Despite being a pretty huge fan of Immortal, I never really craved any kind of reunion. In my eyes, Sons of Northern Darkness was pretty much the perfect end to the band’s storied career. The epic solo that closed out “Beyond the North Waves” and the subsequent sound of the band plunging beneath the arctic waters only cemented that narrative in my mind.
Then Abbath dropped Between Two Worlds in 2006 under the name I, and for months I couldn’t help but smile as I listened to him transition comfortably into what was essentially a laid-back, dad rock version of Immortal. It felt right, it felt natural, and, most importantly, it sounded fucking great. Immortal’s 2009 reunion album on the other hand, was the exact opposite.
As fun as it was to see them performing live again, All Shall Fall was a massive disappointment. While I admit it may not be Beyond the North Waves in the past, it remains, at best, a forced and wholly unessential album. Perhaps what was truly so disappointing about All Shall Fall was how every song was weakened by it’s obvious parallel to an older, better one (See: Norden On Fire”/”At the Heart of Winter”). There was simply no point.
Seeing as how done Abbath sounded in 2009, I wasn’t sure what to expect from his eponymous debut. Given that he was the primary creative force behind both of his last two projects, how much difference could a name change really make? Did we have another King Diamond on our hands or a Peter Criss? Well thankfully, Abbath seems to have gone with the former and delivered a bloody, frostbitten steak that should neatly satisfy all manner of Immortal-related cravings.
Between the opening rumble of “To War!” to the fading strains of “Endless,” just about everything makes an appearance, from the devastating blasts of Battles in the North (“Fenrir Hunts”), to the massive melodic crush of At the Heart of Winter and Sons of Northern Darkness (“Ashes of the Damned” and “Root of the Mountain,” respectively). Even the more rockin’ riffs from Between Two Worlds show up on my personal favorite jam, “Winterbane.”
New drummer Kevin Foley, whose predominately grind-based background (Benighted, Mumakil), made him an odd choice to man the skins at first, also does a tremendous job here. He effortlessly replicates former Immortal drummer Horgh’s galloping blasts and even adds a previously unheard level of intensity to Abbath’s well-worn style.
The eight tracks on Abbath, while certainly nostalgic in a sense, do not trigger wave after wave of déjà vu. Maybe it’s the freedom that comes with being unchained from the Immortal name, but it’s clear that Abbath is having the time of his life here, his jet-black hair whipping in the wind as he casts down riff after icy riff from the mountaintop. For the first time in a decade, he sounds truly inspired again.
A pricklier fan than myself might argue that we’re not really getting anything new here. But I would say that the opportunity to hear one of extreme metal’s defining artists cut loose and revel in the totality of their art is a pretty special treat in its own right. Rock on, old buddy.