By: Daniel Jackson
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 22/01/2016
Label: Season of Mist
Abbath remains a creature of two minds, willing to both sprint and pace himself for a marathon, and he continues to produce at a top-tier level, whichever mode he’s in. Because of the long wait between this album and the last Immortal album, having new material from Abbath felt like an event, before I’d even heard a note. This album lives up to that anticipation, provided you weren’t anticipating “Pure Holocaust: Part II”, or something wildly different from the albums he’s released over the last fifteen years.
‘Abbath’ CD//LP//CS//DD track listing:
1. To War
3. Ashes of the Damned
4. Ocean of Wounds
5. Count the Dead
6. Fenrir Hunts
7. Root of the Mountain
Abbath | Guitar, Vocals
King | Bass
Creature | Drums
At this point, a brief history lesson about Abbath feels like an almost absurd thing to include because he’s almost certainly one of the three biggest names (and most recognizable faces) in black metal. It’s gotten to a point that people with no interest in heavy metal at all are sharing memes featuring his likeness. But, I’m going to do it anyway, because there’s nothing I love more than a good round of 90s black metal nostalgia.
Even if Abbath had opted to disappear entirely, following his split with Immortal after nearly twenty-five years as a band, his career would still have been legendary. Immortal is so synonymous with black metal as a genre, that it’s difficult to come up with a black metal stereotype (other than Satanism) that isn’t at least somewhat connected to the band in some way. It’s also no deep analysis on my part to note that Immortal’s sound changed over the years. That might have been an effort to stay with or even ahead of the times, but it might also have been because a lot of metal musicians tend to replace raw energy and ferocity with stronger song writing. Abbath himself moving from bass to guitar following ‘Blizzard Beasts’ no doubt played a big part in that change as well.
Whatever the reason, there was a clear shift toward the melodic end of the spectrum starting with ‘At the Heart of Winter’. ‘Damned in Black’ was something of a blunt, angrier cousin to ‘At the Heart of Winter’, but it served as a solid transition album en route to the album which sets our expectations for Abbath’s work in 2016: ‘Sons of Northern Darkness’. That was the album where Immortal really perfected the art of implementing traditional heavy metal song writing in a black metal context. It had the sharp immediacy of “Damned in Black”, but regained the knack for icy melody the band showed with ‘At the Heart of Winter’.
Abbath, on his self-titled solo debut, follows the general pacing of that album fairly closely, though the gap between the catchiness of the more accessible moments and the viciousness of the pure black metal moments is perhaps the widest it's ever been. As it turns out, the hype in the months leading up to the album’s release hinted pretty strongly at the album's overall direction, without releasing a note of new music to do it.
Back in Late September and then again in October of 2015, Abbath’s official YouTube channel posted two slickly-produced, live-in-studio cover videos of songs from Abbath’s career. The first was “Warriors” from I, Abbath’s now nearly ten year old side project. The song sounds like Immortal via post ‘Blood Fire Death’ Bathory, which is a reasonable starting point comparison for this album’s more immediate, consumable songs.
The second cover song video was of Immortal’s “Nebular Ravens Winter”, from the album ‘Blizzard Beasts’, which is arguably the band’s least accessible and most chaotic album to date. Part of that owes to a seemingly botched production job, which was bad enough that Immortal has considered re-recording the album over the years. The other part of what makes ‘Blizzard Beasts’ the most challenging Immortal album is that the compositions are only a step or two removed from being feral. The riffs were fast and furious on that album, to such an extreme that writing, rehearsing, and recording for the album at least partially led to Demonaz getting tendonitis so severe that he was never to play guitar in Immortal again.
The video for “Nebular Ravens Winter” was possibly meant as an indication that Abbath wasn’t going to be leaving extremity behind on this album, which is absolutely true. Almost from the outset, after about a minute and a half of arguably unnecessary tension-building, “To War!” explodes, with a riff and blast beat combination that would do ‘Battles in the North’ proud. It’s important to remember that this is Abbath in 2016, so the pace relents sooner than it would have in 1995. That might even be for the best, but nevertheless the point is made clear early: Abbath is still capable of that old frostbitten black magic whenever he wants to be.
That the album is as extreme as it is. might be the biggest surprise of all. I certainly expected Abbath to settle into a more commerce-friendly sound when left purely to his own devices, but here I am a fool for having thought so. “Ashes of the Damned” stylistically recalls “Throned By Blackstorms”, another reference to ‘Battles in the North’, albeit much more polished on this album. Even with the hilariously corny—and thankfully brief—keyboard horn blasts straight from a 90s Bal-Sagoth album, the song sits nicely among the many classic Immortal blast fests over the years.
The accessible side of things is slightly more hit-and-miss. “Winterbane” works insanely well, moving in back and forth between a verse driven by locomotive double kick and a stomping, straightforward rock chorus. The song represents the ideal Abbath anthem, compounding those cold nordic riffs into easy-to-swallow sugar pills. Later in the album, “Count the Dead” is only about half as effective as it could be because the the main opening riff is a strange, ill-fitting radio metal riff. It’s better than this sounds, but the drum beat serving as the song’s backbone is oddly reminiscent of Linkin Park’s “Faint”, though I still wouldn’t place the song in the nu-metal category.
Thankfully, “Count the Dead” acts as the album's only real weak point, with the other songs admirably filling their respective roles. Abbath remains a creature of two minds, willing to both sprint and pace himself for a marathon, and he continues to produce at a top-tier level, whichever mode he’s in. Because of the long wait between this album and the last Immortal album, having new material from Abbath felt like an event, before I’d even heard a note. This album lives up to that anticipation, provided you weren’t anticipating “Pure Holocaust: Part II”, or something wildly different from the albums he’s released over the last fifteen years.
Band info: Facebook