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Black metal is a notoriously difficult subgenre of metal to enter into. Getting past the nastier elements and the downright problematic people in the scene, it's simply an unwelcoming environment for better or for worse. As such, some of us might have difficulty helping folk with that initial step besides say, Black Metal. That said, if you want to bring someone black metal without sacrificing history, creativity, or the "blackened" sound, this is my personal recommendation.
At it's core, BITN is a nice exemplification of the Norwegian scene – A dark return to metal at it's isolated roots, combining elements of lo-fi death and thrash with the subject matter of Venom, Celtic Frost, and early Bathory records. Riffing guitars that are distorted to high hell, the drumming is furious and pounding – And then of course Abbath's vocals and Demonaz's lyrics.
Despite the Anthrax levels of goofiness Immortal is known for (esp. with the Abbath memes and bad music videos), very few bands could portray demons like them. Demonaz's writings about the belligerent, frozen hell that Blashrykh are complemented fantastically by Abbath's vocals, one of the most iconic set of pipes in black metal. For those uninitiated, Abbath's voice is guttural, nasally, and almost hisses at you as he assumes the role of a dark narrator, rendering tales of Blashrykh unto you. It's almost as if the Devil himself is hocking a venom loogey into your skull.
Perhaps the only condemnation one could given to this project is that it's 10 tracks long, and no track reaches even a five minute mark, leaving with the impression that this could be a longer project. But, as I said, this functions are a fantastic 101 class to black metal, and for that purpose the length is arguably a positive. Overall, it's brutal, belligerent, lo-fi black metal that stands the test of time. Good job, Immortal.
Two grimly looking dudes kneel in the snow while clasping their electric guitars. Otherwise they would probably drop. Welcome to the outposts of Blashyrkh.
After the groundbreaking predecessor, Immortal were confronted with the question of how to design the third album. "Pure Holocaust" had already reached the final limits of fury, velocity and determination. But the Norwegians found a solution. First of all, the sound of "Battles in the North" differs completely and cannot be confused with that of the previous work. "Battles in the North" is colder, sharper and less dense. Indeed, it conveys the feeling of being lost in a snowstorm while sensing the breath of the enemy. I am quite unsure whether this is a good production in objective terms. Yet it meets the requirements of this type of Northern black metal very precisely. Maybe you have to get used to the mix, but your efforts are rewarded.
The songs themselves are focused on mercilessness and franticness while ploughing through the crusted fields. This applies at least for the majority of the tunes. Their compositional arrangements are fairly simple and the relatively short playtime does not allow escalating constructions. Irrespective of this, the tracks deliver the necessary amount of surprising moments. Immortal are clever enough to design the songs in a stunning way. Right from the beginning, the title track finds its way through the icy deserts. Harsh drums and pressed guitars evoke the spirit of the wasteland and the pretty Spartan melodies possess the right degree of malignancy. It becomes clear very quickly that Immortal do not lack of ignorance towards external influences. Although the lyrics do not deal with Satan, Lucifer and their whole circle of friends, Immortal perform pure black metal with all its famous ingredients such as ice-cold guitars, hateful nagging and rapidly hammered drums. Too bad that the snare drum has to struggle in order to be heard during the high speed parts. And there are a lot of these parts. Nevertheless, the album does not fail to wow the listener with the necessary dynamic, not least because Immortal insert a few slower parts successfully.
The closer works as a contrast to its rapid predecessors. "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)" stands in the tradition of "A Perfect Vision of a Rising Northland". Thus, it combines frosty weather with mid-paced rhythms while expressing the craggy Northern nature in an unbeatable way. It is the last piece in an unexpectedly strong chain of highlights at the end of the album. The nervous "Through the Halls of Eternity" surprises with a majestic ending and "Circling Above in Time Before Time" impresses with its unswerving velocity and some strange guitar tones during its final section. It may sound paradoxical, but Immortal are able to offer a solid degree of variety without leaving their narrow frame. Generally speaking, the band equips the songs with pretty catchy choruses and strong and / or surprising endings. Perhaps you like to listen to the unholy "Moonrise Fields of Sorrow" in order to verify my statement.
At the time of its release, I was convinced that this album deserves the highest rating. But over the years, it has lost a few percents of its penetrating power. A small number of the songs was unfortunately not able to withstand the test of time. That does not mean that there are any tracks which let you think of using the skip button. Each and every tune reaches at least a good level. Hence follows that "Battles in the North" is still highly recommendable. Too bad that I cannot find Blashyrk on my map.
Battles in the North is a disappointment in virtually every regard. I don't know what happened to Immortal that made them drop the ball so quickly, but it must have been something. Look at it in context: their last album was Pure Holocaust. In one album, they forged the ground level for true black metal, all the while developing their own unique voice they had introduced on the debut. Pure Holocaust might have every black metal trope known to man, but damn it, those tropes exist because of that album. The faster, streamlined Immortal sound took a while longer to grow on me in comparison with Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, but it wasn't long before I was able to see it for the maniacal testament that it was and is.
So, what the fuck happened? Did Mighty Ravendark decide to take a mighty shit on Immortal halfway into the recording? Battles in the North isn't so bad, but it has flaws enough to beg the question.
It wouldn't be unfair to say Immortal's career trajectory was largely spawned from the threads they wove on Pure Holocaust. What Battles in the North should have been was an apt continuation of those threads, keeping the punishing blend of Demonaz's precise guitarwork and Abbath's primitive, pummeling drumwork. Instead, the guitars here sound sloppier than they were on Pure Holocaust. And as if it were some Grand Prix of Sloppiness, the drums sound even more rushed, to the point where objectively derived fuck-ups in the performance are left in, because who knows; maybe they thought no one would notice?
