It’s never pleasant when a much-loved band split, even more so when this is accompanied by bucket loads of acrimony, petty point-scoring and derision as was the case when the revered Norwegian black metal giants Immortal went their own separate ways. At least Abbath did, no doubt taking his best corpsepaint kit with him.
Following a well-publicised legal wrangle Abbath had to ultimately concede defeat over the rights to the infamous Immortal moniker, thereby leaving his now former partners in aural crime, guitarist Demonaz and drummer Horgh, to pick up the blackened flag and head off for pastures new. Well the first plus is that the pair are a trio once more with Peter Tägtgren now on board. Tägtgren’s influence extends beyond bass duties though, as he has also produced the album.
As for those fears that Immortal without Abbath would sink faster than the Titanic, fear not. The fire-licking opening title track Northern Chaos Gods effectively turns the clock back a couple of decades, summoning up that original ferocious black metal spirit that made Immortal such a vital component of the Scandinavian black metal scene.
Northern Chaos Gods is Immortal’s ninth album but features the first new material since 2009 release All Shall Fall. Immortal have been missed for sure and many feared they had gone forever when Abbath waved goodbye three years ago. Not that it’s all been plain sailing for him since his departure. Some of Abbath’s solo output has not impressed everyone while live there have been some underwhelming shows that he would probably prefer to forget.
Fortunately the new-look Immortal appear to have made more of a fist of things, a tasty chug driving through the album’s second track ‘Into Battle Ride,’ Demonaz conjuring up demonic throat-scratchers with just as much conviction as his old sparring partner Abbath, as the song builds to a rousing finish.
Anyone still waiting to be convinced as to whether or not this Immortal are still the real deal the blackened triumvirate offer the desired confirmation on the pulsating groove that kicks in the monstrous ‘Gates To Blashyrkh’. With a hook that’s so dangerous it needs a muzzle, Immortal rage back and forth, frizzled fret work acting as the veins through which the dark juices can flow as they return once more to their wintry spiritual home.
Speedy numbers such as ‘Grim and Dark’ and the cold blasts of ‘Called to Ice’ fit seamlessly into the imperious Immortal mid 90s state of mind, rasping, dynamic and battle toughened. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the Immortal sound remains true, after all Demonaz was always the band’s songwriter in chief, and on the likes of the lengthier ‘Where Mountains Rise’ he reasserts his credentials as a commanding composer of vast sweeping soundscapes.
‘Mighty Ravendark’ is a sublime album closer, all nine minutes of it. It opens menacingly before a tidal wave of a riff freeflows, furrowing a forward path through which Demonaz quickly starts to bark out the orders. There’s a raw energy shooting through the grooves which are infectiously dynamic and driven.
Listen to Northern Chaos Gods and you’ll have no reservations that Immortal are no mere legends looking back on past glories. No, they are instead vibrant virtuosos, with us in the here and now, as deliciously dark as ever. Of course there was never really any hint of a chance that this band would die. They are Immortal after all.