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The elder still bears the frozen axe. - 87%

hells_unicorn, June 7th, 2011

Coldness and darkness has a charm all its own, independent of whatever tale may be caught in its grasp. If the atmosphere fits and the feel is glorious to the point of being approved by the 4 winds alluded to by Manowar, there is little reason to complain. These topics always come up whenever anyone connected to the Immortal franchise is concerned, and original composer and continued lyricist Demonaz Doom Occulta could be seen as the next in a generation of storytellers to arise since Quorthon popularized the Nordic trend of frosty landscapes and Viking lore. He has yet to produce anything unworthy of praise, perhaps in large part because he never roams too far from home, and “March Of The Norse” is yet another in his all but perfect succession of projects.

If one project could be directly alluded to as the closest to what this album has to offer, “I” would be the point of reference, minus some of the overt Motörhead influences. Then again, given the dense layering of baritone background choirs and brisk keyboard landscapes, an equal case could be made for the more grandiose endeavors of the Viking era of Bathory, namely “Twilight Of The Gods” and the two “Nordland” opuses. The stoic melodic contours and disciplined guitar work definitely tilts towards a typical successor of latter day Immortal, which is about the same story as “I”, but there is also a conceptual, single dimensional approach that gives the feel of a continuous singular song. Minus Demonaz’s gravely mutterings, which are somewhere between Abbath’s orc-speak and Quorthon’s latter day semi-shout, this is all but a perfect reliving of the primeval 80s character of heavy metal where the format is methodical and formulaic, to the point of being overly predictable, yet carried well based on the quality of ideas.

It might be difficult to construe this as being a complement for any reputable band putting forth a blackened metal album, but what has been rendered here is something that is probably fitter for radio than anything popular bands like Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. The choirs are catchy to the point of being a sheer viral assault on the ears, the structuring is extremely easy to follow and get lost in, and what little flash is put forth by current Enslaved technician Arve Isdal (aka Ice Dale) is extremely restrained and lacks any of the chaotic abruptnesses of Abbath’s leads. The only thing that could possibly explain a humbler exposure for this is that Demonaz isn’t a sensationalist trying to draw upon either sexual or occult based shock devices. Apart from some esoteric types who occasionally like to lose themselves in elaborate lyrical illustrations about a mostly familiar subject, this is still something that is exclusively oriented towards a non-hipster audience.

In a sense, “March Of The Norse” is probably among the closest attempts at constructing a perfectly consistent conceptual work in this style, save perhaps “Nordland II”. There isn’t really a highlight in terms of quality, no singular riveting song that defines the whole album. This is an album that fully embraces the one dimensional tendencies of this sort of endeavor and makes it work. The acoustic passages are all interrelated with each other thematically, the pace is generally upper mid-tempo, and melodic expositions and recapitulations can be found from start to finish. The only outlier to speak of is the somewhat more traditional heavy metal tinged bonus song “Dying Sun”, which listens closer to something that belongs on the next “I” album, if there should be another one. I guess maybe one could also point to “Under The Great Fires” as it contains all of the elements of the album in a singular song and features Demonaz putting on his most versatile performance, which is quite good considering the obvious limitations in his vocal range.

Ultimately, despite being a very praiseworthy work for a guy who has been largely out of the music writing business for a while, this is largely a rock solid yet not quite astounding work. In much the same way as the first “Nordland” installment, there’s still a fair amount of room for growth and variety, though a simpler format still would be the overall drive for any album like this. It’s the kind of album that is fit for an arena of maddened metal and Viking enthusiasts, yet it’s not quite up to the level of “I” or about half of the Immortal catalog. But pretty much anyone who follows Demonaz’s past works should be able to get into this, though few converts will likely be made outside of the usual adherents.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on June 7, 2011.