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I guess that Immortal are just one of those bands that are sort of responsible for the dissolution (at least in general perception) of black metal into something less than serious, but I can't help but highly enjoy them, with the exceptions of their "At the Heart of Winter" and "Damned in Black" albums, which, although not really bad by any stretch, just don't conjure up the right feeling as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, this album is from back in 1992, and is one of the original classics of the norwegian scene along with Darkthrone's second and third albums, and the early Burzum recordings. This might be my favourite immortal album, although sometimes I think I prefer "pure Holocaust", because it isn't terribly concerned with being the fastest thing around, nor does it sound overproduced and crisp. In fact, the sound is kind of roomy and cheap, and I'm sure they spent as little cash as possible on the sound, but it's clearly still a studio job and I do think it's the best sound this band has ever achieved. First off, everything is clear...rather distant and muffled, but clear..the drum sound is huge and cavernous, which I really love, and the vocals are just a hell of a lot eerier than they would ever be on future recordings, being rather inhuman howls of winter-spawned mirth and unholy glee, whatever the hell that means (yeah, I must have come up with that under the influence of Blashyrk himself). Guitars are pretty distinct, though the fast parts do sound a little muddy..most of this album is done at a loping, medium pace though, so this works fine and in fact sounds bloody great. Every song on here is a metal anthem, but I give particular note to "A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland", "Blacker than Darkness" and "Unholy Forces of Evil". All have that same, march-like tempo, and ocasionally make use of acoustic guitar and even the very ocasional keyboard flourish. The drumming on the album isn't overly technical or adventurous, but the rolling, deep tom fills are absolutely magnificent, adding a really powerful apocalyptic groove to the whole affair. Hell, even Abbath's strange vocal ululations of "wow...oowoowowww!" sound great for some reason.
This review is slightly lame, but I'm hoping people will read it and realize how great this first album is and not discount it as another throw-away second wave Norse BM release. Sure, it's nothing vastly original...in fact it's very obviously influenced by the epic moments on Bathory's "Blood, Fire, Death"....but this still manages to convey a unique aura and mystique that you won't find on any other album, though it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what that feeling might be...maybe an air of mystery and an odd, triumphant order to the workings of chaos? Who knows. Immortal would not trod on this path again though...the closest they would come probably is the slower, more recent material, and because of the sound and very different playing style, they wouldn't nearly be able to (nor would they want to, I expect) duplicate or surpass the atmosphere on this first outing.