(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Immortal on the day of its release by Nuclear Blast.)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll no doubt be aware that the release of a new Immortal album – the band’s first since 2009’s All Shall Fall, as well as their first since the now well-documented and more than a tad acrimonious split with their former frontman Abbath – is what we in the business like to call A Very Big Deal.
You’ll also likely have seen a plethora of different reviews, comments, and op-eds being published either decrying it for not being “Immortal enough” due to its lack of Abbath, or else praising it to the heavens for being “a return to the band’s roots”, with lines being drawn and camps being formed on either side of this divide.
And while, if everything’s gone right, at the time of reading this you’ll hopefully have found a way of listening to the album for yourselves, I still thought it might be worth publishing my own thoughts on the matter, and asking, “can’t we all just get along?”
Because the truth of the matter is that I can see both sides of the story here.
Yes, it definitely does feel like the band (Demonaz and Horgh) have gone “back to their roots” a little, as the hyper-aggressive – almost frantic – riffage which underpins tracks like “Northern Chaos Gods” and “Called to Ice” certainly does hearken back to the days of Battles in the North/Blizzard Beasts quite a bit, to the point where, if your main point of reference for Immortal was Sons of Northern Darkness (which, understandably, remains the definitive album for a lot of the band’s fans), you’d probably feel quite justified in feeling like the new material just wasn’t quite scratching the right itch.
But, on the other hand, it’s not exactly like Demonaz (now reinstated as the band’s primary songwriter/riffmaster) is attempting to rewrite or ignore entire segments of the band’s history, as both the furious “Into Battle Ride” and the irresistibly headbangable “Gates to Blashyrkh” contain more than their fair share of swaggering bombast and shamelessly hooky heaviness, while more ostentatiously epic cuts like the moody “Where Mountains Rise” and the grimly grandiose “Mighty Ravendark” (which has the honour of being the longest song the band have ever written… though only just) prove that the duo have lost none of their flair for the dramatic amidst all the internal upheaval and internecine strife which characterised their rather public split with Abbath.
Plus, although the vocals on Northern Chaos Gods (also provided by Demonaz) definitely have a little bit more of a traditional Black Metal rasp to them, in reality they’re not that far away from their former frontman’s cadaverous croak, and it feels a little bit like what differences there are have been exaggerated either through wilful ignorance or in service of pointless partisan grandstanding.
Ultimately, while there are some justifiable grounds for criticism at points – both the frequent use of clean, melodic picking and some of the lyrical themes/hooks teeter dangerously on the line separating “recognisable motif” from “uninspired rehash” – overall NCG remains an incredibly strong (and pleasingly consistent) effort from a band who’ve endured more than their fair share of setbacks and stumbling blocks throughout their (admittedly very successful) career.
And although there’s lots of other stuff I could get into here (Horgh, as always, drums up an absolute storm behind the kit, and even the session bass work of one Peter Tägtgren gets a few moments to shine), perhaps it’s most important to say that Northern Chaos Gods demonstrates, quite convincingly, that there’s still a lot of juice left in the Immortal tank, and deserves (in my humble opinion at least) to be ranked somewhere in the top half of the band’s discography… though I’d imagine the arguments about exactly where to rank it are going to go on for quite a while!