One of the biggest developments from 2015 (and even reaching back into 2014) was the saga surrounding Immortal. Without getting into detail, the end result was vocalist/guitarist/personality Abbath parting ways with Horgh and Demonaz to begin a solo project as Immortal pressed on with an eventual new frontman. Our attention today turns to Abbath. Following this transition, we were quickly teased with new tracks and the news that Abbath would be headlining the 2016 Decibel Magazine Tour. While all this is exciting, there was always an overriding question regarding how an actual record would sound; how legitimate this project would be. Fortunately for all of us, Abbath’s self-titled debut is exactly what we would have hoped for from one of the most recognized faces in black metal history.
The obvious thing to do, and probably easiest, would be to draw parallels between Abbath and Immortal — Especially the most recent Immortal. While I would much prefer to analyze this album as the debut of a shiny new project as it is instead of drawing those comparisons, the reality is that such a perspective is borderline impossible. Especially when we are studying the same primary song writer. This is a sound that will be unquestionably familiar to those that have followed Abbath over the years. There was a certain melodic uniqueness to his take on black metal and many of those same influences, and obviously the same personality, shines through on Abbath. That, of course, is not a bad thing. Yet there are still enough marked differences that allow us to define this as an ‘Abbath’ project.
As the album opens with “To War!”, the galloping cadence of the percussion with the rhythmic nature of the guitars and vocals formulate an appropriate energy for a song of such a title. It’s fast-paced, aggressive, and fairly straight to the point. But rather than following the same traditional black metal feel, Abbath hints at thrash influences and even subtle melodic death metal within some of these passages, cleverly building on his own sound. And these are influences we will hear throughout this record. Keeping a similar structure, “Winterbane” also explodes out of the gate with relentless consistency that would be enough to inspire an audience to chant along with the chorus; a chorus highlighted by Abbath’s movement along the fretboard in organized fashion. In summary, the opening tracks prove to be a welcomed fusion of catchy and aggressive, an aspect of this album that holds consistent throughout.
Abbath does not attempt to over-complicate these tracks, either. While some are longer in length (the aforementioned “Winterbane” pushes seven minutes), there is a definite backbone to each song that makes the in-song transitions, when they exist, effortless. Of course, some songs are more complex than others. “Ashes of the Damned” is a deliberate step-by-step explosion of riffs early that only deviates briefly in the middle stages before closing as aggressively as it opened. Meanwhile, tracks like “Ocean of Wounds” and “Root of the Mountain” are a bit more evenly paced. This allows for more emphasis on how the guitar, specifically the leads, carries the weight of the sound rather than the rhythms. With that, naturally comes more melody, differing atmospheres, and even an underlying symphonic element to “Root”; welcomed elements mixed in with all the ferocity Abbath represents. Regardless of how you categorize these tracks in terms of weight, feel, or complexity, they are all well-constructed and develop naturally as both standalone songs, and in moving from one track to another through the entirety of the album.
With his solo debut, Abbath has delivered exactly the album his fans should have been hoping for. Don’t expect to listen to this record for the first time and uncover any surprises. He stays true to the black metal sound that has defined his career while applying enough subtle twists and turns from other influences to allow Abbath to stand on its own. It is an intense record overall that instantly sticks with you and entices you to repeat several times over. And honestly, at this point, is there really anything else we would want from the legend that is Abbath? I don’t think so.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”