Immortal's sound has always favoured a lo-fi, raw production, and I think they mastered it on Pure Holocaust. A lot of the technical issues on Battles in the North almost sound like Immortal were trying to roll back their sound to the amateurish intuition of the debut and early demos. The difference here is that, by 1995, Immortal had long since proven that they could not only play, but play like ravenous, technically-inclined demons. Abbath screwing up the occasional beat doesn't sound true so much as lazy, and Demonaz' biting playing sounds uncharacteristically dead, thanks in great part to a flat-sounding production. If I had to guess, Battles in the North seems like it was a misguided attempt to keep reinventing their sound. Given how inspired Pure Holocaust was as an expression of style, I don't know why the band would have seen it necessary to keep changing. Their heart was obviously still in the same place, but whatever added rawness they tried to inject into the formula hurts what otherwise would have been another great Immortal album.
This album condemns itself on the ground of a shoddy performance. I wouldn't say the songwriting isn't too much worse than Pure Holocaust, but most of the reason I was so impressed by that album was that Immortal played hard and brutally enough to make me care about somewhat samey, predictable tunes. The muted production, mixing and performance issues are more than enough to rob Immortal of their traditional spirit, so I'm left to wonder how much I'd have liked this album if it had enjoyed the same passionate display as the album before it. "Battles in the North" is certainly a good track; "Cursed Realms of the Winterdemons" and "Circling Above in Time Before Time" boast better-than-average riff sets as well. Possibly best of all, "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)" hints at the epic, cold atmosphere I look to this band for. For songwriting's sake, Battles in the North is about as good as I'd expect from Immortal, and it's a shame these songs weren't delivered near as well as they should have been.
Whether Immortal were sincerely trying to switch up their approach with this one, or whether the weak performance is an honest blemish, it's enough to make this album one of the weakest in their discography, maybe the worst of all. In most cases, a band that tries to strip their sound, going 'back to their roots' is only doing so because they've run out of ideas. I refuse to believe Immortal lacked the inspiration to make something as powerful as Pure Holocaust. Indeed, they would get around to making amazing stuff again by At the Heart of Winter, but the fact that Battles in the North faltered in between such great albums just has me wondering what was going through their heads at the time. Otherwise, Immortal stayed relatively true to form with this one, but the problems are bold enough to make this one a mixed success at best.
This is the lamest Immortal release for the one fact that it’s a repetitive, sloppy mess. The cover art’s cool in a goofy way and the title is one that evokes an epic quality, but that’s worth more before hearing the album. The music itself doesn’t live up to that at all, even when that which is praiseworthy is put into the equation. Think of all the typical ‘90s black metal traits and think of why a lot of it doesn’t pay off. Could it be bad production, sloppy playing, or something like poor songwriting? Well this album’s got all of it and chooses to never be anything more than a joke. Abbath’s vocals are laughable, the drumming’s excited but mindless, and bar a few decent riffs and the bulk of the final song, Battles In The North is a dusty antique at best.
Why do songs abruptly cut off? Why does everything have the exact same pace except “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)”? Why does Abbath sound like a toad choking? There are so many questions to ask that lead to the big question - despite all the things wrong with this, why is it considered a classic? Its grubby production, while in one way does give off this cold, sharp tone, strips this album of emotion. Tremolo is cutting in distortion and does have bite to it, so add some melody and there’ll be riffs aplenty... except there isn’t. There’s a blend of the same sounding riffs for over half the album, and it gets upsettingly tedious when there are no hooks to keep me interested. The final track is the only song which I like because it sounds like the epic, thought-out Immortal with actual writing, riff prowess, and some of that fantasy-atmosphere that makes them sound otherworldy. “Cursed Realms Of The Winterdemons” has this for like ten seconds, too, before it devolves into blasturbation.
That’s what the rest of this album’s like (harsh, but uneventful music). It’s blast beats upon blast beats and tremolo upon tremolo. Its overwhelming, flood-like temperament would be one to behold had there been competent writing behind it. I mean add some harmonies, some eclectic leads, atmospheric passages, more than a few distinct riffs instead of the sharp buzz of guitars, and put someone behind the kit that can actually do something other than blitzy bonks. Abbath’s drumming sucks so bad behind those stammering double bass queues and clowny snare hits.
Don’t mistake this for a whirlwind or flurry of callous black metal. Immortal’s first album was numinous while Pure Holocaust was baleful; this one’s a bare bones onslaught. I use bare bones in terms of songwriting and in terms of production. While this isn’t terribly produced or mixed (except the drums which are clunky and imbalanced), it lacks personality. I mean anything that’s just BRRRRRRR-ing guitars and DUNGADUNGADUNGADUNGA blasting is going to force energy and lack personality. The worst is Abbath’s vocals, which I actually do like on other releases. Why the double standard for this album? Because the music itself is such crap that his swampy, skeletal toad croak has nothing to support it. Plus with this bony production his clear vocals feel empty. Two especially annoying moments are in the songs “Cursed Realms Of The Winterdemons” (when he goes “Winds have come for meeee! Winds will come to meeee!” Ugh…) and that belch / scream in “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” during that elegant, Bathory-esque bridge. Oof, even timeless lines on this album like “You might say I’m demonized!” don’t save it.
I am bashing this for its lack of variety, poor execution, and laughable nature, but it still has some charm. That charm is in the fact that it’s an Immortal album, plus the music videos are amusing and serve better for this release’s appearance rather than the album’s own attempt at being fierce. Battles In The North by itself is largely unremarkable. It’s just a barely regulated, ultra-standard black metal album where nothing’s accomplished except bombarding the listener with the same track switched up nine times. Had the album been more like the final song, this would have deserved its lofty, albeit mixed, place in history. Instead, it’s a dud that deserves to be buried in an avalanche.
