When looking at Abbath’s self-titled debut, there’s just no avoiding the frostbitten elephant in the room, and that’s that the ongoing legal dispute between the members of Norwegian black metal staples Immortal is a huge fucking bummer. Just when Nuclear Blast was making it seem like the band was finally preparing to follow up 2009’s All Shall Fall, it seemed that personal differences between Abbath and the rest of the band (lyricist Demonaz, drummer Horgh and bassist Apollyon) couldn’t be reconciled. So the band’s face (quite literally with that iconic corpse-paint which also adorns the album’s cover) took things entirely in his own direction. Now back with a savage yet digestible new sound written entirely by himself, this album features other underground heavyweights such as Gorgoroth’s King on bass and Kevin Foley, who has played drums with the likes of Sepultura and Decapitated. Oh, and for whatever reason, Foley goes by the awesomely simple stage name Creature for this release. Abbath seems like some of the man’s most urgent and pissed off material in years, but it’s still got plenty of that tongue-in-cheek humor and charm that have long accompanied this man’s music.
The album’s eight tracks are mostly relentless assaults of blistering riffs, coming across like the bastard spawn of Bathory, Venom, and Motorhead that we’ve come to expect from the man over the past few decades. Aside from the comically piercing, airhorn-like trumpets in “Ashes of the Damned,” the majority of this LP is noticeably less orchestral and epic than, say, At the Heart of Winter. “To War” is a near-flawless statement of purpose and intent from Abbath right out of the gate, shredding through thrash-infused black metal parts that really do sound like some of the most inspired material to come out of the old guard of Norwegian black metal in ages. Abbath boasts a fantastic mix, maintaining the high-end that’s essential to Norwegian black metal but balancing the levels in a much more accessible fashion. There’s very little ear fatigue to be found here.
The album really feels at its most comfortable and exciting when Abbath & Co. are going Mach-11. “Fenrir Hunts,” arguably the album’s single best track, is stunningly fierce and introduces a refreshing death metal twist during the chorus riff that would feel right at home on Behemoth’s Demigod. Sadly a lot of the album keeps things going at a slightly slower pace, but at least it makes the fast songs have that much more impact. Don’t be mistaken, though; the doomy outro to “Winterbane” and “Root of the Mountain’s” fist-pumping, primitive nature will undoubtedly be huge hits at summer festivals the world over.
While the majority of the album is incredibly negative and aggressive by its very nature, Abbath has always had incredible comedic timing and self-awareness within the grand scheme of writing and presenting his take on black metal. His track record with gut-wrenchingly hilarious music videos since the early 90s is more than enough proof of this. Things are business as usual here, too. Though infrequent, the few moments of campy Kiss worship and Abbath’s inclusion of what can only be described as “the frogman voice” like in the ridiculously entertaining “Winterbane” simply rules. They’re delivered with such a level of charisma and confidence that surpasses most of the scene’s ongoing contemporaries. Abbath is an album that definitely does a fine job of merging the raw and frigid nihilism of Battles in the North with plenty of primitive moments that simply make you want to shake your fist at the night sky…menacingly.
If this is all we as metal fans get out of the Immortal dispute, then this is more than acceptable olive branch. While the album certainly could have been enhanced with the natural chemistry that Abbath had with his former band, it still feels like the most well-rounded album that he’s released since 2003’s masterpiece, Sons of Northern Darkness. It’s got a great mixture of rawness, accessibility, brutality and cheese, and is 2016’s first essential release for all fans of extreme metal. A must have for fans of unending grimness.
Abbath – Abbath gets…