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Another fairly solid album from Immortal. - 70%

ConorFynes, September 8th, 2015

The monumental flip in quality between Blizzard Beasts and the fantastic At the Heart of Winter could only be explained by a different set of musicians. IN the case of Immortal, this was partly true, but I think a bigger part of it was mastermind Abbath making his propitious leap to the guitar. Whether his shift towards melodic riffs was more or less 'black metal' is beside the point; it gave the band a much-needed coherence. Their songs finally leapt out at the listener, even moreso than their great first two records. At the Heart of Winter is a total masterpiece from an artist I wasn't expecting one from. Especially at that time in their career, it was a complete surprise to probably everyone, and easily claims its place as the greatest art associated with the Immortal name.

After such a revelation, the natural thing for Immortal to have done the year following was something along the same lines as At the Heart of Winter; after all, the potential of a meaty, progressively-inclined Immortal stretched far beyond a single album, so why stop there? I do think that's what they were trying to do on Damned in Black, to a certain extent. Perhaps they paid attention to the vocal few who thought they'd lost track of their real point on that last album; Immortal tackle complex songwriting well, but it's not what everyone is looking for in them. Damned in Black retains the crisp riff-writing and production of its predecessor, but there's a general feeling they reeled in their ambitions quite a bit here.

What's to make up for that lesser scope? Some latent thrash influence?

Not likely.

It really does sound like Damned in Black had set out to be a weaker album than At the Heart of Winter from the start. And, you know, it's still actually quite a bit better than a lot of the material they were putting out earlier than that. Damned in Black doesn't have the ambitious heft of its then-recent predecessor, but it does have riffs, and it does boast some of the same songwriting heft. The fact that it's sandwiched in between two superior works tends to overshadow Damned in Black in my mind, but there's no denying Immortal put some of their best traits to work here.

I suppose it's kind of unfair to go comparing this album to its predecessor, as most of its detractors tend to do. While a tentative 'Part Two' of At the Heart of Winter would almost certainly have left a stronger impression on me, it's cool to see Immortal condensing some of their best elements and making the style more straightforward. In a sense, that's exactly what they did in the shift between Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Pure Holocaust a decade earlier, and it worked marvellously. Damned in Black essentially tries to give a more immediate punch to Immortal's sound. For what it's worth, I think it achieves that end. The songs aren't nearly so packed with riffs. Instead, a lot of these songs can be digested easily enough within a couple of spins, and enjoyed for many more. Some of the cuts here might even rank with Immortal's best; "Triumph" emphasizes their thrash influence really well, and the closer "Damned in Black" rekindles some of At the Heart of Winter's epic scope. Best of all, however, is "Against the Tide", a song that directly showcases how good Abbath is as a riff-maker. I remember little of the drums or perma-croaked vocals in that song, but I keep coming back to it for the way he paired melody with aggressive urgency. From this, it's pretty easy to see where a more recent legend like Inquisition got their foundations from.

Damned in Black is commonly referred to as Immortal's thrash album. While "Triumph" certainly earns that label, and there is certainly the greatest speed here of any album in Immortal's 'clean' era, I don't think the band went as far with that influence as they could have. Thrash is, by nature, a straightforward, high-octane, fun sort of metal to digest, and judging from the silly cover and sonic evolution, that's exactly the sort of bill Immortal tried to fit here. Keeping the masterpiece before it in mind, it's pretty disappointing that Damned in Black was a step backwards in all the ways that counted most, but as another biting collection of riffs in Immortal's late renaissance, you can't go wrong.