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During the 1990s, black metal was stirring up a whole lot of controversy, due to Norwegian church burnings, murder and satanic imagery, adding to the occult themes. However, one band that took a position away from it all was Immortal. They wrote lyrics about their own fictional world that was known as Blashyrkh (starting from 1995's "Battles In The North). Before that, they wrote about the winter, ice and snow, as well as battle. The raw element to all of this was Demonaz' style of songwriting. It was fast, abrasive and dark. His guitar work had surely unsettled some people. But later on, he fell upon a most unfortunate fate of getting acute tendinitis in his arm. He was unable to continue playing with the band. Therefore, he had no interest in writing music with them. Which is understandable. So, music-writing duties were left to Abbath. This was the first album that he'd written the music to.
When compared to the band's previous work, this album contains songwriting that is much more focused on epicness. The music sounds a bit more melodic and it tries to make the music as big as possible. It succeeds in making an epic album, but it is also badass. I consider the two to be different when they are compared. Epic can be cheesy and just flat-out stupid, at times. While this is definitely a little bit cheesy, it does still manage to be one very enjoyable album. Also, the previous albums seemed much more like they were revolving around the drumming, which was very, very fast. But this is more riff-oriented and focuses more on melody than rhythm. Or at least, when compared to their last four albums. That doesn't mean that this isn't still very fast, but it is expanded in other areas.
The album's opener, "Withstand the Fall of Time" is a highlight for me, just like everyone else. It has some very enjoyable opening riffs, along with the atmosphere within it, as well as the rest of the music. The solos on the track are absolutely memorable. It focuses on making some amazing riffs (I'd still give it a chance, before steering clear of it, due to the fact that there are cool riffs in the solo sections) and it fully succeeds. The follow-up to it, "Solarfall" was a very riff-oriented track and it had an amazing epic sound. The riffs are not all that thick, but they don't need to be. They have a hell of a structure that makes them satisfying, nonetheless. I am also a huge fan of "Where Dark and Light Don't Differ", due to its large sound and very satisfying atmosphere. Great riffs and solos, galore on this track. There is also some of the best musicianship on it. The instruments (as well as the vocals) all play their part in this track, each and every single one of them. The title track has a MASSIVE atmosphere and sound, as well as a great level of musicianship. With a beast of a chorus and a great solo to top it all off, this song delivers a lot that you can crave from a black metal song with an epic sound.
The guitar riffing, as I have said before, is absolutely masterful. Immortal has crafted together some great riffs in all of their music, but I prefer the riffs on this album over any other. It goes well with the rapid tempos, as well as the slower to mid-paced ones that this album throws at them. So rarely is it that guitar riffs can do that, without changing themselves all too much, or just being the exact same riff. Here, they give similar feelings and create similar moods, but they still have variety within their limits. It all comes together to make a force that is to be reckoned with and I would say that there isn't quite enough rhythm work that is based on the melody of music that is able to really do that. That is the reason why the bands that actually do this are so special to me.
The only two things that could have been altered for the better on this album are a small amount of the instrumental work and merely a couple of lyrics. Some of the instrumental work on the album can just become a bit forgettable and boring. There were a few moments where Abbath just seemed to have a big urge to get studio time over with, for the day and just pick random music out of his ass. As for the particular lyrics that I've just referenced, well...
"Tragedies blows at horizon. (Norwegian-English mistake, I guess)
We fight as one.
Tragedies blows at horizon.
The battle rages on".
Yeah... it can get a little dull, at times. But this isn't a very good representation of the lyrics on the album and there were just a few that could've been improved upon.
This is overall, an album that is a masterpiece in its genre and definitely not something that can be called "worthless noise" by people who do not exactly know extreme metal all that well. It focuses quite a lot on atmosphere, epicness and melody and it isn't exactly what some do consider to exist as "satanic filth", lyric-wise. Being the biggest standout in Immortal's discography, in my opinion, they haven't lost the power that was with them after the loss of Demonaz, but gained more in other areas. Abbath is a better guitarist than a bassist and certainly better than Demonaz, as well as a superior songwriter. Whether you are a fan of black metal (or extreme metal in general) or not, this is an album that you may be able to greatly enjoy.
"Blizzard Beasts", the predecessor of the here described album, had shown a band that had idiotically taken the course of self-destruction. I have heard somewhere that Norwegians who try to copy the sound of a North American formation are still Norwegians, for better or for worse. But maybe I am wrong. Anyway, it was time for a drastic change. Immortal had obviously realised that they were driving down the road to nowhere. Consequently, "At the Heart of Winter" was nothing less than a radical (and absolutely necessary) turnaround. The guys from the top of Europe left no stone unturned and the surprising result was outstanding.
The most important modification - how could it be otherwise - affects the compositional arrangements. Instead of confusing the listener with crude and obscure song patterns, the band puts the focus on clearly defined, majestic melodies in order to deliver accessible song structures. This does not mean that the songs lack of brusqueness. The instinct for vigorous guitar lines ennobles every part of the songs, irrespective of the degree of harshness. Better still, the melodic sequences fraternise with gruff outbursts in an amazingly harmonious manner. Immortal combine the different elements with great ease, although the aura of the tracks does not indicate any kind of lightness. The guttural vocals sound more masculine than on the catastrophic predecessor and convey the feeling of inevitability and doggedness. But the sound works as a whole while creating an ice-cold atmosphere. It matches with the fascinating artwork of the album that also has nothing in common with the unimaginative picture of "Blizzard Beasts". By the way, it is the only successful cover of the band up till now, apart perhaps from "All Shall Fall". Stop making silly band photos, deliver more fantastic paintings.
The six songs are nothing less than - sorry for using this trite term - frostbitten monuments. Their massiveness and coldness leave no doubt that this one is exposed to - another trite term, I am inconsolable - true Norwegian black metal, even though its configuration differs from the early albums of this genre in a remarkable manner. For example, "Tragedy Blows at Horizon" demonstrates that calm parts do not ruin the mightiness of a song as long as they provide the necessary atmosphere. The intro of the title track even goes one step further. It opens the gates to the snow covered landscape of Immortal's realm. Calm and frosty guitars lead to a desperate keyboard line, before the drums and the electric guitars set in. A hymnal riff heralds the strength of their fantasy kingdom and more rugged parts create a suspenseful atmosphere. Finally, the solo part adds the majestic touch which has become a trademark of the band's compositions. No doubt, this song constitutes a worthy representative of the album. This statement takes into account that the first three tracks reach the same level of brilliance. Without doubt, each and every of these opulent pieces would also have been a suitable title track, too. The triple pack at the beginning proves that Immortal manage flattening riffs as well as less aggressive sections and divine moments are not missing. For example, listen to this craggy line of "Solarfall": "See the ice in which we craft our souls / Earth's frozen cries the dark benight your kind" and enjoy its overwhelming guitar work. Apart from this line, I promise that there are more excellent details to discover.
Albeit each and every song lasts more than six minutes, Immortal are never at risk to bore the listener. Without appearing repetitive, the three-piece does not need 100 riffs per piece in order to enthuse the audience. With a view to the old slogan "less is more", the musicians prefer another way of proceeding. They give the guitars room to breathe with the result that they can develop their full effectiveness. In this respect, the powerful production should be mentioned, too. Fortunately, the mix cannot be confused with that of the predecessor. Instead of sounding flat and emotionless, it sparkles with its atmosphere and directness while forming acoustic ice crystals in abundance. Do they directly originate from Blashyrk? I don't know. But one thing is for sure, the Norwegian flagship has returned to its former glory.
