Writing about a new Abbath album without mentioning Immortal would be tantamount to writing about Bruce Dickinson’s solo albums (The Chemical Wedding still holds up!) without mentioning Iron Maiden. It’s simply not done. It’s uncouth. Almost a quarter century after co-founding Immortal, Abbath struck out on his own in 2015 to assemble a new group of musicians under his name and produce new music expeditiously—releasing the eponymous Abbath in January 2016. Meanwhile, Immortal’s remaining members Demonaz and Horgh have done a fine job carrying the banner all on their own with 2018’s icy cool Northern Chaos Gods. Now we have two bands who seem to be fulfilled in their art instead of one where everyone is miserable (and not miserable in the good way for black metal).
For his second outing, Abbath has yet again enlisted a new group of musicians with Ole Andre Farstad on guitar (Ilti Milta), Mia Wallace on bass (Triumph of Death, The True Endless) and Ukri Suviletho on drums (Suvilehto, Tuliterä, Vermivore). While it isn’t clear why Abbath replaced all of his contributors from the first album, the new members are all highly capable and are great fits for the material. Despite the reconfigured lineup, it is abundantly clear that Abbath the band is going to largely be the product of what Abbath the person wants it to be and, predictably, Outstrider is hewing closely to the formula that was already established: 8 tracks of Norwegian black metal with thrash and NWOBHM elements and a solid cover of a classic metal song from the 80s to close things out in a tight 40-minute package.
Outsrider opens with howling winds meant to evoke the harsh conditions of Scandanavian mountaintops and a gentle acoustic guitar before giving way to Abbath’s signature rasp. The lyrics are largely trite strings of unconnected lines that are meant to elevate the aesthetic of medieval war in a frostbitten tundra. Although they totally work within the context of any of the songs, reading the lyrics alongside the music reveals how awkward the vocal phrasing is.
The songs on Outstrider do not go out of their way to be distinct from one another with most settling at a mid-tempo pace and featuring a preponderance of blast beats, thick bass guitar tone, and tremolo riffs with some pleasant dual guitar harmonies and the occasional galloping riff during a bridge. Lead single “Harvest Pyre” is far and away the most memorable track on Outstrider, with a bouncy vocal pattern and head-bobbing riff that simply does not wear out its welcome or effectiveness after multiple listens. There are some other cool moments here and there (the full-throated bellows that Abbath brings out on “Bridge of Spasms” sound wonderful) but for the most part this is a straightforward, solid collection of songs that walks a well-trod path.
Fans of the debut who were simply looking for what amounts to more of the same are unlikely to be disappointed with Outstrider. Given how far Abbath is into his musical career and how distinctive the sound he helped pioneer is, it would frankly be strange for him to take significant stylistic risks. However, for those who were hoping for anything that pushes the boundaries of black metal in the ways that Batushka, Numenorean, or Saor have already done this year, it is doubtful that Outstrider will sate your Transilvanian hunger.
Outstrider is available July 5 via Season of Mist.