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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)