I don't think anyone could have rightly predicted At the Heart of Winter when it first came out in 1999. Even years after its release, it still sticks out like a frostbitten thumb in Immortal's discography. How could a band, who had gone from over-the-top and ravenous, to over-the-top and amateurish in the time between Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Blizzard Beasts suddenly come out with an album that defied all notions of what the band were all about? Demonaz's unfortunate departure from Immortal meant some big changes were necessary for the project to keep going. Abbath made his propitious switch to guitars, and Reidar "Horgh" Horghagen (first introduced on the horrible Blizzard Beasts) was the new 'second half' of the band. Demonaz yet remained on the sidelines in a purely lyrical duty, but so many changes in the band meant that some evolution was on the horizon. Either that, or Immortal were going to have to resign themselves to the coffin they first created for themselves with Battles in the North some years before.
Change was expected, but not a change like this. At the Heart of Winter truly sounds like Immortal set aside the over-the-top, frostbitten pretence and tried to make a deeply serious, artistic statement, all the while remaining within their own distinctive style. Considering nine tenths of the folk who've heard the band mentioned either associate them for their firebreathing jaunts around the Nordic wilderness, or their frostbitten mad-libs lyrics, hearing them write an album with the musical seriousness I'd sooner expect from Emperor or Enslaved is a major shock. Even the artwork, notably devoid of any frostpainted visage, enforces the idea that these guys were pushing themselves to the next level. Like a lot of fans, I'm torn between seeing this or Pure Holocaust as my Immortal favourite, but there's no doubt that At the Heart of the Winter stands as the most ambitious, musically satisfying record from the band. Anyone who has ever dared to refer to Immortal as 'joke black metal', probably hasn't bothered to listen to this album.
I hate to parrot the central theme of virtually every other AtHoW review to date, but Abbath's ascension to the mantle of guitarist resulted in some of the most consistently impressive riffs I've heard on a black metal record. Demonaz's brushfire rhythms on Pure Holocaust remain my favourite guitarwork on an Immortal (or even Second Wave) album, but while At the Heart of Winter's performance is too clean to conjure the same demons, Abbath is far better at making riffs sound distinctive from one another. He's able to pair intensity with melody on plenty of these riffs, and riffs there are aplenty on this album. Horgh's drumwork sounded almost as bad as Battles in the North when he first came to the band circa Blizzard Beasts, but his playing here is precise and energetic enough to match Abbath. If there's one thing about the way At the Heart of Winter is displayed that could cause tension with purists, it'd be the clear production. Though by no means sterile, the sound here is crisp, and you can even hear the bass guitar. As in virtually all cases of black metal, the clearer production lends less potential for an evil-sounding atmosphere, but with riffs and composition like Immortal were spouting here, a true cult atmosphere would have just been icing on the cake.
As a listener who got into metal (specifically black metal) via a proggy sidedoor, I eternally welcome the idea of Immortal tackling longer song lengths. Historically speaking, Immortal are best when they're doing more involved material. I nearly hated Battles in the North and Blizzard Beasts, but both were slightly redeemed by their longer songs: "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)" and "Mountains of Might", respectively. At the Heart of Winter would have succeeded if purely on the merit that it reversed the increasingly shitty performance standards the band had veered towards on the past two albums, but it's the bold move to focus on their best qualities that really tempts mastery. Unlike their lesser contemporaries, Immortal give weight and meaning to the longer lengths. The songs never sound overdrawn; to the contrary, there are so many different riffs packed into the album that it's made surprising they were able to keep them all within the 6-7 minute mark.
With few exceptions (such as the Bathory-type intro opening the title track) Immortal stick to a very similar wavelength across the songs. Once you've heard one of the tracks, you have a good idea what the rest are going to sound like. On so many other albums that suffer the same issue, I know I'd be annoyed by that. With At the Heart of Winter, after I've heard one song, I'm just left wanting to hear more of that same punch and quality. The album is so densely packed with riffs and great ideas that it's near impossible to grasp all of it within the first few listens, and near impossible not to want to keep listening once you're a few songs in. Again, I would never have expected to hear something of this weight from a band like Immortal. I do love some of their earlier stuff, but it never gave an impression they could create art that grew on me with each attentive listen. As it happens, At the Heart of Winter is one of the unlikeliest masterpieces I think I've ever heard.
Let me make this quite clear: Immortal are going to Riff Mountain. And they are traveling by way of Riff Valley, Riff Forest, crossing the Riff River and including a stop at Riff Castle, which I assume is depicted on the front cover of the album. There are, it would seem, a lot of riffs on this album.
The first riff on the first song (the colossal 'Withstand the Fall of Time') will probably indicate whether this album will agree with you. To speak figuratively, there's a grinding sweep of frozen wind from Abbath's guitar and then the gauntlet is thrown down with a mighty sound of rumbling toms and an abyss forming in the earth to open the gates of hell - at which point, the sight of Satan's enormous army brings you to your knees, there's a moment of respite, then the army charge with rusty swords clanking and scraping against bone and stone. That introduction is merely a statement of intent and you will know from that experience alone whether or not you like 'At the Heart of Winter'.
All six songs here are great beasts of epics which take the listener on a wild journey that seems to brave all the elements. The guitar tone is significant here. I'm not sure I've ever heard a more craggy, jagged tone as the one on this album. There are pebbles and little flints dripping off it every time Abbath palm-mutes, especially at speed, and occasionally it actually snags and sound like it's being held back by its own rough edges. The technical fills about a minute into 'Tragedy Blows at Horizon' suffer particularly because they are played in near silence and sound clumsy and unfortunate. In the quicker flow of riffs, with the bass backing up, the tone sounds meaner and in control, while the sound at a slow pace is simply mighty.
The music on offer here is unquestionably grim and aggressive, but there is a slight variation on the style of Immortal's earlier work. There isn't a lot of out and out blasting going on here, but actually a more varied range of extreme and classic beats and fills, nor are all of the riffs really in keeping with traditional black metal. 'AtHoW' sounds more like a frosty, blackened thrash or speed metal band throwing a lot of epic sections and a few crushing doom interludes into their work. It's an odd combination, but it certainly suits Immortal well, especially given that vocals are not a focal point. Abbath growls and croaks at a pretty low frequency throughout, sounding like a very evil frog (or maybe something a little more ethereal) and is more or less narrating the arduous mental and physical journey that the riffs would suggest. The vocal sections are quite short considering the lengthy songs, so they never outstay their welcome, though they actually add as much to the atmosphere as the visceral experience of the album. Leads and clean sections crop up a few times, mostly towards the end of the album, and are all well-judged and welcome changes of pace, especially the more thoughtful parts of the title track.
'At the Heart of Winter' was a turning point for Immortal. It was the moment when they stepped out of the Norwegian black metal scene once and for all and became a unique and epic band in their own right. This album makes the blood run faster not because of the stylistic mould it emerged from or the aesthetic choices the band made, but because Immortal crafted amazingly complex and fluent songs with the most important of heavy metal tools - the riff. And by the time 'Years of Silent Sorrow' ends, we have well and truly arrived at Riff Mountain.
Following the immense disappointment many found in their fourth album, Blizzard Beasts, Immortal got their acts together and released the follow up, an album that rectifies all the mistakes found there, and is considered by many to be their best album, often tied for first place with sophomore album Pure Holocaust. Gone is the ridiculously underwhelming theatricality found on Blizzard Beasts, and in its place is arguably the most progressive album Immortal ever put out, whilst never once compromising the extremely fast and technical styling that Immortal is so well known for doing.
Album opener Withstand The Fall Of Time is a testament to exactly how good the band are, with blisteringly fast speeds and some of the most varied guitar work in the entire black metal genre. The song has a one minute introductory segment, in which many top quality riffs are churned out, before the song launches into one of the most well crafted pieces ever heard in the genre. The progressive nature of this song truly is breathtaking, with quite literally dozens of riffs having been constructed for this song and then slotted together like a jigsaw. The riff found at around five minutes and thirty seconds is one of the best the band has ever written, but the whole song is tight enough, containing varying speeds and incredible amounts of technicality. At around six minutes there is a much more thrashy section found, which continues for a few more riffs without sacrificing the song's integrity at all. This is a song that can be absolutely marveled at if only for how ambitious it really is, clocking in at eight and a half minutes long.