Immortal's third album, Battles In The North, is viewed by many as a step back from their seminal sophomore black metal benchmark Pure Holocaust. Released in 1995, this ten song collection is considered considerably weaker than both albums that had come previously, treading along the same lines of the previous two releases, featuring extremely fast tempos and lyrics about the winter and ice worlds that were such a step away from the traditional Satan-infested black metal lyrics.
The two major differences to Pure Holocaust become immediately apparent, with Abbath's vocals being even more understandable than on that album, whilst still sounding as though he had a severe cold at the time of recording. They are less extreme and more accessible than many black metal vocalists, having a cheesy feel to them, but still perfectly fitting the lyrics that describe such backdrops as the mythical ice kingdom Blashyrkh described so vividly in the closing song, a concept that would recur on future albums. Somehow, these blocked-nose sounding vocals manage to draw a more complete picture of the terrains that the albums lyrics speak of.
The production is also considerably better than the previous two releases, although still not decent by any means. The guitars and drums are both equally mixed, with each having a nice enough sound to them, and the leads not being buried by the production as was one of the problems with the past two albums. The vocals are mixed so that they are at the front of the chaos, but only being a tad louder than the instrumentals, so that everything sounds level enough to a listener. This is one of the album's real strengths, and the one major thing it does a lot better than the past two albums, allowing the listener to bask in the apocalyptic sounds being made by Abbath and Demonaz.
The song craft may be a minor regression in terms of actual memorability from the masterpiece the band had created beforehand, but not by a huge amount. Grim And Frostbitten Kingdoms is one of the bands more well known songs among the black metal community, having had a video produced for it, and rightfully deserves its popularity, being a powerful enough dose of aggression. The blast beats are never ending, the vocals are utterly astounding and the guitar work is incessantly aggressive across this song, with the lyrics creating a morbid picture of a desolate ice-ridden land, making for a fantastic song that stands out amidst the rest of them.
Album closer Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark) rightfully stands proud as one of the most beloved songs in the band's entire discography, creating a war-march sound with the slower drumming to open up the song, before leading into one of the most atmospheric songs the band has ever put out. The sound of this song is one of a demonic kingdom, and is pulled of superbly by the duo that make up Immortal. This is the best song on the album, no questions asked, with some incredible drumming throughout, crazily fast guitar work and lyrics that paint the picture of one of the darkest cities ot have existed. However, this song really hits its absolute peak with the superb interlude found at around three minutes in, containing the most memorable screams from Abbath in their entire discography, before leading into the most intense section on the album. This is a closer that has everything the band embodies, and serves as the best possible way to end this album.
However, among all the good that this album has, there is one degrading thing about it that keeps it from being quite as good as Pure Holocaust or some of the other entries in their discography. The album as a whole product is not quite as good as the previous one, with Pure Holocaust succeeding simply because start to finish it never lets up in the quality, producing some of the most memorable moments in their discography, whilst still being near perfect throughout. However, Battles In The North is an album that relies on its best tracks to pull it through, whilst a couple of tracks, namely the title track that opens it up and Descent Into Eminent Silence, drag the quality down a little. The title track lacks any riffs that stick out whatsoever, and Descent is just too much of a cacophony of chaos to really work. This is by no means a bad thing, as the great tracks truly are of the highest caliber, but this album lacks that driving force that made Pure Holocaust so good to listen to front to back.
This album is definitely in the upper echelons of the Immortal discography, with the aforementioned duo of tracks setting the bar even higher than what had been heard before, but suffers as an overall product due to lack of originality and the fact that it is not as consistent. Of their early material, this is the second best, behind only their sophomore album, and is almost certainly worth a look at. This is a suggested starting point for those whom have not yet crossed the threshold into listening to black metal, as it is an accessible enough album, with a much sharper production than previous releases.
Alright, I'm a total Immortal fanboy, but I'll do my best to keep that from impacting what I have to say.
There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding towards this album: the most common grievances are that it lacks diversity, lacks intricacy, and isn't up to Immortal's songwriting ability. These make sense on a surface and technical level. But what these shallow listeners fail to grasp is the intent with which this album was written. It was not meant to be complex. It was not meant to be diverse. The sole purpose of this album is to create an atmosphere- Something intangible that goes beyond the depth of the average album. Something magical.
This goal is obtained at the cost of everything else, which makes for one hell of a staunch, unyielding release. As you've probably gathered by now, there isn't an abundance of technicality, there aren't a ton of moments that make you grin and say "dat rifffff." Instead we have a whole album of heartfelt, almost pantheistically-natural black metal that makes you gaze out the window in wonder. Music that makes you feel. A whole album that transports you to a realm of wonder and cold beauty.
Anyways, enough mooning. The first material I heard from this was At the Stormy Gates of mist. There was a free 30 second sample of it on some website (this is before I discovered youtube). I really wanted to like it, but couldn't understand what was going on. I was just getting into metal and the corpsepaint and winter/mystical imagery really enticed me. But the music was just too inaccessible. I couldn't isolate specific things because it wasn't formulated enough.
Upon first listen, it seemed to be the audial embodiment of a blizzard, and that's something I still hear in the album. The music is fast, harsh, cold, but never evil or hateful like so much other black metal and practically all other black metal of the time. This is one of the biggest appeals of the album. It sounds so natural. The guitarwork and drumming are top notch, but that's the last thing the listener focuses on because the atmosphere is clearly the priority. As great as they are, they only exist to serve the atmosphere of the album.
Sounds range from fast and driving in the first 2/3s of the album to strident and proud in the last three tracks. This difference while still maintaining such similarity is one of the best musical parts of the album. The melodies and feel of the last three tracks are definitely different from the first part of the album, but they don't sound out of place at all.
