Boy, 2016 sure roared in. We got new releases from Anthrax (a great album), Witchcraft (a great album) and Abbath brought his new band to the fore. Leaving Immortal, he put together a sound that was an amalgamation of Immortal and his “I” project, a lethal dose of black n’ roll and black metal that was just as frigid and impaling as anything he’s done in the past. Right out of the gates of the New Year, we got a classic.
“To War” starts with some boots marching in the snow and that crunch is replaced by a massive guitar crunch that bludgeons and then speeds up, a tank warming up and cresting a hill, crushing all before it. The drums rumble and threaten, tribal and dirty, propelling this damned thing along. A bit of the old black metal magic rears its head 1:33 and we’re off! Abbath’s vocals may not be for all, but they sure work for me. His deathly croak sounding just as urgent as ever. This song sets the tone for what is to come.
“Winter Bane” comes next, and it’s a sheer joy to behold. Heavy, driving, with just an amazing riff come 40 seconds in. This is what Abbath does better than anyone on the planet right now, this song right here. It contains several movements, all heavy as hell, all blackened and crusted and yet thoroughly listenable and melodic in its own way. The song lumbers and lurches forward, carrying us on a chaotic tide of wild drumming and wanton riffs, with a nice little bass fill 2:10 in. If your head doesn’t bob to this one, you’re not a fan of metal. Right at 5 minutes the song drops down, goes kinda acoustic for a bit, giving us some light for the shade, and then it picks up and just thumps, man, riffing, hair flying, slow and steady. It pops up from there and cruises, Abbath giving a weird, strained vocal that adds to the overall melody.
Third song “Ashes of the Damned” thrashes right out, pummeling, blackened metal greeting you with a swaggering grin. This song is a series of fast punches to the face, punctuated by the (keyboard?) horn poke that goes with each uttered word of the chorus/song title. It settles into a groove 1:30 in, giving us a few seconds to catch our breaths before rising to clobber once more.
Reverberating drums and crusty riffs bring us into “Ocean of Wounds,” a mid-paced affair that grinds along, akin to a trek up the side of a mountain on a winding path that is perfectly cut so as to afford a steady march to the summit. This is moody black n’ roll, atmospheric and firm, a cold resoluteness that fades into wind and rain.
Riff, riff, riff, comes next, brutal and dirty, sliding from clean to black for the song “Count the Dead.” This is again mid-paced but more fiery, less mesmerizing and repetitive, turning black 1:55 in, with blast beats and that sweet black metal guitar riffing. Abbath’s vocal exhorts us along, this thing taking on an epic feel, a bit of Bathory in there, although I couldn’t name a riff or chord to prove it.
“Fenrir Hunts” is just brutal. It blasts right on into your ears and assaults, machine gun drumming, black metal riffing, patented Abbath growls, this one is kind of mean but in a good way. Again, the joy that permeates from these tracks are infectious without once being poppy or boppy. This is a fist-pumper, a grit your teeth and whip that hair around affair that’s at once serious as hell and joyous as a first kiss. This song is the most Immortal of them all.
Melodic, echoey chords and driving drums open “Root of the Mountain,” leading to a hook that’s sweet and satisfying. This one slows it down a bit, leaving the listener to catch his breath, and then it turns right around and swings in a way that Satyricon have mastered on their last few records. This song is just as apt to make you turn your head left to right and back again as it is to bang it and that’s because “swing” is the operative word here, until about 2:25, and then it becomes a straight up headbanger, with some epic bass going on in there. It still swings, but this time instead of from side to side, it’s going forward.
Final track “Eternal” lets you know right away that this record isn’t going to just fade away, it’s going to rip your face off. Heavy, violent, almost purely black, this one sends you home crying like the bully it is. But even so, you smile, nursing your split lip, because you know you’ve been in a good fight and it was well-worth it.
Abbath has crafted maybe the funnest grim album of the year. The joy in the playing, in the marching, triumphant return to the world stage, is infectious. It’s hard to listen to this record and smile, despite how dark and epic it is. This is why metal is so dynamic and amazing and if you can’t enjoy this, you can’t enjoy metal.
A simple, elegant, powerful statement of intent.