The following song, Solarfall, is a fan favorite, for obvious reasons, with its seamless blend of thrash riffing with brash, unadulterated black metal, coupling the highly technical guitar work with some of Abbath's most demented shrieks. The most noteworthy section of this song, however, would be the clean interludes located throughout, having been precisely written, with the song structured so that these would have maximum impact. This song has possibly the most epic sound to it in all of black metal, with the changes in riff building up towards the most incredible section of any Immortal song, found at around the four minute mark. By now, it should be apparent that this album is rather different to previous Immortal releases, marking a shift towards a fusion of black and thrash metal, being firmly rooted in the former but embracing the more precise and slower guitar styling of the latter, creating an album that will make any listener's jaw drop, standing out among the genre as one of the best and most experimental albums to have been produced.
One thing Immortal have always managed to do is maintain an atmosphere of sheer chaos and they have consistently painted pictures of desolate worlds and absolute isolation through both their music and their lyrics, and this album is perhaps the best to show this face of the band off. Each song clocks in at more than six minutes, with three of them stretching beyond the eight minute barrier, and yet none of them ever let the listener forget of what they speak. The epic nature of the song's is not found in an over the top nature and focus on softer sections and piano lead moments such as Shining's later albums, but is instead founded through the intelligence behind the song arrangements and writing, with the odd moment where the band takes their foot off the accelerator and plays a more melodic softer section to give off a feeling of absolute hopelessness. This is how an atmosphere should be created, blending absolute brutality with the occasional quieter section before launching head first back into the insanity at work, making every one of these songs nothing less than outstanding in their own rights.
This album is the first album to not feature Demonaz on guitar, following him being diagnosed with acute tendinitis, and the sound is immediately showcased, with Abbath taking on the guitar duties here. Whereas Demonaz relied on the incredibly fast tremolo picking, Abbath found new ways to astound the listener, with a much more varied style of playing, and each of his riffs is perfectly distinguishable from the last one. This album really is a guitar player's wet dream, quite literally containing hundreds of absolutely amazing riffs across its six wintery masterpieces. This is the first album that is consistently firing on all cylinders, leading to the album becoming an absolute classic in the genre, and one that is an essential listen.
In 1997 Immortal received a massive blow when guitarist Demonaz learned that he had tendinitis and could no longer play in the band. Demonaz’s blistering fast-paced picking and exquisite taste in melodies were the central ingredients to Immortal’s “holocaust metal” sound. With Demonaz down and out, the remaining members of Immortal were forced to decide between dissolving or evolving. They chose the latter option, replacing the short, lightning-fast back-breakers of the previous three albums and with long, massive, mid-tempo epics. The resulting album, At the Heart of Winter is a surprisingly effective piece of epic black metal.
At the Heart of Winter is not completely without precedent. Both Battles in the North and Blizzard Beasts contain a mid-tempo epic, “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” and “Mountains of Might,” respectively. The contents of At the Heart of Winter are not too different from those pieces, though these songs are generally even longer and more accessible. The songs center on a few memorable riffs and choruses that are designed to stick in your head. There are a few darker moments, but mostly this is a quite upbeat album. Calling it happy would be a stretch, but it’s definitely pompous and invigorated.
The drums are also quite different. The nonstop barrage of blast beats from the previous albums is replaced by a more dynamic and varied performance. The are a number of lengthy, melodic guitar solos as well. Naturally, the change in style results in a change in production. At the Heart of Winter was recorded at the legendary Abyss Studios, which is known for producing clean and balanced black metal albums. This is was certainly a keen move by Immortal. The clean and bright sound of the guitars and the full, echoic sound of the drums results in a massive tone that allows the glory of these songs shine.
While Abbath has no trouble finding catchy riff after catchy riff, his songwriting is less consistent. The songs don’t always flow in the most natural manner. This is most evident when Abbath tries to integrate atmospheric or symphonic elements into the songs. For example, the title track starts with a two minute passage of beautiful, mournful keyboard and clean guitar. This passage would be excellent if it was building toward a dark or melancholic piece of black metal in the vein of Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, but instead it is abruptly and awkwardly interrupted by a boisterous riff. It’s a painful passage that is not unlike watching a bunch of drunken frat boys barge in on a funeral procession. While this is the most appalling transition on the album, there are a number of less offensive but nevertheless poorly executed transitions.
Still, there are a few moments of impressive songwriting scattered throughout the album. The way in which “Years of Silent Sorrow” builds toward the somber middle passage is quite impressive. “Solarfall” does an excellent job of shifting between fast and slow passages and integrates a magnificent clean section into the middle of the composition.
With the loss of Demonaz, Immortal was bound to change their sound. While there are a few areas that could have been stronger, At the Heart of Winter is still on the whole a very fun listen. Glorious riffs and choruses abound and the production and atmosphere is quite complimentary. The album avoids the monotony of Damned in Black and also steers clear of devolving into self-parody in the way that Sons of Northern Darkness does. While it’s far from perfect, it’s still a respectable and original contribution to the Immortal discography.
(Originally written for deinos-logos.blogspot.com)
By far, the best Immortal release ever. Cold, dark, desolate, unrelenting, obscure, raw, traces of evil and sheer dominance. As a 2-piece they really went to the most creative release in their entire discography. A shame that Demonaz is no longer on guitar, but Abbath does a good job on the rhythm/lead sessions, though a little choppy. Demonaz writes all the lyrics for the Immortal albums including this one and they totally fit with the atmosphere.
The rhythm guitar riffs contain bar chord frenzies, clean tone overtures (though not many), tremolo picked guitar with blast beating and just music that is entirely original. Not many black metal albums can surpass this one. It's strength in the songwriting section is superior and everything flows absolutely perfectly. Amazing that there are only 2 members on here that dish out some of the most classic music amongst this entire black metal genre.
Musically, they offer many different things here as I've emphasized. That is the quality in the musicianship and chunky guitar, thrash metal like except for the clean tone riffing. Impeccably orchestrated rhythm guitar here on these 6 tracks. Songs range between 6-8 minutes in length totaling about 45+ music of the best Immortal album forever. I can't stress how important it is to own this album to you sick people that enjoy this genre like me.
Abbath's vocals are odd as they always are and feature a little bit of reverb sounding to make it sound even darker than it really is. Every single song just dominates. Tempo changes, blast beating, grimness, synthesizers to make things sound even more evil and darkness descends. A black metal accomplishment that is amongst the ranks of the all time forever best release even amongst albums such as Mayhem's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas".
The lyrical topics feature writings that cover grimness, winter, war, winterdemons and blashyrkh. These writings as I've said were written by Demonaz. To this date, he is still contributing on their lyric writings. I think that like I said before the lyrical concepts fit the music so well. Abbath simply spews them forward as they're written. Not mindless songs about Satanism and evil, more well thought out than tons of other black metal bands.
Overall, a simple triumph of a release. If you haven't heard this album yet and you like black metal, check it out on YouTube. A must have to all of you black metal fans! I can't say any more positive things about this release that I haven't already said. It's just a masterpiece and if you listen to it and am not impressed, then your taste in black metal is bitter. There's nothing wrong with this album whatsoever. It completely dominates and own it today!
