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Sometime ago, I found a blog run by an ol’French ass face badly obsessed with underground black metal; the interesting thing about this particular blog, amongst millions out there and aside the fact it was extremely well nurtured by around a thousand posts, was that rather than a review, the so called blogger would give each post a sort of fun, sort of descriptive and sort of ingenious name to the band’s music style. Being so, sub-genres such as incisive fundamentalist northern African black metal, old school black fucking death metal or modern orthodox black metal with post-black influences are typical to the mentioned blog.
To make a long story short, this guy included quite a few releases that were not underground at all within his posts, and I was able to see Immortal among the bands listed. What I wanted to come across since I started writing this is precisely how this blogger classified Immortal’s work: modern Norwegian black metal.
Although I usually disregard sexless-unemployed-fat-living-with-their-mothers-completely-fucken-useless-opinionated-sort-of-nerds’ points of asshole view, I must admit I couldn’t have said (typed?) it any better. The influence Abbath and Demonaz have had in metal all over the world is FUCKEN UNDENIABLE, and while many Norwegian acts have gone for a very commercial MTV-Hollywood-like sound and image, Immortal belong to the little group of cult bands who have kept up their own reputation showing some class, not that many know what that means…
Now, “Damned in Black” is a fine example of what I mean, by preserving all the elements that made Norwegian metal what it is (was?), as well as including some modern improvements; its sound is raw, it goes from mid paced to moderately speed, there’s SOME epicness to be found, yet it is not cheesily spread all over the surface, you need to look for it. Also it’s not over produced as one could expect from a monster like this, but it is right in the middle between too much money wasted in post-crappy-lying-production and equally-crappy-false-underground-lack-of-production (try to read that last sentence aloud at once).
Back in 2000, this is how Immortal saluted the new millennium, by playing black metal in a way that wasn’t usual; for example, if not the first, this is ONE of the earliest BIG BM releases that included within layers of true rawness what you could think of as breakdowns these days. Of course, Abbath managed to do it without abusing of it as a resource, and that might be the reason why such and innovation went unnoticed. Not that chan-chan-chan riffs if you know what I mean, are a real innovation, but for including them elegantly in a record full of tremolo picking, you have to give some credit to the man.
Sound like a fan, uh? Well, you’re right, but don’t tell me I didn’t told ya! Frankly, I believe this is the album that truly led to current and defining Immortal’s style, withdrawing back to a simpler sound after the successful experiment that “At the Heart of Winter” was, and before releasing “Sons of Northern Darkness” and eventually “All Shall Fall”, both in the same vein as “DiB”.
I consider its only actual sin to be how short the album is; really, it’s like having good sex except too rapidly, with the awful sensation of wanting more. Also, which is arguable and considering the more modern approach to BM here, they could have included some more guitar solos in the songs, but hey, we all know Abbath is not exactly a very proficient guitar player.
Why this almost classic has been neglected and underrated for years is beyond me. It is heavy, raw, fast enough, and hell, it’s damned and imbued in authentic blackness! Shame on you if you don’t think of this one as a compulsory must-have for every metal-head who praises himself of being one, and if you do, think better and put it in a higher position in the list, unless of course, you are one of those who believe that black metal got to its best back in the 80’s, in which case, I really can’t get why you’re still reading.
My fave tracks: “Darkness that Embrace Me” for its great grim atmosphere and songwriting, “Damned in Black” for its melodic use of disaggregated power chords, and “Triumph“for its explicit wrath.
—Originally written for www.globaldomination.se
'Damned to be hacks', rather. The first things I heard about this album had me anticipating its release eagerly. 'Back to the old style,' said the advance reports from the industry pundits, 'Immortal has recognized their mistakes on 'At The Heart of Winter' and has gone back to their original sound!' 'The closest to 'Battles in the North' that the band has been in years!' gushed other mouths, surely not to be trusted again. It serves me right for once again being taken in by the hype-spewing record promo departments. This album is not even close to the manifest brilliance and freezing melodicism of 'Pure Holocaust' or 'Battles in the North' (Demonaz, where are you?), and if you are an Immortal fan you will recognize that immediately.
