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Forgettable continuation of a great legacy. - 59%

ConorFynes, August 20th, 2016

In my eyes, the notion of Abbath as Immortal began with At the Heart of Winter back in 1999. Losing Demonaz as the guitarist could have meant the end for the band. In a sense, it was the end for the vicious Immortal people knew. Without him, there would never be a chance of another Pure Holocaust, but the transition wasn't without its benefits. As a guitarist, Abbath put a much greater emphasis on distinctive hooks and riffs than the blackened whirlwind that characterized the band's first four records. At the Heart of Winter proved to be an unexpected gem, fusing the trademark wintry atmosphere with clever writing and brilliant riffs across the board.

Looking back, it's a shame that an Abbath-led Immortal never held up to that par. Sons of Northern Darkness was a self-referential joke with enough quality riffs to keep people smiling. By the time of All Shall Fall a decade following At the Heart of Winter, it would be a major stretch to call the band black metal at all, although the genre's casual fans are still more than content to refer to them as the definitive BM act. Ever since Abbath took up Immortal's guitar duties, the band had become an extension of himself. With that out of the way, I see no issue in thinking of this as another Immortal album, although I think that only serves to amplify my disappointment toward it.

Where an album under a new flagship name could have taken any form Abbath wanted (after all, the band's named after him!) it's pretty disappointing that Abbath sounds like a second part to All Shall Fall some seven years ago. While I thought that album was decent enough, it certainly wasn't the direction I wanted to hear the band heading in. It's Immortal alright; it's just the kind of Immortal I could get excited about.

Although the upbeat All Shall Fall style is less interesting today than it was in 2009, fans may take solace in the fact that the band sounds scarcely different in spite of the major lineup overhaul. Kevin Foley (also from Benighted, listed here as "Creature") offers an appropriately energetic drum performance, both live and on the record. I find it darkly hilarious that King (ex-Gorgoroth) is pulling bass duty for this album, as it seems like he's around to snatch up the pieces whenever there's a Second Waver name dispute afoot. As a band however, nothing ill can be said of Abbath. The main man's vocals sound as charismatic and about as raspy as they ever have. Of course, most of the focus lies on the riffs themselves. At this point, Abbath's greatest talent is his ability to pen consistently catchy riffs within the (increasingly loose) confines of the black metal style. Abbath seems like it was constructed purely around this talent, and while I'm sure the same could have been said about At the Heart of Winter at the time, the riff emphasis here seems to the point where it undercuts all other facets of the sound. Creature's drumwork is strangely quiet beneath the guitars, and the trademark wintry atmosphere is missing from all but a few of the songs.

There are gems on the album. "To War" is a solid opener, and "Root of the Mountain" comes much closer to the grim sound I'd like to hear from Abbath. Expectations were not incredibly high for Immortal's latest incarnation, and the result is appropriately unremarkable. The riffs are solid and the pacing's enjoyable, but you've got to ask yourself at what point Abbath lost touch with the essence that made his earlier work so good. Rest assured, it happened long before the name itself finally changed. For better or worse, I'm a lot more interested to see what will be made of the other, quieter half of Immortal in the near future.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical