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Catastrophe...equals opportunity! - 88%

hells_unicorn, April 18th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Season of Mist (Digipak)

The rather paradoxical notion quoted above from Michael Douglass in his cult mid-2000s film King Of California is a rather fitting way to view Abbath's recent solo album, which by any other name would be an Immortal album. It's the consequence of what could be viewed as a calamity, as one half of the creative force behind one of black metal's seminal acts has cut ties with the others, bring in questions of whether or not two equal or lesser beasts would emerge from the carnage. If the solo album put out by Demonaz several years ago (perhaps foreshadowing some growing tension between he and his longtime friend, further bolstered by the recent end of their other single album collaboration in I) indicates the future of the Immortal name or is succeeded by a similar quality of follow up, this would speak to his end of things being kept up. But in Abbath's case, the answer has been given with a resounding yes with the release of his self-titled solo album a little earlier this year, so much so that it wouldn't be a stretch to argue that Abbath took the soul of Immortal's sound with him when he left.

The association of Abbath with the rest of Immortal's body of work makes sense from a stylistic standpoint, as the gradual evolution from a low-fidelity nod to early Bathory in the early 1990s grew into something more modern and brutal in demeanor, while still keeping the general aesthetic of the original 2nd wave sound in view. It approaches things with the same degree of simplicity and bite as the last two Immortal albums, drawing particularly close to the pounding, war anthems character of Sons Of Northern Darkness, and upping the ante a bit in said department. This is an album where the atmosphere serves to bolster the impact factor, resulting in something a bit less ethereal and mellow compared to the band's middle era, opting for occasional keyboard and sampled orchestral sounds that are more loud and percussive, thus playing into the dominance of the rhythm guitars. While Immortal has always placed a sizable emphasis on riff work, this is arguably the first album that could be seen as totally riff driven, thus delving even further into the death/thrashing sound that first began to creep into things on Blizzard Beasts.

While the same setting of a winter-steeped wasteland is implicit in this album, things are geared all but entirely towards the battles and carnage going on within it, rather than taking regular occasions to stroll the field and be immersed by what surrounds it. Leading off the grim tale is "To War", which enters to the sampled sound of a marching battalion and rides a chunky, mid-paced thrashing groove for the first minute and a half before the blasting beats and snowy barrages commence. The militant, almost Marduk-inspired character of this song proves to be more the rule than the exception where the rest of the songs are concerned, with the closing song "Eternal" going so far as to function as a more frenetic version of the opener, whereas "Ashes Of The Damned" and "Fenrir Hunts" offer up equally extreme assaults with the fury of a thousand winter storms. Even occasional coasting, restrained sections that come into play on "Winter Bane" and "Root Of The Mountain" have more of a driving character to them and serve more as slower points in the battle than momentary glances at the distant snow-covered horizons, though on both songs there are some occasional hints of the Viking-like character that would go with a more aesthetic coldness as heard on At The Heart Of Winter.

Essentially Abbath has amassed a well-oiled machine of a band here, though sadly one that would largely comprise temporary contributors. The drum work is perhaps the most noteworthy feature after the riff work, being handled by recently departed Benighted drummer Kevin Foley (aka Creature) and having a very war-like, tom heavy and machine gun precise character, as if the fictional warriors on the frozen battlefield have taken on some weapons of modern warfare. Along for the ride is some fancier than usual bass work out of King Ov Hell, which helps to further deepen the sound and pull it away from the stereotypical 90s sound that Immortal still carried some some extent in the 2000s, not to mention add an additional layer of chaos to an already frenzied arrangement. The most restrained element at work here is the lead guitar work, which is almost exclusively handled by a guest guitarist in Ole Farstad, who is a bit more precise and idiomatic in his approach than Abbath. The culmination of it all is a solid array of songs, though not quite matching the magic of Blizzard Beasts and At The Heart Of Winter. Fans will be pleased, detractors will detract, and all eyes will be on what Demonaz does either under his own name or under Immortal's as a response to this.