What we have here is once again an attempt at reconciling two of Abbath's loves: old-style blasting black metal and the histrionics and overt hero-melodics of traditional metal. The result is something that doesn't ever really convince on either side: it's too harsh to be heavy metal, and too 'happy' (for lack of a better term) to make me believe that these guys have anything left in their hearts but dreams of Dynamo glory. Where are the freezing, churning riffs of old? Buried with Demonaz's arthritic elbows. Where is the garbage-disposal grind of the guitar? It's been converted to smooth Tagtgren cream - a boring, typical, over-produced, bland, traditional buttery guitar sound. Sure, this album sounds great, but most of the work that Tagtgren has produced since that bloated Dimmu opus have all received almost the exact same sound, and he continues to reduce the idiosyncracies of the bands he works with to smooth AOR-sterile (style) inconsequentials. What band will sign up next to be ruined by his hands? Any takers?
This album starts in a fine fashion with 'Triumph', a ripping take on the thrash/death metal art of combining lacerating rhythms with speedy runs and short, snare-punctuated riffs. It sounds like an amalgam of every death-influenced Immortal song you have ever heard. In other words: formula, through and through. It must have been written with a calculator, audience specifications, and the secret charts that Nuclear Blast has for constructing melodies that make German crowds lose their fist-banging inhibitions. It is horribly derivative. The central melody, pre-chorus, is a bouncing take on pop music melodicism - it made me want to scream in frustration. What happened to this band? The only riff, in fact, on this entire album that reminds me of this band's faded power, is the slow, pulsing guitar-bass exchange in the second song, 'Wrath from Above' (what?) that starts after the second verse, and which forms the first really effective bridge section that I've heard this band write in years. The rest of this album is a waste... I can't even bring myself to comment on it. I'll just sum up my impressions by saying that if you were to cut up 'At The Heart of Winter' and 'Blizzard Beasts', ala Burroughs, and shake up all the riffs in a can, reaching in randomly and grabbing a handful of been-there-done-that music would give you songs that were just as effective. A word to the wise: from current reports, Immortal now 'lives off their music', and you know what that means: they have established an audience, they know what that audience wants, and damn it all if they're going to derivate from that formula. If they do, they go hungry, and hunger is one of the most convincing seducers to the path of sterility. Horgh doesn't look like he would take starvation-for-the-sake-of-art very well. There is nothing new on this album, and I weep for this band's future as well-fed black metallers. Where is my copy of 'Pure Holocaust'?
The sixth studio album by Norwegian black metal titans Immortal was the sound of a band going through an identity crisis. Whereas the previous release, At The Heart Of Winter, had been a black metal album with a thrash tint to it that was a complete masterpiece in every sense of the word, Damned In Black is a thrash metal album with a blackened tint to it that is one of the weakest they have put out. The sound to this album is that of a typical Slayer album with black metal shrieks and the use to blast beats, sounding like a cacophony of utter chaos. On Damned In Black, the band went from one of their best releases to their joint weakest, taking away all of the intensity and majesty of the previous release and instead putting out a mash-up of various ridiculous ideas and sounds.
Musically, this album is just noise, with thrash riffs found left right and center whilst drummer Horgh lays down monotonous blast beats throughout the album and Abbath shrieks his lungs out attempting to give this album a little credibility but to no avail. Triumph is the song that opens up this album and immediately hits the listener with the most unwelcome collection of equally stupid ideas to be found. The riffs sound like a second rate extreme thrash band without any context whatsoever in which to put them. If the drums were slower, then the band could perhaps pass themselves off as a weaker version of Slayer or Demolition Hammer, but instead Horgh refuses to slow down, with the band clearly still under the misguided illusion that they are playing pure black metal music still.