The production, like the instrumentation, serves to further the wintry atmosphere. The guitars are mid in the mix, the drums are pretty high, and the vocals are high. Bass is inaudible. As stereotypically 2nd wave as that may be, this album is done differently. There's almost a sense of fog obscuring some of the sound. This is partially why I'd call this album an audible blizzard.
I won't talk about any riffs specifically, because that's completely beside the point of this album. But I will bring up a few melodies, like the one in the background of the "chorus" bit of Through the Halls of Eternity. This melody is a minorly-recurrent theme throughout a few of the songs. It undergoes minor changes in the two tracks after it, and this is the factor that binds these three songs together and makes them separate but still bound to the rest of the album. Similarly, the first few songs are also similar to eachother, as are the middle songs. This makes it seem like the album has phases. It progresses through different sounds that are all related to eachother, each sound with a few specific subsounds.
Don't listen to this album casually: you won't get it. Sit down on a frosty winter's eve and let it work weave its unique spell of atmosphere.
Immortal’s sophomore release, Pure Holocaust is a quintessential black metal recording. It is a pure manifestation of one of the extreme possibilities of black metal: blast beats, tremolo and speed, speed, speed. However, what makes the recording so brilliant is not the quantity but the quality of the compositions; the subtle changes in chord progressions, the dramatic ebbs and flows of the rhythms and the fluidity of the guitar work. Immortal’s third release, Battles in the North pushes the sound of Pure Holocaust into even greater degrees of intensity. It is faster, heavier and even more chaotic. However, it is not better. Though Battles in the North is quantitatively more extreme, it is qualitatively more conservative, relying on more predictable extreme metal techniques to create a demanding atmosphere. The result is an album that lacks the compositional brilliance of its predecessor.
Make no mistake about it, this album is heavy. The opening notes hit your eardrum like a Mack Truck and with the exception of the closing track, Immortal never let up. Battles in the North is a loud, heavy and fast barrage of frigid tremolo picking and hammering percussion. Based on these measurable factors, Battles in the North blows Immortal’s other albums out the water. However, the quality of the performance is by no means brilliant. The riffs are nowhere near as imaginative or powerful as those on Pure Holocaust or for that matter, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. All the melodic textures of the prior releases are gone and what is left is a bunch of heavy, one-dimensional bone crunching riffs. Now this is not intrinsically bad, and indeed this album is quite powerful. One feels as if they are trapped in a blizzard with the heavens emitting endless waves of snowfall onto the listener.
There are also a few unforgettable hooks hidden amidst the deluge of bone-crushers. “Cursed Realms of the Winterdemons” centers on a glorious, watery riff that provides a hypnotic intermission at the midway point of the album. It’s as if for a moment the snow has let up and one can see the majestic white landscape in which he or she is surrounded. Then of course, there is the closer, “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)”. The track is slower in tempo, more epic in spirit and contains more compositional shifts. “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” foreshadows the epic style that Immortal will take up on At the Heart of Winter. Though the song contains some killer riffs, it lacks flow. The stop and start nature of the song structure results in a somewhat awkward listen. One last issue with this recording (as well as every Immortal album to follow) is Abbath’s vocals, which have lost the organic, predatory tone of the early recordings and have transitioned into a choppy and overly mechanical tone.
It is fair to conclude that Battles in the North effectively achieves its goal. It creates a smothering and dominating atmosphere that will freeze you to the bone, even during an equatorial summer. Considered in itself Battles in the North is a very good album. However, after seeing what Immortal achieved on Pure Holocaust, it is a little disappointing. It’s like getting a PhD from Harvard and then teaching at a community college. You’re still doing well, but everyone knows you can do better. As fun as Battles in the North is, everyone knows that this not Immortal at its best.
(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com/)
Immortal's third album, Battles In The North, is a great classic in the black metal genre. It's a very fast and violent release, with epic melodies and a tremendous voice by the frontman Abbath. It was recorded in the legendary Grieghallen Studios in september '94, but it's often underrated because of the crushing production. Instead I believe that this sound fits the songwriting perfectly: it's very aggressive and cold, it reminds me of a blizzard.
Every song is characterized by fast blast beats over frozen-distorted guitars. The vocals are recorded very loud and they seem to be overdriven, which gives even more violence to the release. Unfortunately the bass guitar isn't always well audible, with the exception of the intro of Cursed Realms Of The Winterdemons, in my opinion the best song on this album. The drums are very audible and a little raw, in particular the snare and the ride cymbal. Abbath's work with the drumkit isn't always perfect, I don't mean he looses the tempos, but there are some parts that could have been done better. The work from the guitars in instead perfect: they sound very distorted, but also very cold and atmospheric.
Battles In The North is one of Immortal's most famous releases. It's not atmospheric like Blizzard Beasts or obcure like Pure Holocaust but is incredibly more furious. The perfect soundtrack for a demonic battle through the northern snowfalls in obscure and forlorn valleys! It also contains many of their most famous anthems like, for example, the title track or Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark). A must-have for every black metal winterdemon!
Highlights: Battles In The North, Moonrise Fields Of Sorrow, Cursed Realms Of The Winterdemons and Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark).
Immortal's "Battles in the North" is for some reason a highly lauded album by Immortal fans. It shouldn't be, because there are several things obviously wrong with it. First and foremost, this is one of Pytten's worst mixes. A lot of the black metal Norwegians that have worked with him have always regarded him as a highly competent audio engineer, so maybe it is Immortal's fault that this sounds the way it does, as they are listed as the producers. Either way, this mix has absolutely no clarity at all save for the snare drum and vocals. The actual playing of the drums is also pretty bad as well, this being Abbath's second attempt at filling in since apparently Immortal had no drummer at the time. This is a much worse performance than found on "Pure Holocaust." His timing is all over the place and the fills are shaky, which is a stark contrast to the much more polished and well performed drum sounds Immortal would have on later albums.
