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Not Even Hell’s Flames Can Melt the Tundra - 90%

Five_Nails, September 5th, 2010

Immortal have returned with the vengeance of the cold north wind at their backs and the hatred of a psychotic berserker boiling in their veins. After all these years, the Norwegian black metal veterans still haven’t lost their spirit for music and instead have utilized their remaining fury to create “All Shall Fall”. This album is a masterpiece that not only displays Immortal’s musical prowess but also showcases how listenable the band’s brand of black metal is when produced well and while ensuring that many of the frigid and raw elements that made Immortal so unique and beloved in the early black metal community still have bearing on their music.

Falling in line with their tried and true approach, Immortal emphasizes slower guitar rhythms that crescendo with tremolo picking to bring a rapid reinvention of riffing technique and drum cycles that build and grow to a climax in blast beats. The band is always galloping toward a battle with their music which comes in a blast laden and tremolo picked explosion of black metal that focuses hard on guitar harmonies and give off the cold chill expected from black metal shredding. Throughout the title track, “Norden on Fire”, “Hordes to War”, and the epic closing track, “Unearthly Kingdom”, slower tempos bring more reserved guitar rhythms that play in harmony through each progression while the drum sound remains strong and desolately recorded with plenty of echo and atmosphere, but is aloof enough in the mix to keep a focus on the guitars. Still, the great upsurges of tremolo picking and blast beats in “The Rise of Darkness”, “Arctic Swarm”, and “Mount North” bring back the old sawing and shredding sound that Immortal perfected in “Pure Holocaust” and, with better production, still pull off as they did in 1993. Though the aggression from the drum kit is lacking in creativity and movement at times while just following the guitars in “Norden on Fire” or refusing to fill or roll in the appropriate places that open up in the title track, the blasts reserved until the most essential moments in each song bring Immortal back to its roots perfectly as the band sounds just as strong and intense as ever.

As the follow-up to the title track, “The Rise of Darkness” picks up momentum quickly with a larger-than-life drum roll and a very regal sounding riff to set the pace of the song. Immortal’s raw sound is back in Abbath’s gravely (but slightly shaky) vocals, the echoing axe-grinding riffs, and the drums which gallop energetically but give more prominence to the vocals and guitars. The riffing retains the quintessential Immortal sound punctuated by that crisp chilling feel when both guitars harmonize during a particularly nasty riff like when the band relentlessly breaks down at about the halfway mark while the drums increase the tempo with some brutal rhythms. The cold feel remains as the song picks back up cycling through harmonic riffs, but it’s the addition of blast beats to the original guitar sound that solidifies the fact that Immortal is back and sounding just as raw and black metal as the band did nearly two decades ago. The song fades out during a solo, which is uncharacteristic of Immortal’s style of abrupt endings, but ensures the listener will remember this impressive song’s tempo long after it is finished.

While there was much thought put into making this latest Immortal release sound in touch with the band’s original style, “All Shall Fall” can’t help but sound very new. The production is the most obvious example with very little overall blending, plenty of distortion and reverb from the bass guitar, crisp drumming that echoes chillingly, vocals that show Abbath’s aging at times, and guitars distinct enough to make every note audible rather than display the general gist of each riff. The samples used to open songs, Abbath’s signature over-the-top laughs, and the guitar riffs bring Immortal to a crossroads between sounding new and seeming old as each new approach to the old elements of the band’s music show where the band wanted to reinvent itself and where the band chose to stay their course. The cavalry battle sample in “Hordes to War” falls in perfectly with the song’s movement and doesn’t come off as cheesy as it would seem, but Abbath’s laughs in the same track don’t work nor never really have through the musician’s career. It seems that having the vocalist laugh is a growing trend in black metal, but on this album it’s a very unnecessary extra that makes the band seem too showy where the focus is weakest. As expected from Immortal’s original sound is Apollyon’s bass guitar which emits a heavy distortion that brings plenty of auditory atmospheres with it. Playing the opener of “Mount North”, the distorted resonance of the bass riff sounds like howling winds across desolate plains that ascend the mountain of sound erected by Abbath and Horgh on guitars and drums. This track has just enough blending to sound like an early Immortal song. With straightforward riffing and vocals that come to an anthemic chorus punctuated by a percussive exertion that follows the guitars with multiple tempos from each piece of the kit, Horgh is a drumming powerhouse on this track. Also amazing is Abbath during the solo sections which widely deviate and quickly return to the original structure. “Mount North” is Immortal’s new sound with the old approach and the band pulls it off excellently. Though so much has changed about this black metal power trio, their music has consistently taken inspiration from their original musical musings.

Immortal’s latest album is just as great as their earlier albums were in some places. In other places, Immortal revamps their style, delivery, and presentation to show that as they age, the band still intends to perfect and progress with their music, making “All Shall Fall” another exceptional chapter of this band’s history.