This is Horgh's weakest performance behind the kit on any Immortal album, with his beats being monotonous for the most part, with very few tempo changes that actually affect the sound of the album. This is not as bad as Blizzard Beasts, but is still not much better, with only a few half decent riffs to carry it through, with the majority of them found on the title track that closes off the album. If the listener has suffered through enough of the album to reach this song, then perhaps they will find solace in the fact that this song is not half bad, with the flaws that plagued the rest of the album not being as prevalent here.
The band would continue to attempt this style from this point onward, with Sons Of Northern Darkness and All Shall Fall embracing the thrash side of the band, although never to this degree. This album is decent enough as an entry to the band's discography, but on a musical note it is very underwhelming and lacks any of the punch of the album that preceded it and the two that have followed it to date. Abbath and the boys experienced a huge misfire on this album, which is only just rendered average due to the final song that has enough merit to it to boost the album on the whole. Thankfully the band never made this mistake again.
Not as dark and atmospheric than "At the Heart of Winter", but still there are some guitar pieces that are very catchy. It didn't get the ratings that I think that it deserves. Less focus on complete depressing black metal, this one is upscale and more endearing in a blackened metal album. A lot of the music is thrash metal based. They could have left out the solos because Abbath really isn't well versed in that department. But with the rhythms, he created some pretty original and catchy guitar work with tons of distortion. His vocal outputs still retain the odd sounds as they were before.
The music is filled with guitar that has certain complexities to it and the bass by Iscariah is well audible. I think that's what lacked on their predecessor. However, the riff-writing was NOT as good as it, but still is nevertheless a powerful piece of a recording. Something to listen to when you don't feel like hearing depressing metal. I suppose that a lot of people felt that this release was kind of a half assed recording. In that respect, I beg to differ. Yes, they did hit a different route on this recording, but it's still pretty solid and very catchy. That's what I liked about it totally.
Demonaz still contributes to the lyric writing. Damn shame that he cannot play the guitar anymore for the band. The last album that he was on was "Blizzard Beasts". That one had a pretty raw production. You won't find that here. A thrash-based Immortal here as I mentioned previously and a darn good/solid drum work that follows the music very well. I really dig the song "Triumph", but all of the tracks are worthy of praise, not just that one. Abbath and Horgh both are responsible for the music writing for all 7 tracks on here. They concoct some great blackened thrash metal.
A band that has fluctuated from being truly dark and black metal oriented, you won't find that much of it on here. There's a different approach that this album has found in them as, but still kicks butt. I think that the album could have contained more tracks and a longer span of music, but it clocks in at a little over 36 minutes in length. That's fine however their predecessor was more notorious in being a lengthier recording. It's alright though because the music is still kick ass and the blast beating still occurs here. Moderate, to fast, to clean tone this release captures it all.
If you want black metal that has a total thrash metal guitar work oriented album, "Damned In Black" is for you. If your looking for an Immortal album that isn't dismal and full of dismay, then you'd probably give this one not as good of a rating as "At the Heart of Winter". Peter Tagtgren was in charge of the production and mixing here and the release was recorded at the notorious Abyss Studios. Immortal fans would take a liking more to this one if they kept an open mind to the songwriting and musicianship. But if you're looking for a darker release, this might not be your "cup of tea" so to speak.
When news broke that Demonaz was leaving Immortal due to arthritis, it appeared the band’s days were numbered. It was hard to envision Immortal continuing to have success without its heart and soul. Surprisingly, Abbath was able to smoothly transition Immortal away from its signature fast and relentless holocaust metal sound and toward a more streamlined and epic brand of black metal. Their first release in the style, At the Heart of Winter was quite impressive. While there were a few awkward transitions and compositional choices, the quality of the riffs and melodies was top notch. It looked as if Immortal was ready to release a series of high quality epic black metal albums. Unfortunately, all such expectations were smashed with the flat and flavorless Damned in Black.
