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Hard-hitting and Memorable - 88%

MaDTransilvanian, May 26th, 2010

Perhaps it’s because of the iconic quality of every single other Immortal album, or because this one’s a bit different in terms of imagery, but all too often Damned in Black tends to be dismissed as Immortal’s worst album. A further reason which could explain Damned in Black’s poor showing among Immortal fans is its position between two of the most appreciated albums in the band’s career. On the other side, and perhaps it’s because this was my first purchased Immortal album, I’ve always had a soft spot for this album, which is always appreciable if not the very best Immortal release.

What’s so great about this particular Immortal album? It still contains the usual Immortal sound, characterized by Abbath’s signature vocal style (call him a frog, Popeye or whatever you will, he’s inimitable) and his guitar playing style, which takes significant cues from German thrash instead of the more usual Second Wave black metal sound. To that this album adds a deepening of that thrash sound at the expense of the black metal atmosphere of old, both in terms of riffs and drumming. The drumming is handled by Horgh, possibly one of the most competent drummers in the world of metal today, and his talents are utilized to their fullest extent for the first time ever in an Immortal album; technicality is the keyword on Damned in Black. All these elements work together to create a new Immortal sound, which has constantly been evolving ever since the brilliant At the Heart of Winter and can still be recognized today, a sound which relies on a heavy infusion of thrash metal to go along with the traditional Immortal black metal sound – the result is a mix that has never failed to impress.

A closer look reveals that the album is composed of a series of fast-paced, technical black/thrash hybrid songs which, though not all highlights, are all at least very good. After the impressive opener, Triumph, come a couple of similar tracks, while the latter half of the album consists of extremely faced-paced tracks which rely on Horgh’s truly impressive skills to keep the music interesting. The drumming does in fact take precedence over the guitars as the loudest and most prominent instrument, both production-wise and in terms of complexity. Abbath still provides great riffs, it’s just that Horgh’s role seems expanded here when comparing to the previous (and later) albums, and blasting seems to be his favorite activity here. My Dimension, The Darkness that Embrace Me and especially the insanely fast In Our Mystic Visions Blest are prominent examples of this style of pronounced, technical blasting over the more atmospheric nature of the band’s older albums. These three consecutive tracks are all highlights in their own right. Finally comes the title track, and its speed does not differ from the rest of the album. In fact, it simply adds a new number to the legendary hall of Immortal epics, and in this respect is most similar to the first four tracks off Sons of Northern Darkness, especially its own title track.

One element which makes Immortal albums what they are is the imagery. From the mystical kingdoms of frost of yesterday, a reputation was created, and no Immortal album can succeed without having something unique about it. In this respect Damned in Black focuses on being predominantly dark and haunting, with a great deal of fantastic imagery still present in Demonaz’s lyrical output. Additionally, the cover art is another classic pose of the band members (unless you have the special edition, which is also a box with a more traditional and hellish painting as its artwork).

In the end, Damned in Black is not a perfect album because it does seem a tiny bit one-dimensional and formulaic, but then again so are albums like Blizzard Beasts (perhaps even more so). What this is, however, is a very solid effort, one which is worthy of standing next to every single other Immortal album with pride.