Review by Tom Mead
The future of Immortal, everyone’s favourite meme-generating Norwegian Panda Metal band, appears uncertain since the departure of frontman/guitarist Abbath Doom Occulta last year. Fortunately though, if the remaining Immortal band members struggle to continue without him, Abbath has shown with this new band and album that bear his name that his former band’s legacy of icy Black Metal is at least safe in his hands.
Accompanied by go-to Norwegian Metal sideman King Ov Hell on bass and French session drummer Creature (aka Kevin Foley) on drums, Abbath has crafted 8 excellent tracks of varying degrees of Extreme Metal ferocity. To War! kicks things off nicely, doing exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a pounding, anthemic call-to-arms that recalls the thrash/black crossover sound of latter-day Immortal. Winterbane follows with a rhythm that some purists may feel is a bit too upbeat for Black Metal, but this does nothing to diminish the cold atmosphere that the title implies (and the doom-laden, semi-acoustic midsection is brilliant).
It’s a shame that Creature has since left the band, as his Death Metal origins (he’s previously played with Benighted and Sepultura amongst others) add an interesting dimension to the band’s sound, leading to similarities with the Blackened Death Metal of Behemoth. This is most notably heard on Ashes of the Damned, which, like Behemoth’s music, includes horns to enhance the atmosphere.
Immortal didn’t just rely on high speeds to create the right mood, and neither does Abbath. Ocean of Wounds is a great mid-paced number, as is Root of the Mountain, which I would say is the album’s standout track. Taking cues from the likes of Enslaved and Amon Amarth, the band’s conjured up a great Viking atmosphere here, with King in particular delivering a superb galloping bassline that would have even Steve Harris himself nodding along in approval.
Don’t worry if you think this all means Abbath has abandoned his true, grim Black Metal roots. Fenrir Hunts and Endless are more traditional Black Metal fare, with blastbeats and howling guitars aplenty. Moreover, the thrashy Count the Dead is full of crushing riffs and blistering solos, with Abbath trading licks nicely with session player Ole André Farstad. The sonic diversity and clear production on show here might ultimately disappoint some old school Immortal and general Black Metal fans (though they probably haven’t liked any Black Metal albums released in the last 20 years, so it’s a largely insignificant point!)
Following all the tragic deaths that the rock world has suffered over the past month (I’m typing this having only heard of the passing of Rainbow and Dio bassist Jimmy Bain a few hours ago), we need to remind ourselves that there is still plenty of great music being created by many great musicians. Whether Abbath is someone with “legendary” status or not is a controversial debate topic, but one thing’s for certain; he’s made the first great Metal album of 2016. This is an album to be played loudly and proudly, and should hopefully satisfy most long-term Immortal fans, whilst also appealing to Metal fans in general. Don’t let the memes fool you, there’s much more to Abbath than wearing odd makeup and running around forests in the snow.