Thursday, 5 July 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Immortal, "Northen Chaos Gods"

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 6/7/2018
Label: Nuclear Blast

Fans of each era of Immortal will find something that speaks directly to them, and as a beginning for a new era in Immortal’s career, it’s an obviously strong one.

‘Northern Chaos Gods’ CD//CS//LP//DD track listing:

1. Northern Chaos Gods
2. Into Battle Ride
3. Gates to Blashyrkh
4. Grim and Dark
5. Called to Ice
6. Where Mountains Rise
7. Blacker of Worlds
8. Mighty Ravendark

The Review:

The story surrounding ‘Northern Chaos Gods’, Immortal’s first new album in nearly nine years, is all about what transpired during their long hiatus, and the absence of their longtime and charismatic front man Abbath. It’s a difficult thing, trying to move out from under the shadow of someone whose personality and voice were so intrinsically linked with the band’s very existence. On social media, the announcement of this album was plagued by comments from long time fans deriding the very thought of Immortal continuing without Abbath. It felt like an impossibility to them, like trying to imagine Motörhead without Lemmy.

Heavy metal history is brimming with stories of bands trying to continue on without legendary vocalists: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and so on. And we know that those stories rarely end with the band continuing to succeed at a similar level once that change is made. But there are exceptions to that rule. The most prominent example of this, at least from an extreme metal perspective, is probably Cannibal Corpse. Corpsegrinder has proven to be a more dynamic vocalist and an equally, if not more engaging live performer. It’s hard to find the basis for an argument that the band’s popularity has suffered without Chris Barnes, as you won’t find any evidence supporting that idea based on comparing sales for last year’s Six Feet Under and Cannibal Corpse albums.

Making predictions for something like this is never easy, but the Cannibal Corpse analogy may hold water still, even though they and Immortal represent different subgenres. Cannibal Corpse’s first post-Barnes album was ‘Vile’ in 1996, an album that was met with mixed reviews from fans. And while it’s pretty likely that ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ will fare somewhat better in its reception, there are some issues with the album that deserve consideration.

The main concern I have with ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ is what I’ll call “going to the same well too many times” with certain compositional choices. In specific, it’s using very similar-sounding triplet-based clean guitar parts in several songs throughout the album. They first appear early on in the song “Gates of Blashyrkh” and show up again and again as the album goes on. Directly related to this is Demonaz’ continued love affair with viking-era Bathory, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. But the way that slower, epic sound manifests itself here causes the album to lag somewhat as we get late into the album. By the time “Mighty Ravendark” ends, we’ll have heard the “clean triplet guitar interlude into epic Bathory” device in three separate songs. For those who remember Demonaz’ solo album ‘March of The Norse’, you’ll remember that nearly every song on that album featured the same central rhythm. The man gets a specific musical idea in his mind and isn’t afraid to invest huge chunks of an album to that one idea, exploring it from every possible angle over an album’s duration. The repetition isn’t as difficult to sit through here, but it definitely warrants discussion.

Where ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ shines brightest is when it’s going full speed ahead. The lead single and title track was absolutely the right choice to showcase up front, with its callbacks to the pitch black frenetic energy of ‘Battles in the North’. ‘Into Battle Ride’ is another blast fest, sticking out in particular because it’s the only song on the album in which large sections of it are in straightforward 4/4 time, with the triplet rhythms waiting nearly a full minute before coming into play. “Grim And Dark” is a great combination of the two central styles of the album, with blast beats giving those giant chord progressions some extra energy via Horgh’s blistering speed.

Northern Chaos Gods’ is largely a great album. I’ve spent a large section of this review pointing out the album’s faults and hammering Demonaz for dwelling on a certain compositional style, and that’s because I think that’s a valid criticism of what he’s shown us as a composer between his solo album and now this album. But even keeping that criticism in mind, this is still a better album than Abbath’s solo album, which hasn’t held up especially well as time has gone by. Abbath’s album definitely holds the advantage in variety, but ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ is better as a fully realized listening experience. Fans of each era of Immortal will find something that speaks directly to them, and as a beginning for a new era in Immortal’s career, it’s an obviously strong one.

“Northern Chaos Gods” is available digitally here and on CD/CS/LP here

Band info: Facebook