In principle, the idea behind Damned in Black is pretty good. It mostly sticks to the format of At the Heart of Winter but reintegrates a number of fast paced, back-breaking passages. While such a synthesis of the holocaust metal and epic black metal styles sounds promising, a lack of inspiration, quality and creativity keeps the album from producing anything noteworthy.
All the riffs on Damned in Black are dull and generic. Most sound like second rate versions of what can be found on At the Heart of Winter. The riffs are “epic” but in a very cookie cutter way. There’s a commercial gloss to all the songs. Really, other than having significantly less keyboards, the music on here isn't all that different from what one finds on Dimmu Borgir from the same time period. Often the central riffs are bulky and plodding (i.e. the main riff of “The Darkness That Embrace Me”). The faster passages are adequate, but do little more than regurgitate what one can find on Blizzard Beasts, only without the fire and venom. The closest the band gets to a good song is the title track, which contains a memorable, though not exactly good, chorus and fairly interesting guitar work during the bridge. That said, even this song sounds overly processed and uninspired.
Like At the Heart of Winter, Damned in Black was recorded at Abyss Studios. However, whereas the previous album had a big, textured sound, the sound quality here is very one dimensional. Part of that is due to the less ambitious songwriting. Without the highs and lows that made songs like “Withstand the Fall of Time” and “Solarfall” so riveting, the production results in a plastic sound.
Something also needs to be said about the god awful cover. Obviously, Immortal has never been known for tasteful album covers (though Diabolical Fullmoon Mystcism has a pretty cool one) but none of them have looked nearly as atrocious as the cover to Damned in Black. The cover, depicting the three members standing in front of a horribly produced CGI background of red and black smoke, looks like a WWE promo poster. Horgh, who is wearing a goofy smile, looks mentally challenged.
Damned in Black consummated Immortal’s decent into generic, mainstream black metal. It is simultaneously innocuous, commercial and plastic. It lacks spirit and it lacks ambition. In a phrase, Damned in Black is definitively mediocre.
(Originally written for deinos-logos.blogspot.com)
Perhaps it’s because of the iconic quality of every single other Immortal album, or because this one’s a bit different in terms of imagery, but all too often Damned in Black tends to be dismissed as Immortal’s worst album. A further reason which could explain Damned in Black’s poor showing among Immortal fans is its position between two of the most appreciated albums in the band’s career. On the other side, and perhaps it’s because this was my first purchased Immortal album, I’ve always had a soft spot for this album, which is always appreciable if not the very best Immortal release.
What’s so great about this particular Immortal album? It still contains the usual Immortal sound, characterized by Abbath’s signature vocal style (call him a frog, Popeye or whatever you will, he’s inimitable) and his guitar playing style, which takes significant cues from German thrash instead of the more usual Second Wave black metal sound. To that this album adds a deepening of that thrash sound at the expense of the black metal atmosphere of old, both in terms of riffs and drumming. The drumming is handled by Horgh, possibly one of the most competent drummers in the world of metal today, and his talents are utilized to their fullest extent for the first time ever in an Immortal album; technicality is the keyword on Damned in Black. All these elements work together to create a new Immortal sound, which has constantly been evolving ever since the brilliant At the Heart of Winter and can still be recognized today, a sound which relies on a heavy infusion of thrash metal to go along with the traditional Immortal black metal sound – the result is a mix that has never failed to impress.
A closer look reveals that the album is composed of a series of fast-paced, technical black/thrash hybrid songs which, though not all highlights, are all at least very good. After the impressive opener, Triumph, come a couple of similar tracks, while the latter half of the album consists of extremely faced-paced tracks which rely on Horgh’s truly impressive skills to keep the music interesting. The drumming does in fact take precedence over the guitars as the loudest and most prominent instrument, both production-wise and in terms of complexity. Abbath still provides great riffs, it’s just that Horgh’s role seems expanded here when comparing to the previous (and later) albums, and blasting seems to be his favorite activity here. My Dimension, The Darkness that Embrace Me and especially the insanely fast In Our Mystic Visions Blest are prominent examples of this style of pronounced, technical blasting over the more atmospheric nature of the band’s older albums. These three consecutive tracks are all highlights in their own right. Finally comes the title track, and its speed does not differ from the rest of the album. In fact, it simply adds a new number to the legendary hall of Immortal epics, and in this respect is most similar to the first four tracks off Sons of Northern Darkness, especially its own title track.