The timing issues carry on to Demonaz's guitar playing, which already sounds awful tone wise. The interplay between the guitars and drums sounds as if they are trying to find the beat the whole time, fighting to stay somewhat together. And I don't just blame Abbath, Demonaz's timing is clearly suspect as well whenever there is a guitar passage just by itself. The songs sound as if they were written by musicians who weren't yet quite good enough to execute them in the way they were written to be, which is kind of inexcusable by the time your band is working on its third full length. Naturally, the bass is reduced to a low rumble with next-to-no-clarity to be found.
The incompetence carries over to the credits in the CD. Obviously, Immortal's image has always been very important to them, so things like how the artwork and lyrics are presented have got to hold some bearing. Well, aside from the front cover, the same three pics on the inside of the book are all repeated. There are numerous typos throughout, and not the kind of "English as a second language" sort of typos, just the obvious "thrown together in 3 minutes, who cares if it's proofread" typos. There is even a line that says "Demonaz plays 'Pearl' drums exclusively" which is perhaps another explanation as to the awful timing, or just another goofy typo. Most famously and perhaps most ridiculous of all, the track listing in the book doesn't match the sequence on the CD! This album has been released for going on 14-15 years, and none of the subsequent pressings or re-issues have ever fixed this!
Positive reviews of this album always seem to try to cover for the wretched mix and bad playing by saying something like "the cold production makes it really sound like they are playing in a blizzard! It's soooo grim!!!" But that doesn't even begin to describe the endurance contest of incompetence that this CD subjects the listener to. Thankfully, Immortal would go on to make better albums, but this one is simply a dud. One star out of five.
There are those albums that are merely good, and then there are those that are amazing. Then, very occasionally, you'll be lucky enough to find an album that completely blows you and everything you hold dear away in a hail of ice and relentless fury. Welcome to "Battles in the North", the third blast of Northern aggression from Norway's legendary Immortal. While, in my opinion, these Norsemen have yet to serve up a single album that isn't fucking awesome, it's "Battles" that reigns supreme above the rest of their mighty catalogue.
To give newcomers an idea of what this album sounds like: this is the record that actually coined the term "grim and frostbitten". With "Battles in the North", Immortal have managed to capture the essence of the most savagely cold and violent blizzard imaginable and stuck it onto a CD for the rest of us to enjoy. The sound they've produced here is utterly fantastic and quite unlike anything else I've heard before or since.
As far as the rest of Immortal's work goes, "Battles" sounds closest to "Pure Holocaust", only far more ferocious in its delivery. While "Pure Holocaust" is an undeniable classic of the genre, for me there was always a certain something missing from that album that meant it never quite delivered the goods. "Battles in the North" however, does not suffer from this problem. The guitars are pushed slightly back in the mix which, far from being detrimental, causes them adopt a constant, swirling wall of noise effect. The chaos of the guitars actually serves as more of a backdrop to the songs than is usual, with the drums and vocals appearing on top of them, creating a rather strange structure of sound. The riffs are far from inconsequential though, and Demonaz really outdoes himself here with great riff after great riff, all delivered at lightning speed. The bass, as you might expect from a second wave black metal recording, is largely inaudible.
Contrary to what the "Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms" video may have you believe, Hellhammer does not appear on this album, and Abbath mans the kit once more (as he did on "Pure Holocaust"). A lot of people criticise "Battles" due to Abbath's drumming, as it sounds as if he's constantly struggling to keep up with everything else that's going on. As far as I'm concerned however, this is only a good thing. Rather than some robotic blastbeat drumming with pinpoint accuracy, Abbath's attempt lends the album a truly chaotic feeling; as if he were actually sitting atop a mountain in a raging blizzard trying to lay down his drum tracks. It sounds corny, but that's exactly the feeling that "Battles" conjures up.
Abbath's voice is once again in fine form here, and he probably sounds at his most reptilian on this album. The lyrics are classic grade-A Immortal, with more than enough blackstorms, winterdemons and ravendark kingdoms to go around. The songs themselves are pretty much a constant blasting for the most part, and the Immortal boys barely give you time to catch your breath. A lot of the songs begin and end very abruptly, as if they were cut off before they could properly conclude. There are a couple of clean guitar interludes over the course of "Battles in the North", and these are pretty much the only time when things let up a little.
If you're new to Immortal and looking for your first foray into their music, people are going to try to convince you to get "Pure Holocaust". Do yourself a favour and pick up this album first, it really is the pinnacle of that early Immortal sound and one of the best damn albums in the entire history of black metal. Every metalhead even remotely interested in the blacker side of things owes it to themselves to add "Battles in the North" to their collection.
Every album has a built in purpose, some wishing to tell an interesting story, others wishing to merely leave an impression. “Battles In The North” is definitely fit for the latter category, and doing so by means of leaving an impression square on the listener’s skull vis-à-vis an exaggerated aggression factor. There is not even the slightest attempt at subtlety here, but instead an utter scorn for the very concept, resulting in every cliché built into the black metal genre being amplified tenfold, in much the same manner that Dark Angel’s “Darkness Descends” and Suffocation’s “Effigy Of The Forgotten” did in their respective genres, and thus is born the concept of the extreme within the genre. The only way in which this album differs from those two is that the quality of the performance on here lags a bit behind the obvious potential that can be gleaned from these otherwise very well written songs.
