When Abbath left Immortal in 2015 it was largely assumed that the band itself was done for, with their iconic frontman reportedly intending to release the band’s newly completed material under his own moniker. Abbath’s self-titled solo venture (2016) came and went with seemingly little fanfare, however, and anyone who paid attention to founding co-conspirator Demonaz‘s own solo effort, March of the Norse (2011), should have been assured that the band had been left in good hands. Although it took them a while to come up with a response, the now Demonaz-led outfit have emerged with their ninth studio effort, in the appropriately titled Northern Chaos Gods, which not only lays any remaining skepticism to rest, but arguably sees remaining duo take the upper hand in the ongoing battle for Blashyrkh.
Northern Chaos Gods is the rawest-sounding Immortal record in some time, while still retaining the more epic scope of the band’s later material. Although it stops short of reverting to the low-fi production style of the early second wave, the record immediately establishes its allegiances with classic outings such as Pure Holocaust (1993) and, especially, Battles in the North (1995) via the ferocious, frozen opening of “Northern Chaos Gods”, and maintains its vicious onslaught throughout its bombastic 42 minutes. The songs remain epic in scope. However, the longer track-lengths that have become characteristic of the band’s records ever since 1999’s At the Heart of Winter have been replaced with shorter offerings, with only closer “Mighty Ravendark” ever approaching the ten-minute mark. Yet these shorter compositions brim with a grandiosity notably absent from Abbath’s solo material thus far, so that the songs seem to take the listener on a voyage through the frozen kingdoms they describe, even as they sack its gates rather than expunging them from its borders with their unforgiving, icy blasts.
In many ways, the record takes the epic sound Immortal have been developing over their more recent releases and refits it to the more straightforward template of their earlier period. All the elements of the band’s sound which fans have become familiar with over recent records are all still there; they’re just not as drawn out—their appearances fleeting, rather than elongated. The overall effect is one of fast-paced variation rather than hypnotic elongation. Driving, mid-paced sections and broader melodies still appear in abundance, they’re just employed in such a manner as to allow the listener to catch their breath, rather than to suffocate them into submission. The end result is one which neither fully captures the scope of At the Heart of Winter, Sons of Northern Darkness (2002) or All Shall Fall (2009); nor the sheer violent oppression of the band’s early albums; but which sits comfortably alongside the likes of Blizzard Beasts (1997) and Damned in Black (2000) in terms of both its sonic tapestry and overall quality.
Although perhaps an ultimately middling record in the band’s canon, Northern Chaos Gods serves as a declaration that nobody does what Immortal do better than Immortal. Where the more epic moments of the band’s sound were perhaps lacking on Abbath, there’s plenty of rawness and straight-forward aggression on display here that goes toe-to-toe with what that record was serving up. In choosing to play things down the center, Demonaz and Horgh have shown that—rather than lacking in any direction—they’re perfectly capable of doing it all. The album has been a long time in the making and has been faced with some considerable hurdles along the way. Yet, for all its history, where it succeeds most is in picking up exactly where the band last left off, and charging forth with nothing short of pure conviction and intent.
Northern Chaos Gods is out now via Nuclear Blast.