For fans of Norwegian black metal pioneers, Immortal, the last few years have been a bit dicey. Long album delays and rumors of infighting surrounded the Immortal camp until things hit the media last year and a nasty back-and-forth of accusations ensued, which led to the inevitable lawsuit. In the end, drummer Horgh and guitarist Demonaz were legally granted use of the Immortal name and vowed to carry on under its long-respected moniker. Meanwhile, vocalist/bassist Abbath soldiered onward with a new self-titled band featuring bassist King Ov Hell (Gorgoroth) and Creature (AKA Kevin Foley of Benighted) on drums. Abbath draws first blood with a self-titled record that doesn’t deviate too far from the expected themes or sounds of his former band (not surprising given the fact that Abbath was arguably the creative force in Immortal for over twenty years) but manages to mix in just enough variety to test purists’ comfort zones.
Kicking things off with the lockstep march of “To War!,” ABBATH quickly establishes the tone of where things are headed creatively. Nestled between Abbath’s 2006 one-off solo project, I, and SONS OF NORTHERN DARKNESS-era Immortal, chilly blackened thrash mixes with mid-paced grooves without ever deviating from what fans have come to expect from Abbath. “Fenrir Hunts” and “Eternal” will satisfy the old-school black metal fans seeking howling winds across Blashrykh. Unrelenting in their pace and perfectly capturing the atmosphere, Abbath has crafted a pair of epic black metal tracks here. Likewise, “Ashes Of The Damned” and “Ocean Of Wounds” speed along on blazing flurries of tasty drum fills from Creature. At the other end of the spectrum, “Winterbane” and “Root Of The Mountain” settle things down into a melodic groove featuring a brief acoustic guitar section in the former and a dirge-like plod in the latter. Abbath’s vocals waver between the occasional cleans he sported in I, the full-bore rasp he’s known for and even the throaty, Popeye-like croaking but what really is surprising is the guitarwork. Abbath has worn pretty much every hat imaginable throughout his career in Immortal but the razor-sharp riffing (and occasional fluid solo) on this record seems pleasantly out of character.
Also, worth mentioning are the two bonus tracks which close ABBATH. Musically-speaking, “Riding On The Wind” plays it safe and sticks to the 1982 original by Judas Priest but Abbath’s vocals don’t do the track any favors. Granted, not many vocalists can pull out their inner Halford but the vocal stylings of Abbath do not fit here at all. As a bit of a flip-off to his old bandmates, “Nebular Ravens Winter” (originally from Immortal’s 1997 album, BLIZZARD BEASTS) gets re-done here and arguably for the better. With vastly superior production and tighter musicianship, this won’t be replacing the original but serves as an interesting contrast to listen to back to back almost twenty years later.
ABBATH (the album!) by Abbath (the band!) featuring Abbath (the man!) kickstarts a new chapter in the hallowed metal world. Like the kid whose parents’ divorce and then gets two of everything at Christmas and birthdays, the resulting ugliness of Abbath vs. Immortal could benefit fans of both bands. For his part, Abbath has delivered a crushing first blow that sets the bar high, surrounding himself with (since-departed) band members capable of helping to bring his vision to life. Expectations were high but Abbath has silenced anyone doubting whether or not there will be life after Immortal.
KILLER KUTS: To War!, Winterbane, Ashes Of The Damned, Fenrir Hunts, Root Of The Mountain
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