When people talk of old school black metal, Immortal is one of the first bands that come to mind. They are one of the founding bands of the early 90’s Norwegian scene and helped define the sound of the genre. To this day they remain extremely popular amongst fans new and old. Much like the scene itself, they have experienced their fair share of controversy. The most notable drama being the well-publicised departure of eponymous frontman and founding member Abbath which left a question mark over the future of the band. Founding member Demonaz won the right to continue the band under the Immortal name and announced that a new album would be forthcoming. To say this album was eagerly awaited by curious fans would be an understatement, and finally, here it is. ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ features Demonaz on vocals and guitar, and long time member Horgh on drums. The album was mixed and produced by the legendary Peter Tagtgren (Pain/Hypocrisy) who also guests on the bass. After hearing ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ this reviewer is happy to say that Immortal are back doing what they do best, and it is good.
The first song is the title track Northern Chaos Gods which immediately launches into the action with no preamble. The song is hard and fast but with a melodic sound. The guitar parts are simple but effective, with that traditional black metal sound. The drums are your standard blast beats but with some slower heavier beats thrown into the mix. It is clear that this is an Immortal song, the band solidifying their past sound but with a more polished twist. Demonaz’s vocals are quite good, a throaty grim scream but clear and understandable. This is good as the album continues on with Immortals long standing theme of the fictional demon and battle filled winter realm of “Blashyrkh”, and the vocals allow the listener to really delve into the lyrics. The whole song has an epic journey feel and the pace never slows, setting the tone for whats ahead. This continues with Into Battle Ride. This song has a deeper sound with a more driven feel. The guitars are again simple but with an underlying complexity, Demonaz eschewing the genres usual “wall of sound” riffs for some solid old fashioned guitar playing. This song has a fierce and energetic tone that works up the listener. It definitely evokes the image of riding into battle very effectively. The drumming really stands out on this track, more complex beats overlaying blasts creating a really rich rhythm. It ends as suddenly as it begins and leaves you wanting more.
Next up is Gates To Blashrykh and the pace is unrelenting. This song has that trademark Immortal sound like the previous two, but has its own twist. The opening guitar notes are intricate and almost flamenco inspired, before launching into more thrash riffs. The vocals work really well on this track, matching the pace and tone of the music whilst delving further into the concept of Blashrykh. This song has some softer parts (if softer is a word that could be used for this brand of metal) that highlight the vocals and show us a broader range of what the band is capable of. This song really nails the concept of the album and is a highlight of the album. This is followed by Grim And Dark. While this song has what is becoming the standard thrashing pace, there is a slower and more melodic element. This song has a very clear early Photo-black (think Bathory) influence, which helps break up the ‘sameness’ of the previous songs. This song feels fresh and different, and has a rallying feel that picks you up. You can almost hear the hoofbeats and wind blowing! The lyrics create a bridge between each song, and the whole concept of the album flows from one to the other.
The 80s ‘blackened’ influence takes further hold in Called To Ice. Like each song before, this has that same trademark sound. But with its own twist. The band seem to really be solidifying what they do with subtle stretches in range here and there. This track is more of a ‘thrashy’ head banger. There is an absence of your standard black metal “Norwegian” riffs, replaced by some old school power metal influences. The guitar parts get more ambitious with more arpeggios and a great lead break. However it never really breaks out of the sound that has threaded through the previous songs and doesn’t really break out into what it could have been and goes on a bit long. Where Mountains Rise fixes this lull immediately, its energetic intro making you yell “YES!’. This song nails the blending of epic power metal and Black metal riffs, combining to create a different sound that really pushes forward the themes of the album. This is the song where Immortal tries something new and succeeds. Horgh really proves his worth with some complex and rich drum parts that elevate the usual blackened blast beat sound into something so much more. There is even a little lo-fi ‘fuzz’ to this track that harkens back to the early days of black metal which adds an interesting texture to the polished production values.
For those fans who appreciate that early Norwegian sound, the intro of Blacker Of Worlds is for you. This song has a building feeling, and the vocals really push that feel. This is the track where Demonaz’s vocals really shine. The music almost takes a back seat to the lyrics, allowing the vocalist to really delve into themes of battle in an ice wasteland and lead them to the inevitable conclusion. It is inevitable that people will compare Demonaz’s vocal efforts to the previous frontman. But it is in this understated track that he shows what he is made of and proves himself a good vocalist in his own right. The album concludes with the darker Mighty Ravendark. Like all songs on this ballad free album, it has a fast pace but with a heavier, crashing sound. The guitars have a deeper and more resonant tone that is refreshing, playing of the vocals to excellent effect. This track is almost symphonic in places and has a triumphant tone. It has different harmonies and tempos that flow together well, and the production sounds less polished and richer. This song really elevates the album and makes it clear they saved the best until last, ending ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ on a very high note.
Overall this album is very much an Immortal album, the members really solidifying the sound. They do what they have always done and do it well. If you are a fan of Immortal you will love this. There is a lot of skill and talent within the two long time members, and that really comes to the fore on every song. This album is an unrelenting storm of black metal riffs and beats that will leave you wanting more. This is the Immortal album we have all been waiting and hoping for.
‘Northern Chaos God’ is out on July 6th via Nuclear Blast Records – you can pre-order it HERE!