As the old saying goes, you can legally coerce Abbath out of Immortal, but you can’t stop Abbath from up and taking Immortal with him in spirit. So instead of taking the ball and going home, Abbath proceeded to take the ball and dunk on the fools who think that Immortal can survive without him. Abbath is said dunk pressed to tape. Another old saying dictates that actions speak louder than words. Abbath’s rather loud action is to continue on making music, the remains of Immortal and juicy clickbait statements for the press be damned…in black, of course.
Having a career decades long and of a remarkably high quality, Abbath wisely sticks to his strengths. Much like knowing how good a rye and ginger is going to taste when you’re making one, this leads to a great kind of predictability that’s a feature instead of a bug. Expect the riff-centric, icy, and hugely melodic style of black metal that Immortal all but defined from At the Heart of Winter onward. Abbath has taken advantage of being untethered in name from his old band, and incorporates plenty of his classic metal and classic rock leanings from Between Two Worlds into the music. These bits don’t have entire songs devoted to them, but instead see riffs and licks pop up that sound like those old styles run through Abbath’s own unique filter. It’s recognizable but not jarring or even outside the realm of black metal, much like when “Tyrants” reinterpreted Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and remained in the Immortal style effectively enough to become a latter-day fan favourite anthem.
Immediately noticeable is that the aggressiveness has been ratcheted up a bit from the hyper-melodic All Shall Fall, but Abbath features more obvious nods to I than were present on that disc. “Winterbane” begins on something akin to Sons of Northern Darkness’ more punishing moments and moves between this and a cross between All Shall Fall and Between Two Worlds with emphasis on the latter. Eventually it settles into a solid rock-infused melodic groove, with King ov Hell’s bass playing being a highlight; his tasty fills and fluid basslines remind of The Who’s John Entwistle, and he plays a much more active role in the music than Iscariah, Apollyon, or Abbath himself did on bass in the past. Companion pieces “To War!” and “Endless” are Abbath’s opener and closer respectively, revolving around an interesting merger of Blizzard Beasts and I in their shared central riff. It’s one of the most straightforwardly brutal riffs on the album, but it has a bit of a classic metal swagger to it. This repetition of the same riff doesn’t show a composer running short on ideas, but rather the exploitation of a good idea to its fullest potential. “Endless” has strong echoes of the triumphant “All Shall Fall” opening riff in its chorus, where the verse of “To War!” sounds like a cross between Immortal and Impiety. Both work alongside their shared main riff wonderfully.
Abbath has no salient flaws, but that doesn’t make it a perfect record. As excited as many people were for this thing (myself included), I don’t think it will be held up as a true classic in years to come. The mastering job has the tendency to bury King’s more simplistic basslines backing the thrashier parts, and it doesn’t balance loudness, coldness, and bass clarity as well as Sons of Northern Darkness did. On the plus side, Creature’s drums sound significantly less Abyss Studios-ish than Horgh’s did in the past, and this compliments his comparatively looser playing nicely. “Ocean of Wounds” sounds like Abbath combined All Shall Fall with Inquisition’s token mid-paced, ritualistic tunes; this works for me because I like the work of Mr. Eikemo’s greatest disciples, but “Tyrants” it isn’t. It does break up the record nicely and set the stage well for the viciously hooky “Count the Dead” though, whose brief yet excellent melody improves on an already great track much like one four minutes into “One by One” did almost fifteen years before it.
Abbath is only forty minutes long, easy to replay, and will sit comfortably next to whatever your second or third favourite Immortal record from At the Heart of Winter onwards is. This begs the question of whether or not Abbath’s material is even necessary. I’ll throw my hat into the ring for yes, as the use of elements from his lengthy discography and his raucous musical influences makes for something at once familiar and fresh, anchored by one of the most unique guitar styles in the business. Abbath is more of a great thing, and that’s the only reason I need to keep revisiting this new realm beyond Blashyrkh throughout the year.