One element which makes Immortal albums what they are is the imagery. From the mystical kingdoms of frost of yesterday, a reputation was created, and no Immortal album can succeed without having something unique about it. In this respect Damned in Black focuses on being predominantly dark and haunting, with a great deal of fantastic imagery still present in Demonaz’s lyrical output. Additionally, the cover art is another classic pose of the band members (unless you have the special edition, which is also a box with a more traditional and hellish painting as its artwork).
In the end, Damned in Black is not a perfect album because it does seem a tiny bit one-dimensional and formulaic, but then again so are albums like Blizzard Beasts (perhaps even more so). What this is, however, is a very solid effort, one which is worthy of standing next to every single other Immortal album with pride.
There is definitely an ironic tinge to this album’s title, as aside from the haunting album cover; “Damned In Black” is the furthest from the traditional black metal style of all of Immortal’s releases. Like most great bands that manage to last longer than a small handful of studio albums, they were never content to stick to one specific formula and have spliced in an array of other Metal sub-genres into their now somewhat clichéd blackened imagery and storytelling. Much like its epic predecessor, crossover appeal to non-black metal fans is present via a very polished studio production and an approach to extreme metal that avoids the excessive blasting and blurring that dominated their earlier efforts.
In terms of overall song presentation, this album listens a lot closer to the enjoyable yet non-earth shattering album “Battles In The North”, in that the songs are fairly compact and easy to follow. They lack the chaotic riffs, rapid fire drum work, and flow more like mid to late 80s thrash songs rather than the abruptly changing and extremely short sonic frenzies of their 3rd and 4th studio albums; yet they simultaneously listen in a more straightforward manner than the epic compositions of “At The Heart Of Winter”. In essence, Abbath and company have traded in the Viking era Bathory and Manowar tendencies for something that maintains the Teutonic thrash elements of their newer sound, while also evolving them a little bit into something similar to the proto-death/thrash of Slayer, alongside the atmospheric character of Morbid Angel and the melodically consonant riffing style of Death.
The most interesting aspect of this album is how much further Abbath’s guitar work has progressed within the passage of a single year. Though as a whole this album isn’t quite as ambitious and overwhelming as the last, the riffing here has matured nicely into a perfect blend of crunchy thrash goodness and darkened death metal styled tremolo blurs. Likewise, the lead guitar work, which has increased to nearly twice as much in quantity, has taken on a character very similar to Demonaz’s somewhat Trey Azagthoth’s crisp, chorus heavy lead breaks as heard on “Blizzard Beasts”, which blend with the atmosphere of each song perfectly. Keyboards are employed sparingly, in fact with maybe the exception of “Pure Holocaust” this likely has the least amount of ambient keyboard work of any of their albums, but when they enter they serve the arrangement quite well. In short, the guitar tone is crisp, the sound is heavily reminiscent of early 90s thrash rather than today’s modern thrash sound, and the execution is basically flawless.
Each song has an individual charm that is distinct from the next, invoking a wide array of past classics and merging them with Immortal’s own characteristic sound. The most overt example is the album’s opener “Triumph”, which starts like “Raining Blood” on steroids before morphing into a misty nebula of blast beats, streaming double bass, and aggravated riffs that bear some similarity to “Blizzard Beasts” mixed with Destruction and Sodom moments. “Against The Tide (In The Arctic World)” and the closer “Damned In Black” actually sound like an extreme power metal variant presented in a blackened death atmosphere, occasionally blasting away but also settling into this brilliant mid-tempo groove underneath a really catchy riff set. Occasionally the band seems to refer back to the chaotic past work of “Battles In The North”, particularly on the shorter “In Our Mystic Visions Blest”, which gets fast enough to rival Cryptopsy circa 1996, yet maintains the band’s melodic sensibilities and avoids pretentiously technical messes of atonal note sets.