Immortal have always been a mixed bag for me. When they get it wrong, it goes horribly wrong but when they hit the nail of the head, surely they’re the forefathers of cold, icy atmospheric black metal? I first discovered Immortal, like a lot of people, within the first few months of my expedition into the black metal minefield. Unfortunately, I discovered them through the notorious ANUS website at the age of fifteen or so. The ANUS site has a well documented list, which has remained unchanged ever since I first saw it, detailing the “best ever” black metal albums. Immortal’s ‘Pure Holocaust’ comes second on that list and therefore I decided I’d check it out since, surprisingly at the time, Immortal’s discography was readily available at my local music store, one that normally sells lots of commercial junk. ‘Pure Holocaust’ was really what got me started on black metal, alongside some other notorious albums from the second wave, but it was Immortal’s ‘At the Heart of Winter’ which really stuck with me over all these years and how better to break the winter months in than with this old school classic? The thing about albums like this is that, yes, whilst they’re cold in certain aspects, I find that some of the melodic riffs, despite their distorted textures, emit a really warm feel, like sitting beside a log fire during a harsh wintry blizzard. Whilst your vital organs remain warm, your hands and feet are as cold as ice. So, whilst the backbone to this album is cold as hell, the riffs are deceptively warm to me.
‘At the Heart of Winter’ is an album which can be set apart from the others in Immortal’s discography. Although ‘Pure Holocaust’ is still good for the occasional session when I’m feeling aggravated, ‘At the Heart of Winter’ is an album which is far more accessible than their other albums simply due to its infectious, intoxicating melodies. There are many reasons why I probably should have hated this album from the very first moment I laid eyes on it but that only reiterates the point that this album is deserving of the “timeless classic” status that so many are unjustly given. As far as Immortal’s discography goes, or even the entire second wave movement, I’ve always felt this album was, and probably still is, rather underrated in terms of the entire genre back then. Back when I first discovered black metal, I had an odd aversion to anything overly melodic and am still not quite schooled in the ways of early thrash metal. Despite all this, ‘At the Heart of Winter’ stuck with me and no matter how many times you play it in a single day, it never grates on my nerves and never ceases to amaze me. Take the main riff on the self-titled song, for example. It never fails to send shivers down my spine as its cold, harsh ways set into skin. This, accompanied with the underlying bass and the flawless drumming, songs like this, which are perfectly conceived and crafted, force me to hold the band in high esteem regardless of whatever faults they’ve had since then.
As I touched upon, a lot of the material here is rather thrash orientated, like a lot of early black metal. The tempo changes, the chord progressions, the amount of diversity on offer on this album is incredible, even today, a whole eleven years after its initial release. To me, this period of Immortal’s discography is a bit of a sore point. I wasn’t keen on ‘Blizzard Beasts’, despite loving the wintry essence and vibe of the content. I could never get into those short songs and the riffs didn’t feel anywhere near as memorable. So much so I really couldn’t pinpoint what I dislike about it because every time I hear the album, I repress it. It doesn’t click with me. Neither does ‘Damned in Black’, though I do tend to enjoy that album more so than ‘Blizzard Beasts’, possibly because it touches upon some of the ideas used here - such as the heavily melodic content of the riffs - albeit not to the same extent. This era of Immortal highlights exactly what has made me view the Norway legends are hit-or-miss. With ‘Blizzard Beasts’ coming soon after the enigmatic ‘Pure Holocaust’, an album which really set the tone for Abbath, in particular, it did nothing to ignite the flame of my passion for the band and instead extinguished it.
So, as you can imagine, coming into this album, I was more than a little apprehensive but it delivers spectacularly and in ways I didn’t even imagine were possible for Immortal at that time. The imagery, the conjuration of wintry landscapes, icy kingdoms and cold weather is superb. It’s one of the major themes of this album which made it such a treasure over the years. Abbath’s typically charismatic vocal approach is brilliant, despite the comical reputation he has since garnered for his over-the-top performance in Immortal’s iconic videos in the woods. It’s easy to forget what he achieved with this album which was almost entirely his doing. Aside from Horgh providing the drumming, which he does magnificently, Abbath controls the bass, guitars, vocals and the synthesizer, which is used exceptionally well on songs like the self-titled, a particular hit on the album, alongside ‘Solarfall’. I often like to listen to the introduction of the self-titled song for the first two minutes whilst glancing over the wonderful artwork. They go hand-in-hand ever so well. The spectacular kingdom amidst the icy landscape whilst the music itself is portraying the same thing, simultaneously, is marvellous. The samples of subtle howling winds may seem clichéd today but they’re ever so affective on this particular album. Especially alongside that symphonic synthesizer, an aspect of the album which is probably unfairly overlooked due to its sparse inclusion. Regardless of that, this album will always be regarded by myself as an old school classic. One that is truly deserving of that acclaim.
There are some albums that I just love. This is one of them. This album is a rare gem where I can put the tracks on repeat, and listen all day long...and it never gets old and worn. Everything about this release is outstanding.
Abbath's vocals are his standard fare of croaking black metal rasps; seemingly to whisper, and allowing the crushing riffs and incessant drumming to rape your ears. He truly has one of the best black metal vocals, not overly harsh, and overdone, as some bands tend to use. It is also deeper than many others, which allows it to not interfere with the sound of the fuzzy and tinny guitar sounds.
His guitar work is magnificent, using awesome thrashy riffs and many speed changes and chord progressions. The guitarwork is extremely complex for only one guitar, and there is a density that showcases his skills very well. There are many different sounds that one can hear throughout the album; and it keeps every very long and epic song moving through blasting, and thrashing riffs, and also interludes of drawn-out single chords where his fingers seemingly take a quick break and let the fire from the fingertips smolder a bit, before launching into the next aural assault.
The drums are amazing here, from insanely fast blasts, to well-timed double bass and fantastic fills, Horgh doesn't restrict himself to a single one-dimensional style, mindlessly blasting away, or placing his feet on auto pilot while droning away on the double bass...He uses a lot of different timings for the snare, and uses his multitude of crashes well, and follows along with the speedy riffs with excellent percussion. He never loses time, and even during the interludes of slower chord progression, can fill the void extremely well. A quick bit on his double bass work, if you listen closely, you can hear that he doesn't stick with a single timing, he speeds up and slows down during the same riff, making the drumming even more technical than it first appears.
Overall, there is nothing lacking here. There are no bad songs, and even though the tracks are extremely lengthy, they don't grow stale and falter. This is mainly due to the fact that there are more riffs, time changes, and twists in each song than one can count. Touching in a broad spectrum of musical genres, and compacting it into a black metal package, this three-headed Norwegian monster has released one of my favorite black metal albums of all time. In my opinion, never before has there been such a stark difference in talent than there is with Immortal. The floodgates are open for basement bands like Zarach 'Baal' Tharagh who release shit just to release it, not giving a damn about what it may sound like, and never progressing much in regards to talent. Every once in a while, a band comes around that stands alone, and changes the face of their respective musical genre. Here, Immortal has done just that. From their musical talent and vision, to their highly recognizable corpsepaint, they have set the bar high for other bands to follow. Still going strong, they are one of the best that mighty Norway has to offer the world.
I'm not familiar with the bulk of Immortal's discography. None of it, save this album, in fact. But if I have the right of it (and I'm sure I do), Immortal used this album to experiment with longer, more complex song structures and more technical riffage. I suppose those are the greatest failings on this album, since Immortal were writing shorter, more simple songs, for the most part, on their four albums prior.
Many of the songs seem rather aimless, moving forward without destination. The song structure doesn't flow very well, seemingly dropping in and out of sections at random. This is painfully obvious in 'Solarfall' when it trades a blistering assault for atmospheric synths. This is not inherently bad, but Immortal do not make it work. The changes are jarring and rather annoying when they trade a quality riff for a budget one. The drums are not terribly creative, but they complement the music nicely, and have a strong presence without being overbearing. Synths are used tastefully, adding to the atmosphere without being coated in sugar.
The guitar tone is buzzy and flat, devoid of warmth, cold, or feeling. It's simply there. It's not bad, but certainly not enjoyable. The vocals are clear without overshadowing the music, but they, like the guitar tone, are simply there. Abbath's vocals have never really clicked with me. They lack power and emotion and simply don't convince me that Abbath is at the heart of winter.
