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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.