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Stunning and highly underrated - 95%

Noktorn, January 14th, 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.