Immortal and Absu in Baltimore

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Saturday, March 26, 2011 @ 10:36 PM

At Sonar

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When Norwegian ice titans Immortal last played the Baltimore/Washington area - during their first U.S. tour with Satyricon in 2000 - the venue was the dubious, and now long-gone, Phantasmagoria in Wheaton, Md., where the stage competed for space with a used record shop and a home-brewing supply operation!

Satyricon were so horrified by the set-up, and the chintzy-looking sound system, they threatened not to play. And when Immortal guitarist/vocalist Abbath busted out his now apparently retired fire-breathing ritual, I thought for sure he was gonna burn the place down as the flames he spat kept licking off the low ceiling - this being three years before the horrific Station Club fire in Providence, R.I. But everyone made it out alive, and the show was great, despite the facilities.

A decade later, Immortal finally made it back to the area, on a six-date, quick-hitting headline run through the states that has become their modus operandi since reforming in 2006. And though Baltimore’s Sonar Club - a dingy warehouse in a crappy section of town, like so many on America’s underground metal circuit - ain’t exactly Carnegie Hall, it’s a big step up from the Phantasmagoria. Yet it hardly mattered, as Immortal played it as if it was one of the festival stages they are used to performing on in Europe.

“Baltimore, we have arrived” Abbath declared after Immortal opened with the monumental title track of their 2010 “comeback” album All Shall Fall. He wasn’t just blowing smoke. The trio - rounded out by bassist Apollyon and drummer/human stampede Horgh - took total command from the onset and delivered a crushing 90-minute set.

While there’s always the danger of a certain degree of cheese where Immortal are involved - given the panda-faced corpse paint, hokey battle gear and Abbath’s penchant for Gene Simmons-style hamming - in Baltimore they were all business and brutally efficient. The band barely stopped to catch their breath, and even then it was usually just so Abbath could bark “how you doing, motherfuckers?” before they went charging into whatever came next.

Sure, anyone waiting for that “whatever came next” to be something from Immortal’s old-school back catalog probably left somewhat disappointed - only “Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms” and show closer “The Sun No Longer Rises” predated 1999’s At The Heart of Winter. But it didn’t seem to matter to most. The mix of the barnstorming “Hordes of War,” “One By One” with its hulking hooks and “In Thy Kingdom Cold,” the surging epics “Norden On Fire,” “Solarfall” and “Damned In Black” and the truly titanic “Beyond The North Waves” had the near-capacity crowd going apeshit.

And with good reason. Immortal were an absolute powerhouse. They seemed and sounded majestic and huge, despite Sonar’s somewhat weak PA system - the volume and clarity rises and falls dramatically if you take a few steps in any direction. On this Sunday night in Baltimore, they flat-out ruled. Opening the show were Texas tornados/cult legends Absu, who offered an equally impressive set, made all the more so by the fact that they were performing their mind-boggling, self-described “mythological occult metal” as a three-piece - following the recent departure of second guitarist Aethyris - and drummer/band leader Proscriptor handles half the lead vocals while flailing away at his kit.

Much of their set was a blur, given its near relentless pace. Yet while some textural elements and technical subtleties may have been lost without a second guitarist, it still sounded pretty sweet - especially on the sleek “Army” from their self-titled 2010 album and the more traditional “Swords And Leather” - and the growing crowd was certainly digging it. Absu were tight, entertaining and utterly ferocious, which is about anyone can ask for in a support band.

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