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Where Dark and Cold Don't Differ - 93%

Iron Wizard, August 8th, 2017

At the Heart of Winter is commonly regarded as Immortal's peak, though Pure Holocaust and Sons of Northern Darkness are also worthy of this title. It was released in 1999, well after the black metal scene in Norway began to settle down. In some respects, the timing for this was perfect, as it fills a void between two productive eras for black metal. The prior album, Blizzard Beasts was the victim of stylistic and lineup based turmoils, with Abbath playing guitar alongside Demonaz, as well as the inclusion of the new drummer Horgh. It was a good album, but it seemed very rushed and it lacks mystique and identity. Within two years time, the band were able to recover dramatically from this, turning things back around. In short, this is the rebirth of Immortal.

A beautiful snowscape depicted in the album cover greets the listener. The icy aesthetic brings "cold" to mind more so than "dark". In a way, it almost looks like a Viking metal album. "Withstand the Fall of Time" begins proudly with some frostbitten guitar based melancholy. It's somewhat relieving to hear this, as this quality was mostly absent on the previous album. All in all, the opener proves to be a very interesting and dynamic song going through many changes, from the aforementioned Pure Holocaust style melancholy to epic, almost blackened thrash sections. All of the songs seem to follow this longer and more complex structure. Even the shortest and most typical Immortal song on here, the triumphant "Solarfall" follows the same formula. As I said, it is the shortest, and at that, it is just over six minutes, making this an antidote in some ways to Pure Holocaust, which had numerous short songs instead of a few long songs. The album layout is very good because of this, within the six songs, there is little room for inconsistency or filler.

At the Heart of Winter was at the time Immortal's most mature effort. It's heavier and more progressive than their earlier stuff, and it presents a broader musical landscape as well. Their is some of the tech death and thrash found on Blizzard Beasts, but it seems much more streamlined and integrated into the music; in other words it is quite a welcome presence. Alongside the musical maturation, Abbath's voice has gotten deeper and more menacing. He's gone from being a frog to a fucking monster, with his voice now taking on a much more distinct character. The death metal style layering used in "Tragedies Blows at Horizon" and "Where Dark and Light Don't Differ" is frightening to say the least. Also in need of mention at this point is Horgh. I wasn't very impressed by his performance on the previous album, in fact I thought that Abbath and Demonaz were much more impressive on Pure Holocaust and Battles in the North. He has a very death metal inspired style here, and he throws some very interesting stuff into "Tragedies Blows at Horizon", where he really kicks ass.

I wouldn't end this review without bringing attention to the album's centerpiece. "At the Heart of Winter" is a sprawling eight minute masterpiece. A long intro consisting of clean guitars and synthesizers opens it. There are a lot of softer parts on this whole album, to add texture. I will say that some seem thrown in out of necessity; most are fairly basic. Anyways, in stark contrast, a crushing guitar riff kicks in, giving way to one of Immortal's most epic songs. As is the case in all of these songs, a few of the melodies here and there are a little underwritten, sort of pseudo-filler.

If you are new to black metal, this is a foolproof release as far as getting into the genre goes. It is one of the most accessible moments in black metal, therefore it is likely to pull you into the genre. I'm sure most veteran black metal fans already have this classic, but it's definitely an essential not to be left out.