Norwegian black metal band Immortal were formed during 1990 by vocalist / bassist Olve “Abbath Doom Occulta” Eikemo (also simply known as Abbath), and guitarist Harald “Demonaz Doom Occulta” Nævdal (aka Demonaz) and drummer Gerhard “Armagedda” Herfindal.
This line-up produced the band’s first studio album, 1992’s “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism”, but by the time of the second album “Pure Holocaust” the following year Armagedda was history and the drums were performed by Abbath (even though Erik “Grim” Brødreskift is pictured on the record’s cover and credited as the drummer). Abbath and Demonaz were the only performers on album number three “Blizzard Beasts” in 1997 as well.
Demonaz suffered acute tendonitis, meaning that he was unable to play guitar in the style required for the band, so he concentrated on lyric writing for the band whilst Abbath took over guitar duties in addition to his usual roles for 1999’s “At The Heart Of Winter” – which also saw the introduction of drummer Reidar “Horgh” Horghagen. The band’s lyrics centre on a fictional place called Blashyrkh, imagined by Demonaz and Abbath as a kind of mirror isolation felt living close to the Norwegian countryside around Bergen
Bass player Stian “Iscariah” Smørholm was on board for “Damned In Black” in 2000, joining Abbath and Horgh, and remained for 2002’s “Sons Of Northern Darkness”. As had been the case since 1999, Abbath and Horgh composed the music with Demonaz penning the lyrical content.
The band split in 2003, with Abbath and Demonaz working together on a short-lived band simply named I. However, before that outfit’s debut album “Between Two Worlds” saw the light of day in late 2006 the pair, along with Horgh, had resurrected Immortal. With a new bassist, Ole Jørgen “Apollyon” Moe, joining thetrio of Abbath, Horgh and Demonaz, the band recorded 2009’s “All Shall Fall” album.
In 2014 it was reported that issues between Abbath on one side and Horgh and Demonaz on the other had resulted in a stalemate with the band unable to move forward on a follow-up to “All Shall Fall”. This seems to have intensified when Abbath applied to obtain sole rights to the band’s name and logo – a move that was blocked by lawyers acting for the other two.
Early last year it was reported that Abbath was moving forward without the other members of Immortal, under the banner Abbath, with Immortal being laid to rest. Abbath was quoted as saying “…the name of Immortal… will rest ; the essence, the power, the music – and Abbath – will not…”. However, a few months later came the announcement that “Norwegian black metallers Immortal – now consisting of lyricist/guitarist Demonaz and drummer Horgh following last year’s split with frontman Abbath – are working on material for the band’s next album, to be released via the Nuclear Blast label”. The remaining pair have subsequently put their version of events on their website, putting the blame firmly at the door of Abbath and his “personal problems”. Time will tell how successful the newest incarnation of Immortal, without their founding frontman, will be.
Now, though, we have the first album to be unleashed under the Abbath banner, also called “Abbath”. Rounding out this new band are bassist Tom Cato “King Ov Hell” Visnes, formerly of Gorgoroth and drummer Kevin “Creature” Foley.
The record starts with “To War”, a headbang-inducing number which is, to my ears, a great mix of black and traditional heavy metal. Abbath’s lyrics are, as is so often the case in black metal, pretty much unintelligible so can’t really comment on the subject matter but it’s a pretty good opener.
“Winter Bane”, a single from the album, is up next and is another good number with a decent groove going for it. The tempo increases noticeably by the time “Ashes Of The Damned” comes around – with some impressive stickwork from Creature on display and some flourishes that sound distinctly brass-flavoured.
Abbath’s vocal delivery is just what you’d expect if you are at all familiar with the work of Immortal. Musically the comparisons are there to be had too, as well as maybe hints of Gorgoroth too, but this is an album that stands on its own merits too and is definitely a step up from the aforementioned “All Shall Fall” opus.
King Ov Hell and Creature supply some excellent black metal backing, but Abbath is – naturally – the star of the show with his fierce vocals and impressive riffing and some tasty lead work too.
Favourite tracks are “Fenrir Hunts”, “Root Of The Mountain”, “Winter Bane” and “Count The Dead”. The bonus track, a cover of Judas Priest’s classic “Riding On The Wind” is perhaps unnecessary (let’s be honest, Abbath is no Rob Halford vocally, but then it is a bonus track!) but in “Abbath” I do believe we have the first great black metal record of 2016…
1. To War / 2. Winter Bane / 3. Ashes Of The Damned / 4. Ocean Of Wounds / 5. Count The Dead / 6. Fenrir Hunts / 7. Root Of The Mountain / 8. Eternal / 9. Riding On The Wind