Oddly enough, I never thought Immortal had eras. Yes, things changed when Horgh took over kit duties back in 1997. And, yes, they changed even more when Abbath took over songwriting and guitars following Demonaz’s tendinitis departure pre-At the Heart of Winter. But I never thought of these little additions and subtractions as anything more than the progression of the band. In the early days, the Abbath/Demonaz duo released some of the most vicious records the genre had ever heard. And when Abbath took the lead, their sound evolved even more—giving us At the Heart of Winter‘s six, technically-played tracks in forty-six minutes and 2002’s headbanging masterpiece, Sons of the Northern Darkness. But, now that Abbath is gone for good and Demonaz is back at the axe, I’ve finally realized that Immortal does indeed have eras. But what will this new era bring to us?
Regardless what Northern Chaos Gods brings to each of us, the opening track makes it clear that this is Immortal and it’s Demonaz’s band now. And the Demonaz’s way is giving new life to the sounds of old. The ferocious and unrelenting riffs that made Pure Holocaust and Blizzard Beasts fucking classics scream like frozen winds through “Northern Chaos Gods.” And it’s done in true Immortal fashion; never settling for one (or even four) crushing riffs and each one building off the other. Like everyone else on this goddamned planet, I’ve been anticipating and dreading this new slab of Immortal. But, like everyone who’s heard “Northern Chaos Gods,” I was convinced that, as long as the rest of the album delivers the same level of panda-faced attacks, this is gonna be great.
And that’s exactly what Northern Chaos Gods is: fucking great. Going into this, I knew the riffs would be there, the guitar playing would be top-notch, the drum work would be fantastic, and (once I discovered Peter Tägtgren on bass guitar) I knew the low-end would be audible. What I feared most—based on Demonaz‘s March of the Norse—were the vocals. But, from “Northern Chaos Gods” to ” Mighty Ravendark” (no, this isn’t a re-recording of “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)”), Demonaz is on his game. He’s no Abbath but his Quorthonian approach would suit any Immortal song well. Not only that but his voice gets better as the album progresses—with the last two tracks, “Blacker of Worlds” and “Mighty Ravendark,” being the most vicious and convincing of the entire album.
As far as the tunes go, Immortal ain’t reinventing the wheel here. But the band does seem reinvigorated. As my buddy Grymm put it, it’s as if the band needed to break up (again) to bring life back into its weather-worn body. And “life,” so it seems, comes in the form of the classic Immortal gallops of “Into Battle Ride” and “Grim and Dark,” the exhausting and shameless riff changes of “Called to Ice,” and the icy, reverberating clean guitars of “Gates of Blashyrkh” and “Where Mountains Rise.” And, with each song, there’s a conscious effort to make Northern Chaos Gods feel as icy as a winter night in 1993. That said, you can still feel the Abbath influences in the All Shall Fall-like character of “Gates to Blashyrk” and the ballsy Sons of Northern Darkness-esque licks of “Grim and Dark.” It’s just been Demonaz-ed.
But no Immortal record is complete without melodic, atmospheric pieces. These come in the form of bruised-and-battered numbers, like “Gates of Blashyrkh” and “Black of Worlds,” and passion-filled, Bathory-inspired cuts, like “Where Mountains Rise” and “Mighty Ravendark.” “Gates of Blashyrkh” is a building song that gives way to one of the best closing riffs of the album, while “Black of Worlds” has the feels akin to the band’s classic, “Withstand the Fall of Time.” “Where Mountains Rise” is a straight-forward ditty whose sole purpose is to foreshadow the closer. And, when the closer finally arrives, it pushes the boundaries of Immortal‘s voice and instruments all the way to the end of its nine-minute length.
For me, Northern Chaos Gods was a total surprise. I didn’t think the band had it in them to produce another album with the kind of energy Immortal and Gorgoroth are famous for. But, they have. And with a liveliness that All Shall Fall never had. It sucks that Abbath (one of my all-time favorite black metal guitarists and vocalists) had to go. But, it appears, that’s exactly what the band needed. That said, I wouldn’t go as far as calling Northern Chaos God a “comeback.” Instead, it’s a return to form with nearly thirty years of black metal wisdom behind it. This is a new era. But one that sees the band moving in a forward direction.
Written By: Grymm
I remember feeling heartbroken when I found out that Norway’s icy-yet-oddly-lovable Immortal “called it quits” for the second (and final) time in 2015. Or so I thought. To condense the drama a bit, shit got very weird in the Blashyrkh Army. All three core members fought an ugly legal battle to obtain the band’s name, and their crab-walking, guitar-slinging frontman Abbath walked out to create his own blackened death metal band with his namesake, crafting a well-regarded but uneven debut. Left with the Immortal name and pieces to gather, lyricist and long-dormant guitarist Demonaz Doom Occulta and longtime drummer Horgh carry on the name with their ninth full-length, Northern Chaos Gods. With two iconic faces within Norway’s black metal scene doing their own thing, and Immortal soldiering on without their goofy-yet-endearing, frog-throated frontman, who really wins out in the end?
The answer, after giving Northern Chaos Gods several spins, is all of us. The title track wastes absolutely no time in ripping you to icy shreds with Demonaz’s frosty, razor-wire riffs and staccato tremolo picking, which has been absent since his carpal tunnel injury he suffered from in 1997 forced him to step down as a guitarist. To say that his presence has been missed is criminally understating the obvious, as Immortal hasn’t sounded this vicious since the early days. Also, Demonaz avoids the frog-like rasps of his former bandmate, instead adopting an effective higher-pitched vocal range. Meanwhile, Horgh cements himself as one of black metal’s undisputed drummers, pummeling and attacking his kit with power and precision. As far as openers go, “Northern Chaos Gods” kicks the door down, drops your house’s temperature to below-freezing temperatures, and blasts your face with winds reaching ridiculous speeds. Immortal is fucking back.
And while the rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to the frozen ferocity of the title track, the other seven songs offer a ton of replay in their own right. “Gates to Blashyrkh” gallops forth in a mid-paced romp before Demonaz cuts loose an amazing melody that would make Quorthon proud. In fact, the Bathoryisms peppered throughout Northern Chaos Gods give the album a much-needed majesty that’s been sorely missed over the last few Demonaz-less Immortal albums. Likewise, “Where Mountains Rise” and the epic 9-minute closer “Mighty Ravendark” also feature these Vikings-on-ice Bathory melodies that elevate the music considerably. For as much as I’m going to miss Abbath’s goofy mannerisms1, I realized that I missed Immortal‘s lethally-effective serious side considerably.
But as I said earlier, there are peaks and plateaus on Northern Chaos Gods. The middle area of the album almost bleeds together into a long and seamless blackened track, with only minor tweaks to differentiate the songs from each other. That said, never has a black metal album flown by so damn fast as on Northern Chaos Gods, as 42 minutes came and went like a frosty blur. The Peter Tägtgren production also boosts the album, as it feels icy, chaotic, and brutal without going too far into noisy territory. Also, Tägtgren’s bass sound somehow retains audibility and heft among the drums and guitars, which is borderline miraculous given how in-your-face both are.
So, with Abbath seeking (and finding) happiness away from the blackened realms of Blashyrkh, the remaining core of Immortal proved that they can function just fine without him. Abbath can continue to spread his quirky, death-tinged blackened word with no limitations, and Immortal can soldier forth, knowing full well that Northern Chaos Gods sits all grim and frostbitten among the bands’ earlier albums. Both bands will keep an eye on their respective futures, and we will be the richer for it. Northern Chaos Gods doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t need to. Welcome back, Immortal. You have been missed tremendously.