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There is something of an odd paradox in the notion of true metal, which is probably the most noticeable within the small circle of bands that started the 2nd wave of black metal in the frigid hills of Norway. This notion of trueness suggests a form of parochialism, in which there is little room for augmentation or variation of a given style. The irony comes into play the minute that all of the pioneering albums that were put together between 1991 and 1994 are taken into account. Say what you will about the common ground that they all shared in their production approach, the stylistic directions that Darkthrone, Mayhem, Gorgoroth, Emperor, Enslaved, Burzum and this brief early era of Immortal were taking are noted for their radically different approaches in songwriting, to speak nothing for the bands that came about in Sweden, Finland, and a few other places around the same time. Basically, though all were going for a raw and low-fidelity answer to the growing trend of slickness and other pop culture trappings, their respective credentials as true Black Metal adherents did not imply a collection of identical Bathory and Celtic Frost worshippers.
Having established that, it is noteworthy to recognize that most of these pioneers did, to a large degree, emulate many 1st wave bands in order to reassert the roots of the style. In this respect, Immortal’s debut album “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” draws heavily from Celtic Frost, to an even greater degree than Darkthrone was doing on their early black metal releases. It shares a sense of looseness and variation that is fairly comparable to “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, though it draws a bit more from Mayhem proto-blackened thrash style than from the remnants of epic death metal that was still present in Darkthrones riff construction approach at that time. Blast beats are used sparingly throughout the entire listen, in stark contrast to most of this band’s later releases, and the resulting character is something more reliant on atmosphere and sound coloring rather than pure aggression. Acoustic guitar passages, something not terribly common at this point in black metal’s development, are employed at various points to further elaborate upon an intricate mixture of styles. Most of the time it resembles the brief arpeggio sections typical to Mercyful Fate/early King Diamond, though some of the passages on the epic closer “A Perfect Vision Of The Rising Northland” have a folk-like character.
The rawness that is alluded to by those familiar with this album should not be mistaken for the unfettered frost coated rage heard on later releases by this outfit, but more as an explanation of the distant and cold character exhibited by the production. The vocals sound like their being sung from the tallest tower of some lone castle in the midst of a raging blizzard to a lower one 50 meters away, distorted by the perpetually raging wind and hoarse from continued exposure to the cold. The guitars and bass also exhibit this sense of distance, while the drums also sound far away, though a good bit closer and louder. Ultimately what results is something that is not fuzz driven as what Darkthrone did circa 1992-93, but retains that same quality of grimness and woefulness nonetheless. The riffs that come out of the mix tend to resemble the thrashy sort heard out of early Sodom and Kreator, though also exhibit the earlier heavy/speed metal characteristic sound that Celtic Frost brought forth in their early days nearly as often. Keyboards are employed very sparsely, most notably on the closing song, and add a slight degree of minimalism and sadness similar to Burzum’s work at the time.
The greatest revelation to emerge from this impressive collection of compositions is the contradiction it brings with the modern black metal notion that technical prowess at the guitar is considered untrue and that solos are to be avoided if possible, if not considered taboo altogether. Nearly every song on here has some sort of noticeable lead break, largely emulating the jagged and improvisatory nature of early proto-thrash and 1st wave black metal outfits, rather than the polished feats of melodic technicality that characterized 80s heavy metal shredders and later technically oriented progressive and death metal bands. Demonaz’s lead playing, and also his riff work, pretty handedly outclasses Euronymous’ studio efforts, though I’d say that Nocturno Culto has a slight technical edge on him. Granted, it could also be pointed out the absent Euronymous’ influence neither of his two technical betters would write music as they have done since, and that the spirit of a movement is an essential component of creating worthwhile music.
Taking into account how radically Immortal’s music has changed since this rather unique and brilliant slab of snow steeped darkness, it is difficult to fully justify why this is the best of their offerings, except to say that what one looks for in black metal plays a big role. If one views it as battle anthems for stalwart Norsemen or some other Indo-European hero archetype, obviously the catchiness of “Blizzard Beasts” or the all out raging chaos of “Battles In The North” would be preferred to this. But to me, this music carries the greatest charm when it invokes images of dark sorcerers and warlocks conjuring spirits and performing forbidden rituals in abandoned heathen castles and other stone structures, and that is precisely what is going on here. This music doesn’t bludgeon or mutilate, but instead schemes, plots, and bides its time until the right moment to slay the enemy. Perhaps in this age of modern black metal we have no room for mysticism and incantations, or perhaps that is exactly the reason why there seems to be a lot of good stuff, but no real amazing classics to speak of today in this style. Perhaps this album is more for one nostalgic for a different time in black metal’s history, but basically that is what I’ve come to be, and as such I recommend checking this out to become acquainted with one of the unsung classics in the early black metal revolution. Abandon all hope, ye who come forth into these frozen halls, for 3 kings of darkness await thee.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 23, 2009.