Demonaz, Abbath and Horgh were in business together, and then they decided to no longer be in business together. That’s the very basic rundown of recent events over at Blashyrkh Industrial Smoothing headquarters for those who’ve been stranded on an island for the last three years. Basically, Abbath Doom Occulta took his ball and went home, and then he quickly started a new band cleverly dubbed Abbath and released a solid but flawed album in 2016 shrewdly titled Abbath.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the snow fence…
In 2014, Demonaz Doom Occulta finally received the surgery needed to repair the tendonitis that limited him to a lyric writing role from the days of At the Heart of Winter up to and including 2009’s All Shall Fall. This is the first Immortal record he’s composed and played on since 1997’s Blizzard Beasts. So yeah, Northern Chaos Gods is kind of a big fucking deal.
As for Horgh…
“Hold the door! Hold the door!! HORGH THE DOOR!!”
The most obvious question here is whether or not Immortal will miss the unique charisma of the Blechermeister Meisterblecher. The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes and no. NO because his absence allows Demonaz to consummate his preference for early Bathory-styled black metal without the burden of wondering if Abbath might force an awkward horn section while everyone else is busy burning leather. And YES because even with all his quirks, Abbath does indeed possess a dynamic gremlin voice quality that adds a level of potency and panache, and Demonaz’s snarl—while clearly and VERY admirably recalling Quorthon’s earliest days—is pretty straightforward from start to finish.
And let’s be clear: straightforward is pretty much the name of the game here. The album cover is a very simple black and white, the two members are portrayed in classic black and white, and the music is delivered in a very black and white manner. Icy, pelting riffs (welcome-the-fuck back, Demonaz), flailing drums, goatish gnarls and moments where you can actually hear the session bass (provided courtesy of knob-twiddler, Peter Tägtgren)—no other elaboration or gingerbreading allowed. Really, beyond the fact that these songs are once again dedicated to a mythical realm where ravens become proper nouns and snow, ice and mountains make up the requisite Mirepoix, Northern Chaos Gods is a very serious record that throws a very, very serious nod to the days when black metal callously killed with coldness.
You’ve heard the title track. The good news: it absolutely rips. Classic Immortal with every ounce of the fury rekindled from the Pure Holocaust days. Storming ice breaks through the door and frosts your eyeballs and earholes into diamonds. Sure, it feels like a perfectly placed BLECH is missing right around the 2:05 mark, but the ripping lead that cracks the glacier thirty seconds later makes up for it. Top-shelf 2nd wave black metal with an energy that’s as bright and welcome as freshly fallen snow.
The slight bummer news: that’s the best song on the album. No other track spits quite as much cold fury, and it also happens to sport the brightest lead of the complete 43-minutes. Luckily, this news is nowhere near a full defeat, because there’s plenty more good to follow—just not quite raised to 11 in the same manner as the opening title track. “Blacker of Worlds” comes closest, thanks to its insistence on tense blistering, particularly around the 2:10 mark where Horgh whales like he’s got a pissed bee stuck in his ear. Smart move by the band to place these two tracks on opposite ends of the record.
The bulk of the remaining material is far from anything a normal human being would consider leisurely, but a mid-paced gallop enters the picture that splits things down the middle in terms of significance. The cuts that balance the measured gallop with additional flashes of speed end up scoring higher—the infectious strut of “Grim and Dark,” the quick but overly long “Called to Ice,” and the way the sterling “Into Battle Ride” hooks with that sweet, sassy Horgh beat and gives the hardest nod to classic Bathory.
The smallest amount of trouble lurks during the “slower” numbers, of which there are three: “Gates to Blashyrkh,” “Where Mountains Rise,” and the closing “Mighty Raven Dark.” It’s here where the record’s straightforwardness ends up causing fatigue—a matter that’s not helped by the fact that every single mellow moment features little else than Demonaz doing a simple and gentle run on the fretboard that’s lacking any sort of embroidery to help differentiate between sequences. Any one of these three songs—the 9-minute closer above all—could use a bright, long lead or virtually anything extra in the corners to help give them a lift.
Still, if you’ve stepped unto the breach hoping to discover the sort of attack most would optimistically predict to hear from a Demonaz-fronted version of Immortal—one that’s grim, frozen, somber and decidedly old-school in its straightforwardness—you will absolutely find considerable value throughout Northern Chaos Gods. The formula here is very clear-cut in method and intention, and at times there’s just the teensiest hankering for a typical “Abbath” moment, but this record does a remarkable job of rekindling old fires that manage to sweep across each interpretation of the band, and most will walk away appreciating that Immortal is once again climbing in a very promising direction.