Everyone’s favorite hotdog-scarfing black metal uncle is back in town and just in time to bring us some joyous fun as Spring pokes its shiny noggin out from the frozen Earth!
Uncle Ab was ostracized as the black sheep of the Immortal family back in 2015, but many of us are still more than happy to welcome our fun uncle into our homes for a long weekend of eating too much candy and watching movies our parents banned us from seeing. After leaving the snowy, depressing Blashyrkh, Abbath seems to have found a fresh spark of joy that has appeared in his music since his self-titled debut solo album was released in 2016. Life was no longer a pure holocaust full of blizzard beasts, but rather a world where rock riffs and smiles were once again embraced with open arms.
The best fun uncles also happen to be men of a certain age, so speed and darkness can’t be the only name of the game. Dread Reaver does a great job balancing out the dark with the light. “Dream Call” comfortably channels darkness into the ears but “Myrmidon” follows it up with an uplifting lilt that will make you want to raise your torch to the sky and shout along.
Like any good elder statesman, Abbath is also keen to teach all his nieces and nephews across the globe about the music of his youth. “Scarred Core” cuts forth with a tight thrashy riff countered with some steady, mid-tempo drumming that will surely get the crowd clapping along in a live setting. “Septentrion” Feels like a classic Immortal song unleashing pure darkened fury with a vicious bite that drops into an ominous pummel while Abbath croaks out some word no one has ever heard of during the chorus. The title track kicks out perfectly rock-infused blackness with a delightful chorus and some vocals that sound like Abbath is channeling black metal Lemmy. It’s a smile-inducing, triumphant way to close out the album. Oh and speaking of channeling your influences to today’s youth, there’s even a cover of “Trapped Under Ice.” The interesting thing about it though is it actually sounds like a cover of Motorhead doing a cover of “Trapped Under Ice.” It certainly won’t replace the original, but it’s a cover you’ll spill your beer cheersing to it should it waft over the speakers at your favorite dive bar.
Do you know what else fun uncles love? Dad puns. Abbath is similarly fond of the cheese and it shows in Dread Reaver. Whether it’s the layered slow acoustic over the flamenco opening “Dream Call,” the over-the-top screams kicking off “Septentrion” or the pure-90’s silly spoken-word vocals in the title track, Uncle Ab is here to make you smile even if you didn’t want to.
The biggest pitfall for this album is the mix. The lead work of Ole André Farstad is delightful and adds some great energy to the proceeding. The problem is that the same guitar work is often left sitting evenly with everything else in the mix leaving them to feel muted and missing the chance to, you know, lead. Were they given the attention and lift they deserve, what already feels like a bonfire would be a towering pyre. It appears that Abbath took on mixing duties for this one himself and perhaps he needs to return those reigns to someone else in the future.
Ultimately, visits from your fun uncle are a great time that you are always excited to partake in but they aren’t something you want to experience every week and they rarely build the memories that become your most cherished by the end of the year. Abbath’s solo works are much the same way and Dread Reaver is no different. Album number three will be a good time whenever you decide to spin it, but the chances of it making your list of favorites by the end of the year seem pretty small. Granted, that doesn’t really matter. Grab a hot dog, a cheap beer and your favorite movie that would repulse your mom because Uncle Abbath is in town and he has some fun new gags to show you.