As much as this is already known to those familiar with this era of Immortal, it must be reaffirmed that Abbath is not Gene Hoglan, though it seems that he gets closer to that level of accuracy than Hellhammer did on Mayhem’s 80s material. The frequent blast beats and perpetual machinegun double bass dwarfs that of “Pure Holocaust”, and at times makes the music seem to slow down to a singular elongated attack. The drum sound is pretty top heavy, resulting in cymbal sounds being just a little too audible, the snare attack being just a tad overbearing, and the bass drum having that clicking quality peculiar to modern death metal bands that is often decried in purist circles. The actual rhythmic irregularities in the drumming are not immediately noticeable or necessarily offensive, but along with the quality of the drum production causes the drums to standout from the arrangement just a bit more than they should. To be fair to this album, there is variation in the beats that keep things interesting, thus accusations of this album being ten elongated blast beat sessions should be dismissed as hyperbole.
Though flaws in the production may loom, the other aspects in which this album seeks to underscore the extremity of the genre are successful. The distant atmosphere that “Pure Holocaust” exhibited as a whole has been replaced with an up close, drier, and more deadly atmosphere where the blurry guitar riffs and twisted Gollum ravings go right for your jugular. In fact, you could say that this album severs your jugular, drinks your blood, regurgitates it into your neck, patches up your neck, and then proceeds to repeat the same process several times. Wickedly brutal passages of frozen rage like “Grim And Frostbitten Kingdoms” and “At The Stormy Gates Of Mist” make Cannibal Corpse’s “Vile” sound like the theme music to Strawberry Shortcake, the latter of which contains a nice little guitar solo that is heavily reminiscent of the one heard on “Freezing Moon”.
In spite of all the aggression being emitted from this permafrost laden tundra of sound, the band has not forgotten the importance of having a melodic/harmonic underpinning to differentiate it from the percussive nature of extreme thrash and the atonality of brutal death. Sometimes this comes in the form of parallel lead lines woven into the arrangement like on “Circling Above In Time Before Time” in a sorrowful yet vengeful tone, or is built into the harmonic motion of the riffs themselves like the rapid yet catchy main riff to “Throned By Blackstorms”. The band even finds it necessary to break from the constant bludgeoning of the ear drums at the beginning of the latter song, putting forth something that could actually be described as pleasant. The same is done during the 2nd half of “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)”, though the vocal part during it sounds mechanical and awkward and could have been easily left out without the section missing it.
Despite the overall intrigue that this album puts forth, it can basically be considered one of Immortal’s weaker efforts. It’s a testament to how strong and together they are that this is a weak release as it towers over some of the stuff that was going on at the same time, both inside and outside the black metal scene. It isn’t as raw as “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism”, nor is it as polished as “Pure Holocaust”, but in its own ironically middle route yet ironically extreme sort of way, it has a charm that sets it apart and demands attention. It’s the sort of album that you’d acknowledge as a classic, though you wouldn’t play it more often than maybe once or twice a month. If you already have the first two by these Norwegian blackhearts, or you have any level of familiarity with the 2nd wave of black metal, this qualifies as essential.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 22, 2009.
People make a big deal about Abbath's drumming being uneven and sloppy on this album. It's true; you can hear it if you look for it. The thing is, if you're looking for it, you're almost certainly not listening to this album as it's meant to be listened to. It's not an LP that's listened to so much as undergone like some agonizing, frostbitten trial. You don't hear riffs as much as suffer them. It's a very good release and dissecting it excessively sort of destroys the magic of it. So yes, while instrumentally it conceivably leaves something to be desired, the net effect of it on the album as a whole is about zero.
'Battles In The North' is an album full of songs that are sort of like all the tracks between opener and closer on 'Reign In Blood'. They're not very different from each other and rarely are individual ones picked out as favorites or even as notable. Taken individually they don't have a lot of meaning; it's only when consumed as a pack that the gravity of them is really understood. 'Battles In The North' is a great album but certainly by no means a great collection of songs, and so it's not just recommended that you listen to the whole album, it's almost completely necessary.
One could argue that this is Immortal at their rawest and most savage, and I'd be inclined to agree. Every element on this release has been fine-tuned to be as ferocious and cold as possible, and it succeeds nearly completely. Even today, many years later, the vast majority of black metal albums aren't able to match up to how all-encompassing and decimating this release manages to be. There's very little variation in delivery and it's quite minimal, so in some ways it stands out as Immortal's 'Transilvanian Hunger'. It's something of an island in their catalog that should be heard by all black metal fans at least a handful of times.
Contrary to popular belief, the drums on this record are actually stellar: they're ultra-fast, very rich in tone, and the individual rhythms are packed to the brim with tiny, obviously improvised variations that fuse brilliantly with the wild, untamed guitar riffs. Those guitars are sort of a strange beast; this isn't nearly as riffy as Immortal usualy is partly due to the smothered and snowy yet sharp guitar tone, but even if you could hear the riffs articulate themselves more clearly it wouldn't matter, and it would in fact probably be to the detriment of the album. The guitars are used more as another layer of noise (and I say this in the best possible way), providing a biting wind to contrast with the thunderous drums. Abbath's vocals stand out as a single nearly swallowed voice in the midst of the snowstorm, and the overall effect of the mixing is exceedingly warlike.
This album has an extraordinarily good production job, and the sound of the album alone should rather easily tell one how to listen to it. The drums are right at the forefront with all their chaos intact while the guitars and vocals fight for dominance slightly in the background. For the music that's here, the album sounds just as it should to provide the best portrayal of it. Even the songs themselves have ultra-clipped and abrupt endings to increase the sharpness of the music even more, almost forcibly preventing the songs from linking with each other in any meaningful way. It's masterfully done from top to bottom.
