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Though they have gone on to become the poster boys for stereotypical black metal, Immortal stormed onto the Norwegian scene at the perfect time with their sophomore album, Pure Holocaust. At a time when most other bands were bashing away with more thrash-based attacks and Bathory worship, Immortal introduced their signature form of black metal that has since become the standard for Norsecore. Clearly, things have changed since the band's debut. What we have here is an early example of the merciless, ripping black metal that has often been imitated, but rarely done right.
A few trademarks of Immortal's sound make their debut here, mainly the trebly and cold guitar distortion and Abbath's croaking vocals. The guitar are balls-out speed the whole time, but hold a great deal of variety. Hazy, ambient tremolo riffs float atop of trains of power chords, and there are also sections of arpeggiated chords with a feeling of disharmony and hatred. Abbath's deadpan, lifeless rasp adds a stern, almost militant demanor to the harsh, chaotic music; the sometimes gramatically incorrect, albeit fierce and cryptic lyrics are the first of many to explore the themes of Blashyrkh, harsh tundra winters, etc. Too bad that Immortal spawned so many clones, because all of this worked out geniously.
On a songwriting level, Immortal ditched some of the elements of their debut, and everything on an instrumental level seems more mature and developed than what most Norse bands were doing at the time. All of the structures are very cut, direct, and dry, following the typical black metal formula of riffs followed by more riffs. However, Immortal push everything to a new extreme on Pure Holocaust. Really, they were one of the first bands to make black metal more bent on audial brutality than aesthetic. Incredibly fast tempos push the songs into a manic, schizophrenic maelstrom, which is only taken further by the blurry guitars and incessant pummeling of double bass and blast beats. Songs like "A Sign for the Norse Hordes to Ride" and "Eternal Years on the Path to the Cemetary Gates" show off the band's chops, and delve into inhumanly fast, constantly shifting guitar and drum patterns, both of which are pulled off with a mechanical tightness. Things do start to sound rather familiar halfway through the album, though; it's easy to mistake songs for one another, and the song titles don't help matters either.
Though this album doesn't really possess any "atmosphere" on a strictly musical level, the production adds a certain distant ambience to everything. The guitars aren't as polished as later albums, and the grating distortion has an open, airy feel to it. The pounding, machine-like drums are produced very much similar to De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas; the snare echoes with a full, boxy sound, the toms cascade with a fat, deep punch, and the bass drum is one of the only things that adds low-end to the mix, since the bass guitar isn't that audible.
While it's certain that Immortal would evolve in years to come, and the fact that this album has been cloned a million times, Pure Holocaust nonetheless stands as an important document in non-melodic, face-shredding black metal that embodies the feral rage of black metal and its spirit.