When Immortal occurred in Bergen in the early nineties, they instantly became a synonym of the wintery landscapes of Hordaland. Never has a band been so closely related with northern realms, ice storms, forests, hidden dark valleys covered with snow, moonlight and winter demons lurking in the darkness. During their career, they released a series of highly acclaimed and influential albums in the black metal genre. However, the wide acceptance didn’t coincide with peaceful collaboration between band members, as a legal battle regarding the Immortal trademark resulted in Abbath’s departure in 2015.
Many of us doubted that a new album would occur without the iconic frontman. Contrary to public beliefs, Demonaz was determined to keep Immortal active, announcing in early January an upcoming release, nine years after “All Shall Fall”, filling everyone with expectations and curiosity about how the new album would sound without Abbath’s contribution. Eventually, the 9th record of the band, named “Northern Chaos Gods”, became available in July via Nuclear Blast, featuring Demonaz on guitar duties -for the first time in 20 years- and vocals.
Upon listening to the album for the very first time, it is evident that Immortal returned to the era of “Blizzard Beasts” and “At the Heart of Winter”. Personally, I consider their direction as a strong advantage, since the rather heavy metal approach of “All Shall Fall” was a deviation that wasn’t consistent with Immortal’s aesthetics. The whole album, winter-themed as always, transmits a dark, cold atmosphere of frostbitten, Norwegian black metal, that brings in mind great records of the past, whereas the epic element is more evident.
“Northern Chaos Gods” and “Into Battle Ride” are classic, up-tempo hellish dynamites, where intense, razor-sound riffing and insane drum hits and blast beats blow even the most peaceful fans’ mind. However, timely tempo changes and few lead solos are not absent. Similarly, “Grim and Dark” and “Blacker of Worlds” follow the same pattern, while the latter features memorable riffs and refrain, bringing in mind Demonaz’s solo album “March of the Norse”.
Besides hyperspeed extremities, Demonaz placed emphasis on the epic aspect as well, as the mid-tempo and dynamic melodies of “Gates to Blashyrkh”, “Where Mountains Rise” and “Mighty Ravendark” evoke a grandiose and pompous atmosphere, reminding of anthemic opuses of the past. “Mighty Ravendark”, the 9-minute length closure track, will surely cause the dislocation of many jawbones with its catchy, atmospheric parts and excellent guitar work on more aggressive patterns, creating feelings of epic and greatness and inclining you to scream the refrain as loud as you can. Undoubtedly, that is the ideal way to end a great album, depicting clearly what Immortal do currently.
All these years, Demonaz had been a riff-making exploding device, waiting for the proper time for ignition. Now, unchained by the awkward conditions of the past, he revealed his full potential as a composer, offering us memorable riffs that maintain addiction at high levels throughout the whole album. At the same time, he leaves enough space for Horgh to show his drumming abilities, with countless blasts during up-tempo parts and refrains. But what really stands out is Demonaz’s vocal performance; dynamic, expressive and certainly less shrinking than Abbath’s, his vocals are absolutely suited to the cold atmosphere of the album. However, bass lines, performed by the band’s producer, Peter Tägtgren, become evident on few occasions only.
In a sense, “Northern Chaos Gods” isn’t innovative, since it doesn’t offer something different from what we already know. Regardless of any connection –close or not- with other records of the band, it is how it should be; dark, wintery, raw and -above all- highly addictive, supported by a clear –and not blurry- production. If you still doubt, do yourselves a favor and try to drop the irritating “Immortal-without-Abbath-is-not-Immortal” label, as you are likely to deprive your ears of something really good.