Released: 2000, Osmose Productions
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Editors Note: Metal-Rules.com was founded in 1995 as a forward-thinking site. Our goal is, and always has been, to support Real Metal. The decision was made that very rarely do we ever go back and review an album from before 1995. Does the world really need another CD review of MASTER OF PUPPETS, POWERSLAVE or SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE? We don’t think so. We have always supported what is happening now.
Starting in January, 2014, as we head towards our 10,000th review and the 20th Anniversary of Metal-Rules.com, we are looking back and filling in a few gaps in the review database. We want to complete the post-1995 review catalog of some of the bands that we have supported since 1995, when very few, if any website were supporting real Metal. It’s fun to go back and revisit some of these albums that we did not review when they were first released. Enjoy!
Full disclosure, I have some personal history with the sixth album from Norwegian black metal horde Immortal – if a trio can, indeed, be considered a horde. I actually got “hired” to write the band's bio to accompany the Damned In Black promo CDs from their label – France's Osmose Productions – or at least the U.S. publicist Osmose was working with at the time.
Truth be told, if you’ll indulge me, I did the bio mostly as an after-the-fact favor for said publicist, whose name now escapes me, to reciprocate for hooking me up with an in-person “interview” with the band when they played one of their first U.S. shows in early 2000 with Satyricon, Krisiun and Angelcorpse at the now long-gone Phantasmagoria in Wheaton, Md. It certainly wasn't for the money – because I got none. My “payment” for the work was a digipack copy of the CD!
As for the “interview” itself, visa issues that needed tending to in D.C. before the show meant that though it was scheduled for the afternoon it didn't happen until after Immortal's set, like six hours later. During said set, I thought sure frontman Abbath was going to burn down the Phantasmagoria - an odd venue that was part rock club, part used record shop and part home-brewing supply operation, all crammed into an old storefront – with his fire-breathing ritual, as the flames he spat kept licking off the low ceiling.
After Immortal played, myself and some others were ushered into their closet-sized “dressing room” - which I think actually was utility closet on non-show days – while Abbath, drummer Horgh and new bassist Iscariah held court, all still in their leather and kabuki paint battle gear. Private conversation – i.e. an actual interview – was impossible. But from a half-hour of hobnobbing, I was able to glean enough for the article I had been assigned to do the interview for in the first place.
So when the publicist enquired about writing the bio not long after, it was a simple matter of retooling the article and adding some fresh quotes, the usual superlatives and a bit of band history. Viola!
Not that Damned In Black couldn't have sold itself anyway. Arriving just over a year after the transitional At The Heart of Winter significantly raised Immortal's profile, Damned In Black cemented their place in the black metal hierarchy with authority – even if purists were less than impressed by its pronounced death and thrash metal overtures. But fuck them, anyway.
Where At The Heart of Winter was a dark, majestic, almost Wagnerian epic – though without all the symphonic claptrap - that truly captured the essence of Immortal’s mythical ice kingdom Blashyrkh, Damned In Black was more like a blunt instrument, an exercise in sheer abandon. Or an evil twin, if you will, given the hellish black and red color scheme of the artwork, a marked contrast to blue-hued mournful snowscape of Winter’s cover.
Damned In Black stormed out of the gate with “Triumph,” which seemed to serve as the underlying theme to the album and as an affirmation for the band, and rarely relented. And “Triumph” wasn’t mere bravado. Prior to Winter, Immortal weathered the departure of founding guitarist Demonaz when he developed tendonitis – though he has continued writing lyrics - and the switch by Abbath from bass to guitar that made his role as vocalist rather more complicated. Winter essentially was recording as two-piece, which certainly helps explain its more Spartan and somber air.
With the addition of Iscariah, however, Immortal were whole again and ready to rage. Bolstered by the thick, wall-of-sound production from Hypocrisy’s Peter Tagtgren, Immortal were a thundering herd on Damned In Black, capturing the fury they’d displayed in 1997’s slap-dash Blizzard Beasts, but with much more punch, crunch and clarity. The riffs on “Triumph” are huge – especially in a breakaway section midway through – and accompanied by Horgh’s battering ram drumming, they laid the foundation for what remains, in my opinion, the band’s most effectively and consistently brutal album.
“Wrath From Above,” “My Dimension” and “In Our Mystic Visions Blest” are full-throttle malevolence in its most potent form – even if Abbath’s guitar solos in “Wrath” and “Dimension” are horrendous. The mid-paced “Against The Tide” and “The Darkness That Embrace Me” still get a jolt from Horgh’s rumbling kick drums, and Abbath’s meaty hooks hit hard and sink deep. Iscariah's nimble bass underneath adds a fiendish swagger.
The title track that concludes the album is the one song here that harks back to Winter’s grandeur, slowing the pace to a determined chug, stretching out the arrangement and building to a towering crescendo over nearly seven minutes - then unexpectedly just fading out, for something of a curious anti-climax.
Immortal would establish a more balanced attack on 2002’s Sons of Northern Darkness and their 2009 comeback album All Shall Fall, blending scale and savagery in somewhat equal measures. With Damned In Black, however, at least until the title track, it was all about intensity. And it was – and still is - pretty awesome.