As previously stated, this album is more undergone than listened to. There are very few memorable passages or riffs, and it's a release that's easier to appreciate from a holistic, aesthetic standpoint than a structural and musical one. You don't listen to this like you would other black metal; hell, you don't listen to it like you listen to other Immortal albums. You listen to it as the treacherous snowstorm it was meant to be.
Immortal. Do they really need an introduction? Everyone knows what to expect when they pick up one their albums. Fast, cold, and at times, hilarious black metal. Their third release, Battles In The North, is no exception to this. Prior to this release, Immortal put out two other albums which didn’t disappoint in their own ways. However Battles In The North is the bands most relentless and blasting album to date. It seems as though it takes the style of Pure Holocaust and pushes it even further with mindfucking speed and, of course, grimness.
When I say that this album is heavy, I don’t mean Gorgoroth heavy. It still has melody and atmosphere but can kick you in the nuts at times if you aren’t paying attention. Opener and title track kicks off with an ultra fast riff that doesn’t give you a chance to catch your breath. Abbath’s vocals here are pretty standard for Immortal. In fact, have they ever really changed? Who cares, they work.
The music slows down a bit with Cursed Realms Of The Winterdemons, and yes, that is a fucking awesome song title. Here we are introduced to a clean and brooding intro which is then blasted away by more blastbeats. The blastbeats are also noteworthy because in case you didn’t know, Abbath did the drums on this album. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the drums and I admit that I am not a drummer so I can’t say if they are technically well done, but they don’t sound out of place to me. Although they certainly aren’t diverse either.
Demonaz is also impressive on this album. Many of the fast black metal riffs are very memorable, especially on the closer, Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark). This is definitely one of my favourite Immortal songs. It just has everything. Awesome riffs, great vocals, nice acoustic breakdown, and get a load of these lyrics: “Cometh the rightful kings of highest halls/Cry of ravens lurk the realm/Eternally through the noctambulant grimness.” I know what your thinking, ‘is noctabulant a real word?’ the answer is no. I was fairly sure but I checked to be positive. Nevertheless, I think it’s my new favourite word.
There’s only one thing I have a problem with about Battles In The North and that is the production. I’m not talking about buzzy early Darkthrone production, because I love that, I’m talking about half assed laziness. On numerous occasions the songs cut out noticeably too short, in the middle of a riff. If this doesn’t happen, then the following song begins with the ending riff of the last song. This probably wasn’t Immortals fault, but it does effect the album anyway.
If you’re looking for very influential, fast, and grim black metal, pick up Battles In The North ASAP!
This and Pure Holocaust remain the great contributions to black metal's past and development that Immortal created. Both are very different, and yet perfect in their own ways. Battles In the North is a constantly blasting and cold recording, submerged in its own hoarfrost recording, made so you have to actually listen and pay attention to realise there is a lot going on in this recording.
The guitars and production seem to seek to actually sound like music being played in the middle of a freezing windy snow storm deep in the mountains. Swirling hateful blasts seem to encircle the listener, while the melodies that are indeed here, are buried under the noise. Drums don't help, being atypical, primarily based around at times extremely random shifts between blasts and slower beats, yet almost always having double bass pedals underneath, creating a kind of strange, shifting and strobing beat underlying everything, shadowing in a way the shifting and strobing guitars that trem pick throughout, with very few exceptions.
And it is the moments where the storm lets up that lets you realise the actualy beauty and power hiding under the hateful and unrelenting production and music. Moments when you realise the melancholic beauty that at times lurks, or the fantastic worldview that Demonaz and Abbath seek to infiltrate into your brain, worlds of dark raven kingdoms, demon kings and frost creatures lurking under rocks and caverns of the frozen and desolate north. Though over all this march vast dark hordes of a kind of pagan evil, that seeks to destroy the creations of normal men and the normal world. A Northern pride also is within them, a pride of their strength, their merciless hatred, their will to power to destroy their enemy.
The subconcious seems to revolve around these songs, submerging into them, into the constant noise of the recording, becoming accustomed to them eventually, though they seem to replecate the moments of sleeps oncoming, or the sleep deprived. Listening to this recording in either situation is interesting I will state, the trance feeling of such moments is only increased, and it becomes intensified as you fall deep into the constant stream of storm music.
Merciless and hateful this recording is yes, one of the most extreme statements of the black metal world, and yet once you get past the extremity, you realise the beauty and the strange catchiness of these works. It is a classic to stand next to Transilvanian Hunger, In the Nightside Eclipse, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, among the other classics of the Norwegian scene.
Immortal is perhaps my favorite of the more pure black metal bands, and the first black metal band i got into. They just have that sense of taking themselves too seriously in the whole scene, yet are respectably, one of the very few non-satanic early Norwegian black metal bands.
Battles In The North follows in the foot-steps of the mighty Pure Holocaust, and while it does bring improvement, something is obviously missing.
The title track starts the album off wonderfully, typically intense drumming with loud guitar. What follows is Grim And Frostbitten Kingdoms, an all-time high for the album, a great track with a pretty nice solo, something seldomly heard of for Immortal.
Cursed Realms Of The Winterdemons is just the quintessential hypnotic black metal track, mostly do to the intro, which just captures your attention the moment it starts.
More often than not, the idea of Immortal still being a 2-man band at this point comes into question as well... As long as one man bands can produce kvlt albums, who says a 2-man outfit should have problems, but somehow problems arise, because a skilled drummer is not necessarily an inventive/innovative one and as such, Abbath's drumming gets a tad too repetitive for the musical direction Immortal was obviously aiming towards (the direction they had ultimately reached 4 years later).
Surely the absolute masterpiece from this album is Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark) which needs no introduction. The intense riffs, blasting drums and the harmonic interlude that follows set the standard for many acts to follow. Impossible to listen to without picturing the vast Norwegian landscapes depicted in the music video.
