Osmose Productions, 2000
'Damned to be hacks', rather. The first things I heard about this album had me anticipating its release eagerly. 'Back to the old style,' said the advance reports from the industry pundits, 'Immortal has recognized their mistakes on 'At The Heart of Winter' and has gone back to their original sound!' 'The closest to 'Battles in the North' that the band has been in years!' gushed other mouths, not to be trusted again. It serves me right for once again being taken in by the hype-spewing record promo departments. This album is not even close to the manifest brilliance and freezing melodicism of 'Pure Holocaust' or 'Battles in the North' (Demonaz, where are you?), and if you are an Immortal fan you will recognize that immediately. What we have here is once again an attempt at reconciling two of Abbath's loves: old-style blasting black metal and the histrionics and overt hero-melodics of traditional metal. The result is something that doesn't ever really convince on either side: it's too harsh to be heavy metal, and too 'happy' (for lack of a better term) to make me believe that these guys have anything left in their hearts but dreams of Dynamo glory. Where are the freezing, churning riffs of old? Buried with Demonaz's arthritic elbows. Where is the garbage-disposal grind of the guitar? It's been converted to smooth Tagtgren cream - a boring, typical, over-produced, bland, traditional buttery guitar sound. Sure, this album sounds great, but most of the work that Tagtgren has produced since that bloated Dimmu opus have all received almost the exact same sound, and he continues to reduce the idiosyncracies of the bands he works with to smooth AOR-sterile (style) inconsequentials. What band will sign up next to be ruined by his hands? Any takers?
This album starts in a fine fashion with 'Triumph', a ripping take on the thrash/death metal art of combining lacerating rhythms with speedy runs and short, snare-punctuated riffs. It sounds like an amalgam of every death-influenced Immortal song you have ever heard. In other words: formula, through and through. It must have been written with a calculator, audience specifications, and the secret charts that Nuclear Blast has for constructing melodies that make German crowds lose their fist-banging inhibitions. It is horribly derivative. The central melody, pre-chorus, is a bouncing take on pop music melodicism - it made me want to scream in frustration. What happened to this band? The only riff, in fact, on this entire album that reminds me of this band's faded power, is the slow, pulsing guitar-bass exchange in the second song, 'Wrath from Above' (what?) that starts after the second verse, and which forms the first really effective bridge section that I've heard this band write in years. The rest of this album is a waste...I can't even bring myself to comment on it. I'll just sum up my impressions by saying that if you were to cut up 'At The Heart of Winter' and 'Blizzard Beasts', ala Burroughs, and shake up all the riffs in a can, reaching in randomly and grabbing a handful of been-there-done-that music would give you songs that were just as effective. A word to the wise: from current reports, Immortal now 'lives off their music', and you know what that means: they have established an audience, they know what that audience wants, and damn it all if they're going to derivate from that formula. If they do, they go hungry, and hunger is one of the most convincing seducers to the path of sterility. Horgh doesn't look like he would take starvation-for-the-sake-of-art very well. There is nothing new on this album, and I weep for this band's future as well-fed black metallers. Where is my copy of 'Pure Holocaust'?