The album has few enough saving graces, and while these moments are truly awesome, there are simply not enough of them to make the album likeable. I suppose what really kills this album is their faster thrash leanings. It really is a pity, because this would have been a great album; there are awesome tremolo riffs, like the one that closes 'Withstand the Fall of Time', and the riffs not firmly rooted in thrash are very enjoyable, with the title track's closing riff being a prime example, and the solo's should come with a warning that your face will melt!
This is not a terrible album. It is a mediocre one. It simply fails to deliver consistently, and suffers for it.
What was happening to black metal in the late ‘90s? Many would tell you that the magic of the genre was dying out, but those posers have never heard Immortal’s fifth frostbitten full length, At the Heart of Winter. With this album, Immortal have done an outstanding job of expanding their sound, while remaining completely true to their past. The epic moments of Blizzard Beasts have been kicked up a few notches, and the thrashing grimness of the earlier material remains perfectly intact. This is something that few bands have succeeded in doing as well as Immortal have. This album is notable for being the first Immortal album without founding member, Demonez, in charge of axe duties. Although his absence is missed, it is most impressive that Abbath heroically handles all guitars, bass, and vocals. Thankfully, Demonez still remains involved in the lyric department, a very important aspect of Immortal’s music.
When this grand offering opens up with the blistering, Withstand the Fall of Time, one might note that the guitar work appears to be more melodic. While I wouldn’t dispute this, I think this is more in due part to the production, which does an excellent job of bringing these melodies out into the light. The production on this album is as crisp and clear as a Norwegian winter, but still manages to capture Immortal’s signature, frozen atmosphere. After the epic opener, comes Solarfall, which is faster paced and features some great riffage. Dispersed throughout this track are clean, grimly interludes, reminiscent of the clean moments on Battles in the North. Consistency is what holds this album together so tightly, however, even though each song is great in its own right, the title track gleams like the brightest icicle hanging from the mightiest fortress of Blashyrkh. This one’s a fucking anthem. The gloomy synth introduction offers a tasteful break in the heaviness of the other songs. However, this one moment of clarity is soon crushed by the most enormous, most powerful riff of the entire album. Excellent guitar work, strong and varied drumming, and a great vocal performance by Abbath make this one of the greatest songs these warlords have ever put forth.
The song writing on At the Heart of Winter is the biggest step forward. It’s unfair to compare this aspect with their earlier works, because even though it is technically better, the earlier albums focused more on speed and aggression where this album is full of more intricate and complex structures, but certainly still blasts when it needs to. Abbath’s vocals sound better than ever and Horgh’s drums finally get the production they deserve.
At the Heart of Winter is Immortal doing what they do best, and what’s not to like? It’s got fast, crunchy guitars, blasting drums, and lyrics about really cold places. I highly recommend this album as it is definitely a classic of the genre.
There are a handful of albums out there that are known as classics because they present a great band breaking with their own established traditions for newer battlefields. Examples could include Manilla Road’s excursion into the violent realm of thrash metal in “Out Of The Abyss”, Black Sabbath’s reinvented sound after taking on vocalist Ronnie James Dio, or Slayer’s rather unexpected hybridization of doom and thrash metal in “South Of Heaven”. The biggest break with tradition that comes to mind when considering the advent of innovation within the black metal umbrella is the embracing of Viking themes found in later Bathory albums such as “Blood Fire Death” and “Hammerheart”, which marked not only a new sound and set of lyric themes, but the birth of a whole new style of metal that has continued to expand to this very day. One could make a solid argument that “At The Heart Of Winter” equals these albums in both its embracement of a level of heroism, albeit not quite the triumphant sort indicative of Manowar, as well as in its level of musical ambition.
There are a number of different ways of looking at Immortal at this point in their career. Some might say that the band lost its edge and became an unoriginal semi-thrash band without the emotional drive of former works. Others might say that the band suffered a set back at the loss of Demonaz and only succeeded in accomplishing a moderately good album here. By contrast, I see this as a band that started off with something unique now coming around full circle and all but completely rediscovering the original magic that they had during the glory days of the Norwegian scene. Though perhaps not stylistically in line with their debut “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism”, “At The Heart Of Winter” carries the same spirit of epic sorrow and woeful coldness, combined with a form of aggression tempered by a sense of organization, opting to save the truly chaotic moments for when they are called for, rather than blazing away with both afterburners at full for 2 to 3 minutes at a time.
Though this does not break away from the black metal style as it was established at the height of the 2nd wave, there are enough liberties taken here to bring greater strength to the argument that Immortal has come to resemble a Thrash Metal band, particularly of the German persuasion, just as much as it does the original Norwegian black scene that birthed them. In fact, the band’s death metal roots carried from Old Funeral have been all but completely abandoned here in favor of a clean cut riffing style based very closely on the Teutonic German scene. Tremolo picked melodies occur sparingly alongside varying melodic breaks and rhythmic breakdowns, occasionally reaching back towards pre-thrash German metal riffing ala Accept. Abbath’s vocals walk a thin line between the Quorthon-like garbled/orcish growls of past works and the slightly lighter yet still evil sounding harshness of Angelripper. It is perhaps a tiny bit more intelligible than what was heard on “Blizzard Beasts”, but still well within the standards of what constitutes the aggression needed for this band’s style up to this point.
The principle reason why this album is so well known and respected amongst non-black metal fans and often disowned by traditionally oriented fans of this band and genre is that the song construction is far more formalized than any previous album. Riffs and melodic material recur with much greater frequency, ideas are extended much longer and given ample time to mature before moving on, and the ratio of blast beat sections to slower ones is tilted more in favor of the latter. In some aspects, when considering the heavily melodic and consonant nature of the riffs and the less frantic tendencies in the drum work, this album often resembles a dark variant on epic power metal. Bands such as Kalmah, Children Of Bodom, Ensiferum, Amon Amarth, and many others have done music that is thematically similar to this, though with either a heavy amount of keyboard texture or a less technical approach to riffing that is compensated for with more lead guitar work or a lot of additional instruments aside from the traditional metal arrangement. This focuses almost completely on riffing, putting forth elaborate sections of moderately fast to really fast metallic fury comparable to the likes of “Time Does Not Heal” and “Beneath The Remains”, though presented along more melodic lines.
Selecting a favorite or a stand out song amongst these 6 towering epics is a daunting task, as each basically showcases equally matched though differing variants on a very intricate formula. “Solarfall” could be singled out as being the catchiest and the closest thing to a power metal song on here. It makes use of interesting quiet sections and some thrashing riffs that could have been heard from a number of notable acts in the mid-80s from Kreator to King Diamond. “Where Dark And Light Don’t Differ” works well for someone looking for something closer to a straight up Thrash sound, particularly of the Destruction persuasion. There is also, of course, the heavily ambitious title track, loaded with contrasting riff ideas, epic slower sections, and some really beautiful ambient keyboard work that builds upon what was heard on the previous album by this band in “Mountains Of Might”. When hearing any of these songs, they give off that epic aura that makes you feel as if Manowar heard the finished product before its release and gave their own personal stamp of approval.
This album stands alone in Immortal’s catalog, a fact underscored by the album art, which is the only one to date not showing the band in their corpse painted glory. The band lost none of its power after the loss of Demonaz, as Abbath proves to be a far more competent axe man than a drummer, and even pulls out a few memorable lead slots on “Solarfall” and “Where Dark And Light Don’t Differ”. It’s one of a small number of albums put out by members of the Norwegian 2nd wave that can be recommended to any fan of metal, extreme or not. It does not seek to meet any specific standards, but instead opts to set its own and waits for others to try and match it, and thus far very few have.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 25, 2009.
If there are two sure things in this world they’d be these: Slayer is my favourite thrash group and mighty Immortal my favourite black one. In my opinion they never released bad albums in their entire career. Even if they passed through different kinds of black metal, depending on the period and influences, they always found a personal way, succeeding in standing out from many other clones or clowns. The beginning was in pure old Bathory style, while in the central part of their releases there was an increase of speed and a frozen atmosphere.