Though this is by no means an inferior release by any standard, among the many certifiable classics that Immortal has put out, this album is towards the bottom of the pecking order. It comes off as formulaic, and is pretty predictable when compared to the interesting mix of styles on “Blizzard Beasts” and the majestic qualities of “At The Heart Of Winter”. But if you found yourself enjoying the German thrash additives that were found on both of those albums, this takes them to their logical conclusion and is a good pick up that showcases the band in an even more technically oriented capacity. Some bands put together entire albums for the sake of promoting one cause of another, but for this outfit, the music is its own cause, free of parochialism and universally accessible to anyone of any persuasion willing to give the extreme a try.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 26, 2009.
In my opinion, Immortal never published bad albums, even if they passed through different kinds of extreme metal. With Blizzard Beast we could find new elements in their sound that marked thrasher influences and with the following, awesome At The Heart Of Winter we had the explosion of those influences. Someone was a bit shocked, listening to such different sonorities but Immortal didn’t care and with this Damned In Black they present us another strong effort, this time more obscure than in the past, filling their sound with death metal influences too.
“Triumph” is one of the greatest songs ever by Immortal and surely one of the best openers I ever listened to. It mixes in a perfect way the schizophrenic black/thrash riffage with long, epic galloping parts. There’s always a keyboard touch in the middle part to give the sound an even more epic feeling. “Wrath From Above” has a long, epic intro and than the main riff destroys everything for malevolence and death metal influences. Abbath at the voice and guitars is simply unique. Horgh destroys his drum kit with class and power, lots of blast beats and slow stomps.
It seems that Immortal in this album preferred to hit hard, focusing the attention on the sheer violence instead of filling their sound with acoustic parts like in the previous album. That’s normal because those more acoustic influences were perfect for an album whose name was At The Heart Of Winter to create that glacial atmosphere but here, in Damned In Black, the sound in blacker and darker.
“Against The Tide” is the third song-masterpiece in a row for this album. It’s epic, majestic and frozen. The lyrics as always are about frozen, North landscapes and places. They’re always the same ones but they are always able to send me different emotions anytime I read them. I love Immortal also for this reason. “My Dimension” is the classic example of icy violence with lots of blast beats/up tempo and truly cold guitars sounds. The few sols in the songs are great to fill the sound with another frozen violence for their aggressive shredding.
“The Darkness That Embrace Me” is mostly epic thanks to a good presence of the keyboards and excellent guitars work on the solid drums work. The hyper blasting “In Our Mystic Visions Blest” is one of the fastest ones here with good tempo changes but it seems a bit derivative, not for the song itself but compared to the following title track: massive epic hymn. It’s a march towards the darkness of hell…it’s simply glorious in its epic feeling.
Overall, this album is very good, especially during the first three songs and the last one. The other ones are always good but nothing if compared to those little masterpieces. Immortal are a great band and they proved it once again. The Kings always reign supreme.
I have been a fan of Immortal and have liked most of their material produced up to this point. This album is still good, however a great album grabs and holds my attention from start to finish, this does nothing close to that.
There are great songs and sections, however there are other sections that are boring and bland and way too repetitive. I like epic music, I don't mind if great riffs are repeated to get an epic feel, however many of the riffs here sound thrashy but have no substance to make them the least bit interesting. I also don't really like Abbath's vocals on here, it sounds like he has a sore throat half the time, he has done better before.
