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Immortal - Northern Chaos Gods (Album Review)

Wednesday, 11 July 2018 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Not many Norwegian black metal bands can claim to be a legitimate part of popular culture. They’re not usually seen doing ‘What’s In My Bag?’ videos or hanging out with Post Malone. Instead, they’re in the forest. Being grim. Being evil.

Immortal, however, transcend that idea. In the modern age, they’ve become something of a meme factory, thanks in no small part to their former vocalist and guitarist, Abbath. There are photoshopped pictures of him on the Titanic. There’s another of him as Batman. Actually, here’s a compendium. 

He was a joker, but Immortal’s music has always been deadly serious. Of their eight previous albums, only their debut, ‘Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism’, and ropey third record, ‘Blizzard Beasts’, fall short of being black metal classics.

So when Abbath left in 2015, it threw a spanner in the works. After a hiatus the band had already triumphantly ridden back into town with 2009's 'All Shall Fall', and they were now tasked with following a comeback with a comeback.

On ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ they waste no time shutting every detractor down. The album is spearheaded by founding member Demonaz, whose health has allowed him to return as a guitar player rather than solely a lyricist for the first time since 1997. And, appropriately, he’s doubling up on vocals.

This record is Demonaz’s moment. Immortal’s lyrics have long focused on the fictional kingdom of Blashyrkh, and now its creator gets to live there. As the title track snarls out of the speakers, we are straight into old-school Immortal territory. It’s frantic, frenetic riffing straight from the ‘Pure Holocaust’ playbook, bursting from the snow like a frostbitten jack-in-the-box.

Musically, the band aren’t breaking any new ground. And that’s fine. Immortal sound like Immortal. Demonaz’s croak occupies a similar register to Abbath’s earlier work but he never slips into a pale imitation, instead spattering his own unique voice onto the pages of Blashyrkh lore.

The pummelling, vintage elements are all present and correct, but Immortal are still interested in exploring the widescreen, epic territories marked out on ‘At The Heart of Winter’ and ‘All Shall Fall’. The choppy, sloppy rock ‘n’ roll of Into Battle Ride is balanced by the push-and-pull, clean-to-distorted, Bathory-esque dynamics of Gates To Blashyrkh and Mighty Ravendark.

The former also showcases drummer Horgh’s personality thanks to some iconic, surprising drum fills. Likewise, long-time producer Peter Tägtgren steps up to the plate and lays down session bass, gelling as a rhythm section on mid-tempo tracks like Where Mountains Rise.

If you’re a stickler, you’ll probably miss Abbath’s signature guitar tone. But ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ is in keeping with Immortal’s storied legacy. It’s harsh black metal that pays homage to Bathory without stepping on any toes; it’s well aware of where it comes from, but defiant in its idiosyncrasies. And Demonaz knows his way around a hook – Blacker Of Worlds, Into Battle Ride and Where Mountains Rise all sit among the band’s catchiest moments. What we have here is eight songs about wintry landscapes, grimness, and being a bit bloody cold. But that’s exactly what you wanted.

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