We are in unchartered territory in Blashyrkh. For the first time in Immortal’s history, founding member Abbath’s distinctive croak will not adorn the ice cold black metal landscape the band has carved for close to three decades. His less than harmonious exit has seen Demonaz step into the vocal booth and also return to guitar duties for the first time since 1997. Horgh once again sits behind the drum kit, whilst long time producer Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy, Pain, Lindemann) assumes the role of session bassist for their first album in nine years.
For all the furore surrounding Abbath’s departure, the vocals are really of very little consequence in the grand scheme of things. Demonaz has a slightly harsher rasp than Abbath, different enough to offer something new whilst retaining that unique Immortal character. I dare say you may not notice the change though, because this album is all about the guitars and the atmosphere they create. The tone is sublime – a roaring, razor sharp scythe that gives the riffs plenty of edge and bite. The riffs themselves are incredible, and the album is packed to brim with them; every song having at least one moment that’s sure to stop you in your tracks to take it in. Horgh’s drumming provides the platform for Demonaz to shine, dictating the pace in a manner that allows the power of the riffs to really come through. The drums can sound like a sonic blur when he approaches hyperspeed, although this actually works in their favour, as it almost feels like a throwback to their rougher, earlier years before Tägtgren put his stamp on things.
Musically, the album is quite diverse, exploring many facets of the Immortal arsenal. The title track doesn’t waste any time with subtleties, delivering one of the most furious songs the band have penned in a long time. Blizzard Beasts, Battles in the North… if that’s your sort of thing, then you’ll eat this track right up and no doubt go back for several more helpings after. “Into Battle Ride” continues this wave of momentum, with a succession of great riffs underpinned by the relentless battery of Horgh. “Gates to Blashrykh” proceeds to slows the pace a little, mixing cutting riffs with some clean picked sections that recall the more expansive approach of their later years.”Where Mountains Rise” and eight minute closer “Mighty Ravendark” are also more patient endeavours, with both being exemplary exercises in dynamic songwriting; the fast parts sear and scintillate, the slower parts ring mighty and proud.
Whilst there’s no bad songs on the album, there is a noticeable disparity between the strongest and the weakest tracks. The amusingly titled “Grim and Dark” has the sort of riff could leaves revelling headbangers with neck injuries, but not much else, whereas the thrashing frenzy of the otherwise marvellous “Called to Ice” covers too much ground too fast, stretching beyond its means with the five minute run time. The rudimentary black metaller “Blacker of Worlds” does little wrong, but simply suffers for being sandwiched between the aforementioned heavyweights “Where Mountains Rise” and “Mighty Ravendark”
Many would have been apprehensive about an Immortal album without Abbath, but Northern Chaos Gods does not suffer in his absence. It is not the most original of works, but it is certainly one of the most accomplished Immortal albums to date, with something to please fans of all eras. All things considered, this could have been far worse, and with this record, Immortal strengthen an already fine catalogue.
Highlights: “Into Battle Ride”, “Where Mountains Rise”, “Mighty Ravendark”
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