Some highlights are the solo in "Triumph" which is short, but sounds harsh yet melodic, it is also put in the background so it creates a cool effect. "Against the Tide" is a good song, it is one of the more melodic songs on the album. The riffs here still repeat a lot, however the riffs themselves are more complicated and melodic which makes them sound less bland. "The Darkness That Embrace Me" is probably the best song on the album, mainly because it has more of an atmosphere to it. You don't hear just the riffs, drums, and vocals, you hear a more thick sound as well as some sounds in the background that just make the music more pleasant to listen to.
Overall, this album has a similar sound to "At The Heart of Winter", following the same general structure with the lengthier songs, however this album is definitely more thrashy and less melodic. The album also doesn't contain much atmosphere, which is essential to a more interesting and thicker sound. While this album is still good, I really have no desire to keep listening to it. The first part of "Sons of Northern Darkness" will take the more thrashy element that is present here and perfect it, this album just sounds a bit bland and boring.
This is a horrible album. Fans of "Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism" and "Pure Holocaust" beware. Even the epic, melodic feel of "At the Heart of Winter" has been replaced with the jerky, stop/start riffing reminiscent of "Blizzard Beasts." The horrible production from Abyss Studios makes this album even worse, as it sounds more like a Swedish Death Metal release (Hypocrisy) than Norwegian Black Metal. The songs are short and uninspired. The lyrical content that Immortal has been known for is also absent. Gone are the beautiful, grim images of winter landscapes. I've really tried to give this album a chance, but it is just very disappointing. There is very little of the fast tremolo picking and blastbeats here...it is much more thrashy and mid-paced. In my opinion, the first two Immortal albums can't be topped. "Battles In the North" is very good, but is still a step down from the first two. "Blizzard Beasts" is horrible in almost every way, from the lame songwriting to the atrocious production job. "At the Heart of Winter" featured a different approach than the earlier albums, but was still much better than "Blizzard Beasts", and unfortunately "Damned In Black" abandons the style begun on the previous album. They would return to this for "Sons of Northern Darkness" but for this release, they seemed to be afraid of the fan reaction, maybe. Even the vocals seem weak and uninspired. Track one, "Triumph" is probably the high point of the album, and it's still not very good. It sounds as if Abbath was battling severe throat cancer, because it is weak as hell.
For those who are very narrow-minded, avoid this release. And for those who are a bit more open-minded about later Immortal, I'd still recommend that you avoid this one. "Damned In Black" is tied with "Blizzard Beasts" as the worst release in Immortal's career...
Let me first say that this is the worst of the blackened thrash era of Immortal albums. But even the worst Immortal album is still better than all the "popular" black metal albums that get released nowadays. I would still rate this album between 75 and 80, which is still a solid rating.
The problem I had with At the Heart of Winter, where some songs are just a bit too long, gets corrected on this album. The only problem now is that the riffs on Damned in Black are not as solid as the riffs on At the Heart of Winter. Triumph starts this abum off strong with one of the best riffs on the album but the rest of the song is not as strong as the intro. Horgh delivers another tight performance. Against the Tide (In the Arctic World) and the title track have the most epic riffs on the album, with Damned in Black being the best song on the album.
Bottom line with this album is, if you liked At the Heart of Winter and the following album Sons of Northern Darkness, then there's no reason you shouldn't like Damned in Black. Abbath's riffing style is still in fine form, I just don't think it's as solid as their other albums. Still a pretty good release though.
"At the Heart of Winter"... Some conservative Immortal fans probably got a heart attack after hearing such changes - though that album brought no revolution. If they didn't, here's another chance - "Damned in Black" is another step in the direction they surely wouldn't want.
Personally, the path Immortal chose seems to me the best they could have done. They lost everything that annoyed me - musically, as well as in the lyrical sphere. From now on, the sound is just amazing - maybe the best black metal band have ever reached. Guitars sound close to "At the Heart of Winter", but with slight keyboards and catchy riffs, sometimes even melodic, it all makes perfect vision of fresh, modern black metal.
