One of my favorite albums from 2010 was Black Earth by obscure Norwegian black thrashers Byfrost. Hailing from the very same town as the mighty Immortal, it was hardly surprising they borrowed heavily from their better known neighbors for the musical direction of their debut. Although it was shamelessly derivative of Abbath and Co., it was also highly enjoyable blackened thrash loaded with vicious, razor sharp riffing. Since I had such a good time with that debut, I was obviously expecting good things from their second crusade Of Death. I would even say it was one of the most anticipated releases on my list for this year. Now that I’ve had some time with Of Death, my first reaction is that of disappointment. Perhaps my expectations were too high and while the music here is good indeed, its not up to the standards set by Black Earth. There’s a strange sense of musical ambivalence that overcomes me during some of the material and it feels like they lost their magic touch at times during the writing sessions for this album. Now, before you get the idea this is a bad album, it isn’t at all. There’s a lot of solid, heavy, ugly thrash with a pronounced black metal vibe to be found on Of Death. It’s just not quite as good as I hoped it would be after such a rabble-rousing debut opus. That damn sophomore jinx strikes again!
Things get off promising with “May the Dead Rise” and the familiar Immortal-themed thrash attack sounds great, as do the Abbath-like vocals of HeavyHarms. For a power trio, they create a whirlwind of chaos and the riffing by HeavyHarms is savage and memorable throughout. The riff phrasing is pure Immortal at times (1:07) but goes off-kilter and gets experimental too, even reminding of Voivod here and there. Things get even better with “Eye for an Eye” which is a ginormous stormer with all the cold, Nordic black riffing one could ever ask for. This is the kind of material that had me salivating all over Black Earth and I eat it up faster than zombies eat brains. Both “Buried Alive” and “Of Death” keep the positive momentum going and while neither are as good as previous material, both are solid and nasty (“Of Death” sounds a lot like something off Abbath’s I project).
Things start to slip with “Full Force Rage” which does indeed rage but it feels generic and stale for some reason I can’t quite pinpoint. Similarly, “Shadow of Fear” leaves me cold (not in the good way) and the six minutes of experimental and bizarre backward chanting during “Sorgh” left me annoyed. They redeem themselves for a righteous ode to viking-era Bathory with “All Gods Are Gone” replete with big, epic riffing and this is exactly the type of material I was hoping to get in larger quantities (it sounds a lot like the Demonaz album).
At just over thirty seven minutes, Of Death goes by very quickly and somehow feels incomplete when it ends. Between that and the issues with the back half, it left me feeling a little unsatisfied with the overall experience. The same cannot be said for the production by Hebrand Larsen and Ice Dale of Enslaved (who also guest on several tracks). The mix is great and the guitars have an icy, nasty bite throughout. They opted not to go for a low-fi black metal muddle and that really helps the precision thrash riffing stand out and seize attention. Likewise, the vocals are situated well alongside the guitar and it all sounds like a metallic home run.
Although Of Death isn’t the monster I was hoping for after Black Earth, its a worthwhile album and one that will grow on you with repeat spins. I’m hoping they can keep the aggression intact while sharpening their writing a bit more the next time out. I would still recommend this to fans of blackened thrash and Immortal fans in particular. They try some new things here and partially break from the Immortal-clone category but their legendary neighbors remain the primary reference point for their sound. Let’s just call it Immortal-lite for now and hope for a better tomorrow.