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Without any doubt whatsoever this comeback album from Norwegian black metal legends Immortal represents the most eagerly anticipated extreme metal album of 2009, and by quite some distance too. There must exist many reasons for Immortal's stature these days nigh on 20 years after formation. After all, we've all laughed merrily/grimly (delete as appropriate to your take on all things 'panda metal') to classic videos like "The Call of the Wintermoon", borne witness to the numerous internet piss-takes at ridiculous Immortal photo shoots and at one point all thought the band looked a tad silly trying to look threatening holding a TV aerial in spiked shinpads.
But then one might ask why other bands like Dark Funeral, who look just as silly in my opinion, are not so revered? It's cos Immortal have consistently backed up their image with some great music, and in the case of "All Shall Fall"'s predecessor "Sons of Northern Darkness", released one of this decade's greatest metal albums. So as is the case with any album so highly anticipated the hype-machine comes in full motion, often disguising the true worth of the album in question and making the review process all that bit harder. So does "All Shall Fall", the band's eighth studio album, match up to "Sons of Northern Darkness"?
Overall, no, but only in the same manner that "South of Heaven" was inferior to "Reign In Blood". "All Shall Fall" is still a great listen: we have, of course, the 'patented' Immortal guitar tone and Abbath's grimtastic vocal style, two factors that instantly separate Immortal from the blackened pack. At this juncture it is worth noting however the aforementioned guitar sound is weaker in comparison to the fantastic one found on "Sons..."; where we previously had the sharp icy-tone with an evident note of fuzzy feedback, the cleaning up job for "All..." has removed the fuzz and some of the ice for a more classic metal sound. Abbath, however, sounds as demonic as ever, instantly recognisable and with a greater clarity than before.
The weight of the band's sound and self-confidence in their abilities shines through in "The Rise Of Darkness" and "Unearthly Kingdom" as it is their subtle touches in piecing together a collection of riffs that may have been mere bland when recorded by anyone else but which with Immortal come out as inspired and calculated. The performances of Horgh and Apollyon rarely leave anything to be desired but it is Abbath's guitar work and range of feels that he exudes which make much of the band's work eternally enjoyable and one suitable too to a larger audience than may conventionally be the case with such a musical style.
As a metal fan first and foremost and reviewer second I could be described as a sucker for metal that is 'epic' in one way or another and with tracks like "Norden On Fire" and "Unearthly Kingdom" we are not let down. The scale of frozen vastness so wonderfully captured on "Sons...", making it the classic that it is, is most prominent in the feel of Bathory-Viking-era-esque "Norden On Fire", accentuated by the pounding pace and it's entirely headbanging-worthy nature; if one track could be used to describe Immortal today I would take this one as it gets better with every listen. Sandwiched between "Hordes To War" and "Arctic Swarm" though, "Norden On Fire" highlights "All Shall Fall"'s biggest problem: songs such as these two are good hammering tracks but not up to scratch if we were looking for a true successor to "Sons...". Being ‘good’ has now come to not be enough when in the context of Immortal.
It's taken me some time to come to these opinions but to listen to "All Shall Fall" purely as it's own release is the best method to gain it's maximum enjoyment because in that respect it will definitely leave its mark as another work from one of the genre's most respected and unique bands. To expect it to live up to "Sons..." and the preceding 7 year gap is a step too far but when you can guarantee noone else will sound like Immortal this year or the next, the album gains an extra degree of significance despite only being a 7.5.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net