The thing that got changed the most is the songwriting - the songs are more various, shorter than on the previous album, recognisable. Such songs like "Triumph" or "Against the Tide" are just pleasant, but "Damned in Black" or "The Darkness that Embrace Me" are just anthems.
All in all - whatever you say about the earlier recordings, this is a moment when Immortal becomes a really good band. This release is perfect for those, who are tired of raw, badly produced black metal and look for fresh and, let's say "progressive" stuff.
For me, this was my first exposure to these Norwegian veterans, and you knwo what they say about the first cut being the deepest. I've since acquired all their albums, and while they all are equally consistent in quality (that is, ranging from good to great--they never released a crappy album, in my opinion), the last three are my all time favorites. When Abbath took up the full time guitar position, what had been good before skyrocketed to godhead. This album in particular features my all time favorite tunes of theirs, and the following examination tells why.
PRODUCTION: This shows that black metal does not have to sound as though it was recorded in a shoebox with one mic to still be evil, cold, and harsh. Handled by Peter "Da Man" Tagtgren, it is full and clear, but still maintains a deliciously slicing, raspy guitar tone that is abrasive, yet thick. The bass is also plainly audible, its dirty yet defined tone rumbling away under the walls of guitar, and since Peter does not like to use triggers, it's nice to hear a more natural drum sound. Thumbs up all around, here.
ABBATH: On this album he really hit the motherlode of riffage, and his strong, well-connected riffs just keep coming. I cannot get over how powerful his playing is on this album! His nasal rasp/snarl vocal style remained intact, adding character if not vocal variety, but it's the music that counts, and he riffed his stocky corpsepainted arse off all over this one. A crucial third of one of the most important black metal forces out of Norway!
ISCARIAH: Unlike most black metal bassists, he would not stay in the background, and his growling, distorted B.C. Rich Ironbird was right up there with the guitars. A tight, skilled player with incredibly cool tone!
HORGH: OK, so he's not Pete Sandoval or Nick Barker, but I can't imagine anybody else drumming for Immortal. His sledgehammer hitting and precise time anchored Immortal like no other previous drummer had, and overall his was a style founded on equal parts savagery and grace, after a fashion.
THE TOP TUNES: (of a killer album)
"Triumph": After a few seconds' worth of ambient sound effects, the guitars come roaring in with the first of numerous catchy and annihilating riffs, and seconds later the rest of the band tears it up at roughly lightspeed! One of the fastest tunes here, this shows that after the more laid-back "At The Heart Of Winter", Immortal still had it and had not gone soft. A storm of drumming and those thorny guitars really make this one stand out.
"Wrath From Above": After an arresting intro that will get your head banging no matter what, another furious blastfest rears its ugly head! Only this tune runs through all the tempos you can imagine, from wrenchingly slow to blazing fast, and everything in between, and all perfectly structured.
"Against The Tides(In The Northern World": Riff nirvana is achieved here with three of Abbath's best riffs in rapid succession--I dare you to stop yourself from air guitaring and flinging your hair in time with him. A slower, and no less powerful tune that feels like an unstoppable tank.
"In Our Mystic Vision Blest": Some of Horgh's most savage and merciless blast beats show up in this one--I pity his snare drum! The warp speed intro segues into a mid paced verse with a creepy-crawling riff that is catchy as hell, and ends on a high, hard note.
"Damned In Black": Ohhhh, hell yes! Another tank crawling over rough terrain number featuring one of Abbath's most urgent riffs just before the first chorus, and the best tune on the album for me. How can the opening military cadence snare and high sliding riffs not grab your attention?
This is one of the best black metal albums ever released, and it does not rely upon constant blast beats and screamed ultra-Satanic drivel to make its point. This has it all; mood, vibe, blistering heaviness, and impeccable riffage. What more do you need? Necro "Tr00 KVlt" types need not apply here, this is mature and stylish and all you need for an exposure to good quality black metal (aside from the likes of "Black Metal", the old Bathory albums, "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas"...you get the picture!).