful, but decidedly very different band, and Mayhem is fucking trash and always has been) Immortal had a lot to prove with this album, given the lukewarm reception to their last work, and the well founded fears over the line up change. They blew my expectations away, and I couldn’t be happier. This is easily one of the top 3 records Nuclear Blast has ever released.
Release Date: July 6, 2018
Label: Nuclear Blast
For Fans Of: If you like Black Metal, you know whether or not you like Immortal. If you’ve never heard them, this is an absolutely fine place to start.