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IMMORTAL Northern Chaos Gods

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, July 5, 2018 @ 1:48 PM

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Northern Chaos Gods

Nuclear Blast Records

Back from the dead yet again, Norwegian black metal horde IMMORTAL is proving to be the embodiment of its moniker. At least for now. But the band has been nothing if not resilient, surviving a half-hearted breakup more than a decade ago following 2003's Sons Of Northern Darkness album, and a turbulent reunion that ended ominously in 2015 with the acrimonious and litigious split with frontman/guitarist Abbath (Olve Eikemo).

Abbath re-emerged with his own band - and under his name as his ex-mates Demonaz (Harald Nævdal) and Horgh (Reidar Horghagen) were able to keep the IMMORTAL trademark - with a well-received self-titled album in 2016, which may or may not have featured material initially intended for a successor to IMMORTAL's 2009 comeback All Shall Fall, depending on which side you believe. So Demonaz and Horgh started from scratch after Abbath's departure - complicating matters was the fact that Demonaz hadn't performed with the band since 1999 because of tendinitis in his left arm.

But here we are, two years later, and the pair – aided by producer and HYPOCRISY/PAIN mainman Peter Tägtgren on bass – is ready to unleash yet another comeback album for IMMORTAL. Northern Chaos Gods sees the band take a step backward in order to start moving forward again. The album harks back to an era when IMMORTAL was arguably at the height of its powers, capturing the ferocity of 1997's Blizzard Beasts, the depth and scope of 1999's At The Heart of Winter and the oomph of 2000's Damned In Black while giving it all a contemporary going over. It's a rather safe approach, to be sure, but one that pays off handsomely in the end.

With Demonaz handling lead vocals and, once again, playing guitar – thanks to arm surgery in 2012 – IMMORTAL really hasn't lost a step with Abbath's departure. Demonaz's shrieking vocals are a bit more shrill than Abbath's froggier croak, but they fit the band's music to a T. And from a sonic perspective, IMMORTAL is as solid and distinctive as ever here.

With Horgh's clattering drum gallop leading the way, Demonaz delivers an avalanche of riffs that boast the velocity, punch and grandiosity of old – he even shows off a few strategic solos and some surprising dexterity. More importantly, though, the pair play with purpose and focus, and deliver an album that stands proudly as part of the IMMORTAL catalog.

Northern Chaos Gods gets off to a blazing start as the title track erupts in a hail of blast beats, hurtling guitar and a suitably demonic scream from Demonaz, showing the band is very much back in business. A squealing lead seals the deal. “Into Battle Ride” follows suit with a chunkier, hookier delivery, but is just as exhilarating. ”Gates of Blashyrkh” takes a more dramatic turn with its thundering mid-tempo pace and abrupt, sparse, almost acoustic passages.

“Grim And Dark” brings back the blast-beat fury and the cycle begins anew, as IMMORTAL builds to the titanic “Where Mountains Rise” with the chugging “Called To Ice” serving as a bridge of sorts. The album's sequencing is spot on, allowing a natural ebb and flow that eventually culminates in the towering majesty of the nine-plus-minute “Mighty Ravendark” - which, by the by, is not a rehash of “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” from 1995's Battles In The North.

Tägtgren's dense, wall-of-sound production balances old-school rawness with new-school bludgeon on Northern Chaos Gods, providing a suitably brutal atmosphere for the band's traditional odes to “grim and frostbitten kingdoms,” to borrow another title from Battles. Indeed, if there's one thing to knock about the album, it's that it's perhaps a bit too traditionally rooted, or at least familiar.

But if it was Demonaz's intent to make a statement here asserting himself as the creative force behind IMMORTAL, after focusing primarily on the lyrics nearly 20 years, he certainly has succeeded. The songs are leaner and more concise – even the epic “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” - than there have been since Damned In Black and bristle with the sort of energy and urgency of a band with something to prove. And in doing so, Northern Chaos Gods not only re-establishes the band's viability, but its vitality. So mission accomplished there.

Whether Demonaz will be willing, or even able, to follow this up on the live end of things remains to be seen. But for now, new material from IMMORTAL after a nine-year wait should at least sate the appetite of fans and the curious alike. The fact that it's as good as it is is a bonus.

4.5 Out Of 5.0

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