While definitely a huge step in the right direction, this album still marks nothing more than a mere turning point in a young band's direction, due to the relatively low number of extremely memorable tracks.
Honorable mentions: Circling Above In Time Before Time & Throned By Blackstorms.
Immortal are my favourite black metal band, so I'm going to try to be as objective as possible in my review of this masterpiece (did they release any bad albums…? In my opinion, NO!). This album is simply awesome to me and surely it's a piece of black metal history. They are one of the most famous and appreciated black metal bands in the whole scene.
After their death metal beginning in late ‘80s, at the beginning of the ‘90s they began to play a sort of primordial black metal, heavily influenced by early Bathory. After few years, their music increased in speed and originality, like in this snow storm-album. If the album before, Pure Holocaust, was pure black metal in the sound, so raw and cold, this one is different. This one is even faster and the sound is a complete storm made of distorted guitars and wooden drums.
The guitars' distortion is so particular that in none of the albums after or before you could hear the same sound. The treble distortion in the Demonaz's amplifier is so high and intense that is almost unbelievable. His guitar lines create an atmosphere of frost and desolate winter landscapes. Some melodic lines can be found, and they are mostly melodies that remind something epic/cold or something desolated in a complete attack of a snow storm.
The violence that you can find in tracks like the title track or in "Throned By Blackstorms" is incredible and the drums played by Abbath are always fast, a bit raw but always very clean for the production. The blast beats are the trademark of this album, while Abbath's vocals are legendary…so raw, screamed and evil; perfect for this monument to the winter. The epic melodies created by the guitar, always so distorted, in the main riff of "Circling Above In Time Before Time" always send me chills.
The only “slow” song is the legendary "Blashyrkh (Mighty Raven Dark)", where Bathory’s early influences can be found again. This is also the last track of this album that markes more mid paced and epic tempos. At the end of this song, after a cold synth sound, Abbath screams the song's title and immediately after, a distorted, raw and cold guitar solo makes the coldness return like before: snow everywhere!!
This is an incredible album, made of 33 minutes of complete winter storms. The intensity and violence in this album is awesome. A must if you want a piece of winter directly at home, in you stereo.
“IN STORMS I STAND UPON RUINS, INFERNALLY VASTS TAKE MY SIGHT AGAIN, THE LIGHT IS DIM BEFORE ME FOR THE VISION WAS FROST…”
After their quite horrendous sophomore album, Immortal returned with "Battles in the North" two years later. Sadly, it still suffers from the same problem as its predecessor did, albeit to a lesser amount.
"Battles in the North" is perhaps even faster than "Pure Holocaust" and while this would normally lead to even less memorability, it's not the case with this album. I didn't say that this album sticks to your mind in the least, but you possibly couldn't be any less memorable than "Pure Holocaust". Again, "Battles in the North" features only one recognizable song ("The Sun No Longer Rises" on the previous album, "Blashyrkh - Mighty Ravendark" on this album) which closes the album. All other songs are an unremarkable mess of songs without any distinctive qualities, except for a few good riffs here and there. As I said, not as bad as on "Pure Holocaust" but sadly not too far away from it either.
Signs of improvement are the drumming, which was already fairly good (when Abbath was not blasting) on "Pure Holocaust", but shows more potential here. Abbath's voice is roughly the same, even if a bit louder in the mix which fits the album better.
Other than that, the style is pretty much the same as before. At least until the last song starts; "Blashyrkh - Mighty Ravendark" is a mid-paced, epic black metal song with some great acoustics, strong atmosphere and a great synth-acoustic breakdown with quite an amazing solo/riff combination at the end. The song is completely different to the other tracks and shows the newer direction they were heading to – more epic soundscapes, better songwriting and the fulfilment of their potential.
If there were any more songs like this one included, my rating would be much higher than it actually is and I'd have more love for an album which is (sadly) in reality, a boring, monotone and unmemorable mess with a few glimmers of future quality.
If you liked "Pure Holocaust" then by all means get this, and excuse my while I listen to some real quality Immortal material like "Blizzard Beasts" and "Damned in Black".
For a long time I have only been listening to “Pure Holocaust of the Immortal discography as I had dismissed everything else a few years back when I was first getting into black metal. I recall not liking them for being pretty boring as it all just sounded the same to me. From all the praise my friend had been giving this album I decided to give them another go. Man oh man was he wrong.
Now with all the experience I have gained in the scene over the years listening to many bands I can decide better for what is good and what is not to my ears and be able to understand better why something is good and why something is not good. This album isn’t necessarily complete suckage but it is certainly far from great. It fails in the aspect of keeping me interested as it has the old repetitiveness syndrome, similar to the failure of most of Marduk’s discography.
There are many things going wrong in this album. First of all the lyrics are just plain dumb. Immortal have some of the most unimaginative lyrics in any black metal band that I have come across. Sterotypical words like forest and grim and frostbitten are way overused to the point of just sounding lame and downright laughable at times. In the song Blashyrkh, Abbath repeats “Blashyrkh Mighty Raven Dark” many times and at one point after a fairly dull acoustic section towards the end of the track Abbath growls this feebly and I just burst out laughing. Abbath growls without overdoing it like many vocalists leaving the lyrics mostly decipherable. That said the growls are in the same key through every single song becoming very dull fairly quickly and at times the growls just sound plain feeble.
Now onto the guitars. This is where Immortal most fails. The guitars are hardly varied and the same riffs are recycled over and over again. This helps lead to every song sounding far too similar to one another. To make it worse the guitars are mostly indecipherable as they are drowned out by everything else from a very poor production. And I don’t mean poor as in raw as this can be good but just plain shit.
Now combining repetitive riffs that are difficult to hear and Abbath's dull vocals you get one fairly dull release.