Already from the excellent Blizzard Beast album there were some riffs and a song that changed the old Immortal sound. That song was the incredible, majestic “Mountains Of Might”. A song full of thrashy riffs, epic melodies and a truly cold atmosphere. Maybe, the Demonaz abandon changed a lot the Immortal music also because now Abbath had to play the guitars too, so the influences and the technique were different but anyway, the music was still fucking good.
The new effort after “Blizzard Beasts” was the great “At The Heart Of Winter” and it was one of my first black metal albums bought at the time and the very first one by Immortal. I loved the cover painting. The opener is the great “Withstand The Fall Of Time”, a mix of black/thrash riffs, epic touches and the always great voice from Abbath. The songwriting is more mature and generally the songs are long, showing a good technique and a bunch of riffs. The tempo always change from blast beats to mid paced passing through really epic fast double kicks parts.
“Solarfall” is again frozen, epic and sharp like the pure winter winds. The clean arpeggios are fucking cold. There’s only ice in their sound. I think that the most epic one here is “Tragedies Blows At The Horizon” with mid paced, long parts alternated to furious blast beats. The intro to the title track is unbelievable for grimness and obscurity. Fantastic. Generally every song is so cold and epic, changing forever the way of playing black metal for Immortal.
This album is their thrashiest one but it has also some of the greatest atmospheres they’ve ever created during their career. A more mature Immortal that conceived a truly fantastic-frozen album.
Immortal's "At the Heart of Winter" album is the album that has caused my interest in black metal, albeit only black metal that doesn't sound like a load of noise. You see, "tr00 black metal" or "kvlt black metal" is basically nothing but a bastardised offspring of punk, that for some way or another, made its way into metal without anybody noticing it. Except for me, it seems. The music has always been Immortal's most important aspect, unlike with bands like Gorgoroth where their "Satanite message" is the most important thing. That's what I choose to label as false metal. Metal is ALWAYS supposed to be about the music, and while I agree that the message that a particular band is trying to present is important to some degree, it's always the music which is supposed to be the main priority!
The production is clear but at the same time quite raw. The guitars pack a lot of crunch, and the drums still have that black metal drum sound. The bass is inaudible, as on most black metal recordings
The album opens with the crushing song entitled "Withstand the Fall of Time". The opening riff is catchy as fuck, as is the following riff, and so on. Abbath is an underrated guitar player, and he is a total riff master. And his crocodile snarls are also distinctive as hell
"Solarfall" is the next song. It begins with a drum roll courtesy of the black metal drum meister Horg, and then a catchy riff kicks in which sounds almost like a power/thrash metal hybrid riff. The thrash element is understandable as this album is drenched with elements of German thrash metal. The only thing that brings this song down are the silly synth interludes which sound out of place
"Tragedies Blows at Horizon" differs from the other songs in that it's not as riff laden as the others. This song also has some synth interludes, but they fit perfectly into this song
"Where Dark and Light Don't Differ" is the first, and unfortunately, last song to feature a guitar solo from Abbath...and it kicks some fucking ass alright! It has a slightly more progressive structure than the rest of the songs, and it features excellent drumming
The title track is a very atmospheric piece. It starts out in a very spooky way with synths and sound effects of blowing winds, which then leads us into quite a groovy but yet atmospheric riff. And then a brilliant symphonic section appears which is slightly reminiscent of the keyboard intro to "Holy Diver" by Dio, before the song kicks into high gear with yet another barrage of riffs. Horg also delivers yet another stunning performance behind the drums with plenty of blast beats to make your neck sore
And finally the album closes with the monumental "Years of Silent Sorrow" which is my favourite song on this album. This is the thrashiest song on the album, with a riff after each verse that's catchy as hell. The intro reminds me somewhat of "The Glory of Achilles" by Manowar (the last part of their "Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts" opus from their "The Triumph of Steel" album) with the powerful double bass
This is an album that I recommend to everyone who wants a taste of how awesome black metal can be!
You know, despite everyone who loathes this album, there is a huge fanbase of this album. It is a grand effort, worthy of recognition.
Though it's not an extreme, blast-beat laden release, it still retains the sound of Immortal. The guitar work is the same, the only difference is the drums. The drums aren't constantly driving a song into inaudible guitar frenzy. This is the Immortal sound, only less abrasive, and slightly more epic.
The first track 'Withstand the Fall of Time' begins the album with a harsh guitar stroke, that gives way into ultra-fast picking so prominent in black metal. The intro is, to some people, carried on too long, but to me, I wouldn't change this song if I could. Then come the blast beats. However, they don't over do it, and it doesn't overshadow the guitar. The bass is auidible if you listen close enough, and believe me, it serves its purpose. All around great song.
'Solarfall' is a great song, with a unique little intro riff, and still brutal drumming patterns. They whole intro pattern seems like it goes on too long, as there is another repetition of it, but I believe it sounds just great. The vocals, and changing patterns and tempos within the song makes it worthwhile. All in all, a worthwhile listen.
'Tragedies Blow at Horizon' is amazing, because of it's more or less down to earth drumming patterns. There is some snare rolling here and there, but all and all, it's a pretty moderately paced song. Great little clean parts here and there. Pretty damn good song.
'Where Dark and Light Dont Differ' is my last song to review individually. It begins in a very similar way as Tragedies, and once more retains a thrash metal sort of feel. The vocals on this song are amazing, and the chorus is amazing as well. The guitar tearing into a melody, completely unexpected in a BM album. A brilliant song
The other tracks (At the Heart of Winter, Years of Silent Sorrow, respectively) are as great as the others mentioned here, but I just wanted to go over the parts that would make a believer of anyone.
At the Heart of Winter is an amazing album, and I suggest everyone listen to it during the winter time. That's when it feels the most right. (surprisingly...)
This production of this album started with a controversy as Daemonaz was diagnosed with acute tendenitis, due to which he was unable to play guitar for a little while but there was also the fact so that when he'd be ready to play guitars, he'd not be able to play guitars at the speed that is suitable for Immortal's music, so he decided that he'll just write lyrics and take the managerial role for the band. Having said that we come back to Immortal's "At the heart of winter", according to some people it is one of the best black metal album as Immortal changed their sound with this album. Abbath is now playing guitars as well, along with the bass and Vocals while Horgh is behind the drums.
The album is somewhat heavier but rather melodic than Blizzard Beasts, it has been recorded in the Abyss studios in Sweden and is immaculately produced by Peter Tagtren i.e. the production is really good, until this album Immortal has never used good production in any of their albums so this is the main change that gives the sound its new identity.
The songs are really lengthy, there are only six songs with duration over 45 minutes resulting in some boring parts among almost each song. The song structure is not ideal and its really shameful. The songs have some elements of old school thrash metal with the modern black metal sound with some melodic and amazing guitar riffs with brutal drumming, the bass is very difficult to hear as it disappears among the riffs and the blasts. The vocals are mediocre and lack enthusiasm and passion.
"Where the dark & light don't differ" is my favourite song of this album, this album has created a lot of fuss and is considered one of the best black metal albums ever, I however disagree, the sound is good and is very near to being great but it just isn't. Long song structure and mediocre vocals are the main drawbacks of this album. "Where Dark & Light Don't Differ" along with few other songs makes it difficult for me to give this album a mediocre rating, because track no. 5 (At The Heart Of Winter) & 6 (Years Of Silent Sorrow) are really good as well. Fans who love the old Darkthrone will not enjoy the new Immortal sound, but blackened thrash and melodic death metal fans will cherish this album a lot. It contains something for every metalhead like fast and melodic riffs, brutal drumming, good lyrics, cold and grim atmosphere.
