Immortal - Northern Chaos Gods - (9/10)
Published on July 27, 2018
The familiar shadow of Blashyrkh’s reign.
Chaos is the language of Blashyrkh’s mighty bards, and it stands to reason that given the progression of time and the unchanging nature of their prose, old allegiances would give way to a massive civil war. This tale of shifting loyalties and newly forged nations within metal’s expanding realm is obviously not a new one, but for the longstanding and pioneering 2nd wave outfit of all things black and wintry Immortal, it would take a rare twist. The inevitable yet troubling schism between Abbath and Demonaz that led to the former’s exodus from the fold after serving as its dominant personality subsequently led to a triumphant affair in the eponymous solo album of said front man in 2016, embodying just about everything that Immortal was during the closing days of the 1990s. It is most uncommon for two equal foes to arise from the split of a metal institution of any stylistic persuasion, but given Demonaz’s own impressive display with his solo venture March Of The Norsein the vocal and songwriting department, there was a glimmer of hope that this would come to pass, not withstanding the fact that it had been about 20 years since he’d handled a guitar in the studio due to a debilitating fit of tendinitis that afflicted him soon after the recording of Blizzard Beasts.
The stars were apparently in alignment when Demonaz and Horgh entered the studio, because the eventual collection of frostbitten anthems to the mountains high that is Northern Chaos Gods is not only a formidable response to Abbath’s debut LP, but also a faithful contribution to the Immortal legacy that picks up precisely where Blizzard Beasts left off. It is not a full on retread of their raw, 1990s character of sound as Demonaz is more interested in capturing the magic of the past rather than outright reliving it, but a very current interpretation of the good old days that features a production more in keeping with the clarity and poise of All Shall Fall and Demonaz’s subsequent solo outing. It captures the duality of Bathory’s black and Viking eras into a singular stylistic expression that is both grandiose and vilely militaristic, spending about as much time in the blasting madness of a mighty blizzard of riffs as it does in a mid-paced march towards the battlefield. Credit should obviously be given to Horgh’s mighty drum work, which does far more to shape the duality of frenzied chaos and orderly thrashing that typifies these songs, but it is the combination of Demonaz’s highly involved guitar work and his near perfect emulation of Abbath’s raspy ravings that truly brings the coldness into focus.
The various chapters of these bleak chronicles of Blashyrkh’s ongoing quest for world domination function as perfect amalgams of what some might dub the middle era of Immortal, namely the trilogy that spanned Pure Holocaust until the last album featuring Demonaz on guitar, redressing the imperfect drum work of the first two albums while also providing a clearer sound than the nearly flawless Blizzard Beasts. Berzerker-like fits of blasting madness such as the opening title song “Northern Chaos Gods”, “Into Battle Ride” and “Blacker Worlds” hold up the chaos factor quite effectively, challenging even the most intense of the 2nd wave’s 90s offerings while eschewing the lack of coherence that often came along for the ride, and also featuring an impressive shred fest out of Demonaz in the former song’s case. More driving anthems such as “Called To Ice” and “Grim And Dark” carry a bit more of a thrashing feel that’s a bit more in line with the At The Heart Of Winter sound, while the mixture of serene interludes and mid-paced brutality of “Where Mountains Rise” and the long winded closer “Mighty Ravendark” reminisce on the auditory storytelling and scene painting that made “Mountains Of Might” arguably the best musical accomplishment in Immortal’s career.
There is a temptation to become overly nostalgic regarding the early days when the two titans that founded this band were side by side like two great commanders ordering the hordes of the north into victory, but if there is one silver-lining in the divide that resulted in Abbath’s going it alone, it is that they still seem to harbor a degree of respect for each other. Call it honor among villains or just the sentiment of old friendships enduring despite the cessation of a musical alliance, but this may prove to be one of the most fruitful rivalries to develop in metal’s ongoing existence. Old school fans of Immortal will likely give this album a slight edge over Abbath’s 2016 debut given its closer proximity to the good old days, and the author of this review definitely finds himself among said group. The stylistic devices are all in place and the lyrical themes include all the usual references to endless war within a parallel world where darkness reigns and winter never ends, but there is a definite freshness to this that is sure to ring as relevant today as this band’s seminal works were more than two decades ago. The Fimbulvetr is upon the mighty plains, the Northern Chaos Gods have spoken, so will ye join with the mighty legions of Blashyrkh Ravendark or fall by their icy blades?