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There is an odd familiarity that death metal and black metal share with each other. This may owe to them sharing a similar origin in the primordial swamp of Venom’s early catalog, as well as the earliest days of thrash metal antiquity. Starting in the early 90s, the two styles became very distinct, mostly owing to death metal largely discarding most of the mystical aspects of its character in favor of a plainer violence and gore, while its ugly blackened cousin exaggerated it to the point of becoming completely absorbed by it. However, two strains drawn out of each genre have drawn closer together, almost to the point of remerging back into the extreme metal archetype that came out of the early 80s, with all of the trappings of modern recording technology. These two sub-styles, which highlight a melodic tilt within their respective sub-genres, almost become synonymous with each other, as can be observed on this illuminating, if not redundant and unnecessary split album between early Norwegian 2nd wavers Immortal and Swedish death metal turned early melodeath pioneers Hypocrisy.
When analyzing the two songs that appear on here, both of them drawn from well received albums from 2009, the similarities between the two literally leap right out of the speakers and pummel the ears. A barrage of dense, methodical, thrash inspired riffing over top of a Slayer styled fit of drumming is conformed to a very straightforward format that makes things ironically very easy to follow, in both cases. The approach to guitar production is also fairly similar, drawing from a somewhat bass-heavy guitar tone, though Abbath’s guitar sound does have a bit more crunch to it. Both songs could almost have been written for the same album when taking them solely on their most obvious stylistic trappings, particularly the similar sounding combination of consonant minor key progressions.
Naturally some obvious differences manifest themselves upon closer examination. Hypocrisy relies a good bit more on two guitar harmony here, and has a slightly more Maiden oriented feel to the overall melodic content found in the music, while Immortal accomplishes its magic through a nebulous series of tremolo melodies, which interact with an otherwise straight up set of blurry power chords. There is a definite separation between the two in terms of atmospheric quality, as “Valley Of The Damned” has a somewhat mechanical character to it, while “Hordes Of War” has more of an archaic, mystical character. Likewise, Abbath’s vocal character has more of a raspy, muttering character, while Peter Tagtgren sticks to a much deeper set of guttural barks and bellows more along the lines of Corpsegrinder or David Vincent. But perhaps the biggest separation is that unlike Hypocrisy and a number of other modern melodic death bands, Immortal has maintained the old fashioned practice of a clearly defined guitar solo section rather than a strictly structured instrumental break, bearing a closer similarity to the pre-1993 eras of thrash, death and black metal. This difference, alone, turns one song into a heavily climactic celebration of metal classicism, while the other is more fun than outright riveting.
In terms of a comparative study of modern metal genres or a potential pick up for a rarity collector, this otherwise purposeless release does have a good bit to offer. There is a definite stylistic consistency to be found in comparing these two individual songs that would probably not be present if taking the two albums they are taken from as a whole and doing the same comparison. But insofar as how one should spend their hard earned cash, the most advisable route would be to pick up both “All Shall Fall” and “A Taste Of Extreme Divinity”, as they are both excellent releases by two upstanding Scandinavian bands.
These last two years seem to have brought on a new wave of completely useless splits between well-known bands signed on to Nuclear Blast. One such example, and perhaps the very best due to the absolute excellence of both bands, is the Hypocrisy and Immortal collaboration known simply as Valley of the Damned / Hordes of War.
Hypocrisy’s side contains, as the title obviously indicates, the opening track for the band’s most recent and highly competent A Taste of Extreme Divinity album: Valley of the Damned. This song is insane melodic death metal by almost all standards, but only a good song by Hypocrisy standards, not matching previous masterpieces such as Warpath. That said, this song is pretty awesome by itself, featuring everything Hypocrisy does best. The riffs are memorable and aggressive, Horgh’s drumming is tight, technical and varied, while Peter Tägtgren’s vocals leave absolutely nothing to be desired. It’s just that the songwriting doesn’t make this into an absolute Hypocrisy killer, just another great song in the band’s increasingly large catalogue.
On the more black side of things, we have Immortal’s contribution, Hordes of War. This song, taken from All Shall Fall, is a rather chaotic one. This is pure Immortal aggression and, while I like it, they’ve done much better, both in terms of aggressive songs, on the new album and especially in terms of overall songs. The riffs are good and even memorable at some parts, especially around and after the middle of the song, but the drumming is, especially when considering Horgh’s talents, a bit monotonous and simplistic, while Abbath’s vocals have no real distinguishing factor here, no reason why this sound would actually be unique. It’s a good track, but far from being Immortal’s best… simply a decent extremely fast-paced track, superior examples of which can be found in many of the band’s past albums.
While undoubtedly being a future collector’s item due to the rare collaboration between two elite metal bands, there’s no real reason which makes the acquisition of Valley of the Damned / Hordes of War truly worth it, especially seeing as how it sold out quickly and the price simply can’t be worth the actual content. Get both albums and skip this cash grab.