This is Immortal's fifth album, released in 1999 and starts up their third era. Blackened thrash metal is to be found on this album. Abbath moves to guitar replacing injured co-founder Demonaz and Iscariah joins the band to play bass. Horgh is still behind the drum kit. This lineup will be the same for the last three Immortal albums. First thing that's noticed is the length of this album, 6 songs at almost 47 minutes (compared to Blizzard Beasts, 8 songs at about 29). I'm not complaining about the length as I think most albums should be between the 35-50 minute mark, it's just that a few songs go on for too long and actually start to become a little boring. It doesn't happen all that often maybe 2 times, but it's still the first time I've been a little bored listening to an Immortal album.
Abbath goes for an epic black/thrash riff assault on this album and for the most part succeeds. Withstand the Fall of Time and Where Dark and Light Don't Differ (which has some deeper Abbath vocals) hit you with headbanging riff after headbanging riff. Solarfall is the masterpiece on this album. It's kind of like Mountains of Might part 2, thrashier but not as good.
As for the somewhat boring parts. Years of Silent Sorrow, the closing track is a solid closer it just doesn't have the air guitar-like riffs that the rest of the album has. Tragedies Blows at Horizon would have been an Immortal classic if it was maybe 2 minutes shorter. At 9 minutes it doesn't hold your attention as say A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland does.
This album is not at all a bad one, it's a very solid album in fact. It just doesn't compare to Blizzard Beasts, Pure Holocaust or Battles in the North. But Immortal has set the bar so high to me with those three albums that anything that is not perfect can be seen as somewhat of a disappointment. As far as blackened thrash goes this is one of the better releases, and Immortal's best of their blackened thrash style. Highly recommended.
This album is once again different. It takes some changes brought on by Blizzard Beasts and goes further with them. This album is relatively heavy, although rather melodic, it is very well produced, and best of all the songs are all very well structured and much longer than in previous albums. Instead of being 2-4 minutes long, they are more like 6-8 minutes long. And no they don’t get boring.
Withstand the Fall of Time is a lengthy melodic song, the riffs are awesome and catchy, and they do repeat, but they’re so awesome I’m happy they repeat so I can listen to them more than once without restarting the song over and over. Abbath’s vocals are also very good. The “Still the tundra lay untouched” sections have the best riffs overall on the song, and one of the best on the album.
Solarfall is another very melodic song, it is rather bombastic also with great drums and guitars. It also isn’t as repetitive as the first track which to me doesn’t make a difference but could be good to some people that can’t stand any repetition whatsoever. The song overall doesn’t grasp my attention as well as the first one but its still awesome.
Tragedies Blows At Horizon and Where Dark and Light Don’t Differ are rather more of the same with great melodies and riffs. The songs manage to keep your attention through the whole duration. Tragedies Blows At Horizon even has a little acoustic piece towards the end.
The title track, At The Heart of Winter is the best song on the album. For the first 2 minutes or so it is a quiet and dark acoustic piece before it goes into a rather melodic song for the remainder of the time. The riffs at 2:39 are some of the best on the whole album and they repeat about 3 more times in the rest of the song. Simply addicting.
Years of Silent Sorrow is a great song mainly because it does sound different from the previous songs, still relatively melodic although the riffs do sound different and perhaps not as dark.
Overall this is a great album, I liked Blizzard Beasts more, but awesome indeed. It doesn’t get boring quickly and I have to say if it weren’t for the dark Northland feeling to it and Abbath’s black metal style vocals, the music would almost sound like melodic death. While different to Immortal fans, this new era is better not worse. I for one am glad they changed because another Pure Holocaust or Battles in the North would likely put me to sleep.
Hell yeah! This is what I call Black Fucking Metal! Technical riffs, eerie vocals, clever songwriting, brutal drumming, and cold atmosphere.
Let me start by saying that I'm still getting into Black metal and I have stumbled across some really lame stuff and some really ass-kicking metal! This falls in the second category with good reasons.
First, the production is typical black metal production: bass is non-existant, drums dominate the mix. The guitars cut through the mix just right, all the riffs can be heard and the clean guitar tone is very atmospheric.
The members are in top form. Demonaz executes some precise, catchy riffs and even plays a few leads on the last few tracks. The riffs are fast and technical, while the clean parts are very chorused, thus giving a chilling atmosphere. I'm not sure who plays drums here, but anyway, the drumming is mostly snare-bashing but fits the music. Abbath puts some emotion in his wicked snarls and gives a %100 performance on every song.
The first half of the album is in my opinion the better half. It kicks off with Withstand The Fall Of Time, which is my personal favorite BM song. The lyrics are kinda weird and silly but Abbath "sings" with emotion especially during the chorus (hardening claws....). Oh and the riffs! THE RIFFS! This song has like 20 riff changes and every riff is more brutal than the previous! Ah... this song alone is worth the price!
Solarfall is just as scull-crushing, with its haunting clean interlude followed by a DEVASTATINGLY heavy riff that tears down the entire wall of sound! Abbath also lets out some crazy shrieks on this track.
Those two songs are the definite highlights of the album. The rest is just as brutal but the last two tracks are not as consistent and are a little overlong. Watch out for those leads on At The Heart Of Winter!
All in all, this is one hell of an album, not exactly a kvlt favorite, but still damn good. This album is also a grower, the first few listens might not be very satisfying but I assure you that once it grows on you, it possesses you!!!
I had heard a song or two from the album which incited me to get it, and I was definately not dissapointed. What we have here is true norwegian black metal with atmospheric influences, all perfectly mixed together, in a rather hypnotic way. Some might say it's repetitive, but once you realise the buildup of the songs, it doesn't bother you any more.
The cover art is great, I'm sure it's suppost to reprisent Blashyrk, and it's done very well, very nice.
Now let me get on the the songs.
-Withstand the Fall of Time 10/10
Well, at first I must say I found this song too repetitive, but then I realised it's two long, well structured buildups to the main, beautifull, yet so sad and emotional main rif, which happends twice (the rif that it fades out to at the end) That riff I find so beautifull, so sad, so hypnotic, maby the idea that it isn't possible to withstand the fall of time, that eventually everything fades away. This is probebly my favorite song on the album, great riffs, good drum work, good vocals.
Another very good song, a bit less 'repetitive' than 'Withstand the Fall of Time'. Good riff progression and speed build ups. It also has some nice clean guitar interludes in it.
-Tragedies Blows at Horizon 9/10
This is one of the two songs on the album which I don't find as good as the rest. The riffing is decent, drums as well, it just doesn't have anything special to it, nothing that gives it that edge to it, it doesn't have the exelent well build up riffing of the first two songs, nor the interesting vocals of the one after, nor the great atmosphere of the title track. Decent song, nothing special, has a clean guitar interlude just before end and at some points in between, and ends pretty good.
-Where Dark and Light Don't Differ 10/10
Probebly together with 'Withstand the Fall of Time' my favorite song from the album. The real standout is the vocals, a departure from the clasic Immortal vocals to a slightly deaper one, with more volume to it, and it sounds great! Especially with the exelent guitar work and riff buildups which this song has. It has a great 'sing along' chorus where you want to shout along: Where dark and light don't differ! Just great guitar work that make you want to sing along.
The ending is kind of sudden, but good none the less.
-At The Heart of Winter 9.5/10
The intro to this song is great, very atmospheric and creates a nice cold icy atmosphere, with keyboards, clean guitars and icy nordic winds blowing softly in the backround, I think the bass does some of it as well.
So the intro is really great, but the guitar work after just doesn't exactly fit it, it's good, but I think could have been slightly better, more icy, more cold, they are good, and I like the song a lot however.
Only further complaint is the ending, which besides being sudden isn't that great.
-Years of Silent Sorrow 9/10
Probebly my least favorite song on the album. It starts off good, but then has the same problem as Tragedies Blows at Horizon. It just drags on, and doesn't go in any clear direction, it's ok, just not the same callibre as some of the other songs.
