IMMORTAL’s musical evolution is certainly a peculiar one, as they went from pioneering all things grim and frostbitten (“Pure Holocaust”) to a lavishly epic and more composed style on later albums such as “At The Heart Of Winter” and “Sons Of Northern Darkness” without ever really bearing the brunt of a fan backlash from the traditionally fickle Black Metal crowd along the way. They have, in fact, only gotten more popular and it’s safe to say that in the wake of the latter two albums they can lay claim to culling fans from all circles of Metal. How exactly this happened is still somewhat of a mystery though I suspect it all comes down to the fact that Abbath and co. have always had a knack for a catchy riff and sweeping melodies that manage to stay true to the basics of the genre but also remain accessible enough for many to enjoy. Bearing this in mind (coupled with the fact that I worship this band) I’ve been feverishly awaiting this album for years and now it’s finally upon us...
Sitting down with “All Shall Fall” was like rekindling a friendship with a long lost friend, with all the emotions that comes with it. At first you’re thrilled to have his company again but the more time you spend with him the more you realize that he hasn’t really developed/matured at all, and that you perhaps don’t really share that much in common anymore. This is exactly the predicament I found myself in as I finished my first listen of this highly anticipated comeback album. To make a long story short, I simply expected much more from this album. It picks up right where “Sons...” left off, which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but after 7 long years these guys really needed to put out something other than a carbon copy of the aforementioned album. This knee-jerk sense of disappointment grew steadily more severe with each listen and it wasn’t until my seventh listen that I finally began to look more favourably at these new songs.
I still don’t think this is a perfect or even a very good album – the reasons for this are many, but it mainly comes down to the fact that large parts of this album are quite slow and while their brand of crunchy guitar work, raspy vocals, and galloping rhythms can still conjure up an epic atmosphere with ease the problem is that, for the most part, it never really builds up to something really special. There’s no real pay off. Devoid of any true highlights (save for one song) it may be, but pound for pound the album is actually quite strong. I love how that main riff of the title track (which opens up the album) kicks up a tangible atmosphere pretty much from the get-go, and while the overall vibe of the song is actually more upbeat than ‘grim’ it is still a solid opener. “The Rise Of Darkness” left me cold at first (in a bad way) but eventually got better (especially when it picks up the pace during the second half), while “Hordes Of War” had me headbanging furiously from the first listen. In total contrast to the rest of the album it is an instant ass-kicker; riff-heavy, fast and plain aggressive as all hell, with the Thrash-like riff pile-up and Horgh’s relentless drumming constantly duelling for supremacy right to the end. Things then take a nod to the slower side of things and pretty much stays that way until the end, and while tracks like “Norden On Fire”, “Arctic Swarm” and “Mount North” are by no means classics they all carry enough subtle touches of decency to see the album through. The former starts off in a breezy mood (not an icy breeze though... more like PORCUPINE TREE breezy...) but eventually builds up a nice mid-paced groove, while the other two tracks benefit from great lead-playing (especially the latter), which only accentuates the band’s trademark atmospherics. The album closes off with the 8 minute “Unearthly Kingdom” which tries hard to be “Beyond The North Waves”, and although it fails in comparison, I cannot deny that its slow, brooding galloping beat and Abbath’s potent rasps conjure up a sufficiently epic and forlorn atmosphere that is 100% IMMORTAL, even though the twisted leads and horn sound at the end threw me a bit of a curveball. Listening to this tune brings to mind Vikings on horseback riding down a mountain slope towards certain death. Like I said – 100% IMMORTAL.
I still feel that I’s “Between Two Worlds” should’ve been the true successor to “Sons...” but all in all “All Shall Fall” is not such a bad effort after all. It won’t grab you from the very first second but it has grown gradually more impressive with each successive listen (always the sign of a good album), and even though I’ve kinda badmouthed this album in the recent past my 7 or so listens so far have shown me the error of my ways. “All Shall Fall” may not be a career highlight for the band but it solidifies their legacy, and when looking at the strange and often saddening directions some of their peers like DARKTHRONE and SATYRICON have taken, releasing an album that is merely ‘good’ is definitely not the worst thing in the world.
Boy, I’m already curious to see how Varg’s new album will turn out...
(Online October 18, 2009)