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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.