As a last note, it's a great album, go out and get it ;-)
At the Heart of Winter provides a fierce yet melodic serving of black metal. This does not sound like the minimalist ‘wall of noise’ black metal of Darkthrone and similar bands. In fact, it’s sound resembles Amon Amarth and other melodic death metal bands. Whatever exact genre this album is, its awesome. At the time of its release, Immortal was just a two-member band. Abbath handled all guitars, bass and vocals while Horgh played drums. I’m not to fond of Abbath’s vocals though; its not the greatest example of black metal vocals out there. They are low and, and I prefer a more higher pitched shriek (see Emperor for what I am talking about.) That being said, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that they had the standard four member roster. The sound created by these two musicians is exceptionally full despite the lack of members. They are decent musicians too. Horgh goes berserk on the drums near the beginning of the song Withstand the Fall of Time. The guitar riffing is exceptional as well, and the riffs change frequently within in the songs so they never become boring.
On Solarfall, the band slows it down in sections, using clean channel guitars to add more atmosphere. Atmospheric elements like this are spread throughout the album. For instance, the title track utilizes synthesizers and keyboards. Little touches like these add a lot to the album, and it helps convey emotion. With the help of the lyrics, listening to this album brings to mind harsh, winter tundra. The lyrics are an interesting read; they are mostly about cold, grim, winters.
Actually, now that I think about it, there isn’t much wrong with ATHOW. Its got everything a metal head wants in music: killer yet melodic riffs and insane drumming. Their corpse-paint image may be a bit ridiculous, but at least they have great music to back it up.
Highs: Killer riffs; great atmosphere
Lows: The vocals aren’t the greatest
Final Comment: An excellent album, even for someone not into black metal.
Ever since Emperor disbanded in 2001, Immortal has proven themselves as one of the only black metal bands worth listening to, and although At the Heart of Winter was released back in 1999, it shows off a level of skill and power that stays true to the black metal theme while including many subtle touches that make the album even more enticing. At The Heart of Winter is a throwback to Immortal's excellent debut EP Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, and although current skinsman Horgh blows then-drummer Armagedda out of the water, you'll notice the similar atmospherics between the two albums. Don't let the appearance of synthesizer fool you, however; they appear all of three times on ATHOW, and only once - at the opening of the title track - can you really hear them. The production still focuses on Abbath's blistering guitar riffs and Horgh's amazing, extremely controlled drums. But the songwriting in general is ever so slightly melodic, giving the music an epic feel to match the poetic concept lyrics by former guitarist Demonaz Doom Occulta.
The sound is still as clean as ever. Immortal still, as always, feels like the good garage band of black metal (don't get me started on Darkthrone's production), boasting a studio sound that doesn't focus on overblown effects. The riffing is incredible, and it's hard to believe that only one person is responsible for it - Abbath's riffs are extremely fast but discernable, and never does the band use the wall-of-static approach that many other black metal bands use to disguise their lack of talent; the result is oddly satisfying. Horgh often uses many of the standards of metal drumming, with the meaty double-bass pedals and snare-banging, but in many of the pieces he'll go all over the kit, and you can't help but crack a smile as he keeps up with the incredible pace of the songs, a feat not completely do-able by even some of the most accomplished drummers. And though I loathe the comparision, Immortal is like The White Stripes of the metal world, doing with two people on this album what many bands can barely do with four or five, let alone the 9-person shitsessions of Slipknot. (Author's Note: Whenever fighting off a Mallcore fanboy in heated debate, always, always recommend them some Immortal. That should shut 'em up right quick.)
But where At the Heart of Winter differs from other Immortal albums is a much more musical bent. Abbath and Horgh have already proven over just about every other Immortal album that they've got the speed and power to match up with any black metal or thrash guitarist (especially as many of the riffs bear the same intensity as a good thrash-metal rhythm guitar section), but it's equally amazing when they calm it down ever so slightly. After an extraordinary instrumental opener in Solarfall, the song changes gears twice to a slower, almost atmospheric sound as Abbath switches the distortion off and Horgh goes all over the toms, a move that is as alluring as it is surprising. And the excellent calmer instrumental sections at the middle and end of Tragedies Blows at Horizon flows with great fluidity between the heavier passages, a feat that few bands are able to do with such immediacy. And Abbath's lizard-man growl is still intact and as fitting as ever.
Although a slightly new direction for the band, Immortal easily integrates the melodic sounds with the harsh riffing of their normal repetoire, creating a CD that is epic without ever resorting to cheap prog-metal tricks such as long, rambling solos (which I love, mind you.) The result is a thick, complex album that is as heavy as it is melodic, and above all else, it shows that Immortal has mastered their craft.
After 'Blizzard beasts', Immortal obviously thought we were ready for something different. Or they just got tired of doing the same stuff once more. Anyhow, the outcome is far more melodic and.. well I wouldn't say technical, but it's like they actually became better musicians. If you're worried they've gone totally soft or something.. chill out, they just play more melodic stuff, riffs in the vein of Gothenburg bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity.
Despite that, they're still fast and furious, but as you can imagine - not all the time as they used to be. Generally the pace here is slower but if that bothers you then stick with 'Pure holocaust' or 'Battles in the north' for gods sake! There's still lots of double kicks and speed enough to satisfy the regular black metaller. The song length is another thing they changed. Before, I think they could be proud of having one song clocking in at 4 minutes, this album consists of 46 minutes music in only 6 tracks. Production is a bit better, but if that's better from this point of view I'm not sure of. However it's the work of Peter Tägtgren so we're talking quality.
So like I said, don't worry that this is another commercial piece of crap - it isn't. Black metal have never been as good as this musically, although this is the only "newer" Immortal album you need since this gets boring in the long run. Still an awesome album though, but as usual I prefer more aggressive efforts like 'Battles in the north'. This is something that I think even non-black metal fans could appreciate.
Everyone can give up until the year 2000 - the best album of 1999 has already been released, and it's Immortal's fifth full-length slab of metal, "At the Heart Of Winter". It's almost as if Immortal re-invented themselves by simply going back to their earlier roots - with only six songs at 46 minutes, the longer, more epic song structures recall the more intricate arrangements on their first album "Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism" while the riff style harkens back to "Pure Holocaust" - Fast strumming of barre chords and chord-extended diads which contain the bulk of melodic movement (if that didn't make any sense, grab PH and listen to the main riff in "A Sign For the Norse Hordes to Ride" or "As the Eternity Opens" and you'll hear what I mean). The fast parts are just as fast as anything they've done, but they're much more impressive in the context of these songs, which contain great dynamic changes - the songs flow very well and still hang together. Despite the loss of Demonaz's fretboard wizardry (though he does contribute all of the lyrics), the musicianship has not suffered at all - Abbath's guitar playing is tight and flawless, the vocals still his trademark grim croak, and the basswork is capable as always (though more audible this time). The big surprise, though, is Horgh's drumming. He handles all of the whirlwind of dynamic/tempo changes with the fluidity of water, plays great non-standard beats, and STILL manages to throw off the occasional lightning-fast fill that just makes you wonder if they managed to find a guy with three arms. Enslaved's loss is Immortal's gain, I suppose...
Topping all this off is yet another fine production job by Peter Tagtgren - say what you will about Abyss being the "Morrisound of Norway," but the man knows how to record guitars, and he actually pushed the bass fader UP in the mix. The sound is overall quite punchy, never muddy or excessively noisy - VERY clean, but not dry at all. All of the songs are great, but the highlights have to be the opening "Withstanding the Fall of Time" and the title track, which is a behemoth of epic proportions: it starts off with great, mellow synthesizer and clean guitar interplay which build into the triumphant main riff of the song. Bottom line - get this. It proves that black metal cannot be dead while Immortal still live.
(Originally published at LARM (c) 1999)