The return of the long hailed true kings of Norway, the masters of nebular frost, the purveyors of Blashrykh’s unholy propaganda, and whatever additional titles can be bestowed upon them, is indeed a welcome one. Along with their less prolific yet more controversial Finnish rivals BEHERIT and their vile brethren GORGOROTH, IMMORTAL has brought a needed breath of frostbitten life into a year where Black Metal would otherwise be seen as archaic if it didn’t conform to the watered down rehashes of keyboard drenched EMPEROR worship put out by present day DIMMU BORGIR. This isn’t your 12-year-old nephew’s Black Metal by any stretch, though it is a bit removed from the rough edged, analog tributes to the spirit of early BATHORY and HELLHAMMER that dominated the early 1990s.
Although there is definitely some validity to Abbath’s claim that this was meant to resemble “Blizzard Beasts”, “All Shall Fall” is mostly cut from the same vain as the three albums that followed said transitional effort. The overall presentation is very simple, drawing from familiar selection of Teutonic Thrash and early Death Metal bands, and superimposed on a cold, yet smooth sound aesthetic. The result is a masterfully controlled fit of chaos, perfectly balancing a formula based approach to songwriting, consisting of a typical verse to chorus format with a few variations, and also showing a rather impressive display of technical mastery, particularly in the case of the drums and the guitars. Amateur bedroom Black Metal or over-simplified, Punk influenced trite, this is not, but instead a fine representation of how great Metal does not accept slouches in its ranks.
Right from the opening creak of Blashrykh’s gates, this band assaults the ears as if they’d never taken that seven year hiatus that came after “Sons Of Northern Darkness”. The title song kicks things off with a typically wicked endeavor, spearheaded by a viciously precise blast beat and an oddly light, almost fluttering guitar riff. As the song unfolds, things develop into more of a fast paced thrashing stride, though the guitars maintain a nebulous presence, in spite of moving down to a more thudding groove. Abbath’s vocals are a bit more menacing and goblin-like that previous works, though still deeper and more intelligible than most of the second wave vocalists, save Nocturno Culto. But more interesting still is the lead assault that pops in and out (this occurs in every single song on this album), reminding heavily of the wild yet strictly structured solos of the early 80s, ergo before Kerry King and Dave Mustaine really started pushing the envelope as Thrash developed out of its NWOBHM influences in the mid to late 80s.
By no means is the opening song wanting in any way, but it isn’t until after its conclusion that things really get going. “The Rise Of Darkness” and “Hordes Of War” are quintessential representations of how Blackened Thrash can pulverize bones into dust when done right, the former having a catchy collection of galloping riffs and blurring melodic tremolo interchanges, while the latter cooks with the same chaotic intensity of SODOM’s “Persecution Mania”, yet has a melodic contour and cold atmosphere that reminds of this band’s brightest moments on “Sons Of Northern Darkness”. “Norden On Fire” tempers the frozen blast of Nordic storms with a calm, solemn and somewhat Folksy clean guitar intro. When things kick into full out distortion mode, it still remains fairly reserved and sees Abbath morphing from a berserker shouting garbled war cries to an aged prophet speaking of coming events in a raspy tone.
The album essentially climaxes right at the onset of “Arctic Swarm”, which is the closest representation of the hyper-chaotic yet catchy brand of frosty Death that was “Blizzard Beasts”. The riff presentation is a bit simpler, but this is the sort of BATHORY meets MORBID ANGEL goodness that was “Nebular Raven Winters”, with a nasty vocal performance and a wild guitar solo that stings like an ice covered edged of a thousand frost wasps. Afterward, things start to teeter off a little as “Mount North” largely reemphasizes the formulaic yet pounding character of the title song, save with a somewhat larger atmosphere. When things conclude with “Unearthly Kingdom” the high speed chaos is scaled back almost completely and replaced with a reminiscent sense of fatalism, in stark contrast to the dual course epic monster that was “Mountains Of Might”, to which this would otherwise be comparable to.
The world tyranny of Blashrykh Ravendark, the grand monarch of the frozen mountains of the north, has been ushered once again, to seven fine fanfares of icy brilliance. It’s not quite their best, nor does it quite supplant the colossal efforts put forth by HEAVEN AND HELL and GORGOROTH this year, but it is a must have for any fan of Metal, regardless of one’s preferred sub-genre. Whether this album was put out after seven years of silence or 17 years, it’s an instant classic that demands an equivalent audience.
(Online January 8, 2012)