DISCLAIMER: I’m not really sure this counts as a “review”; I’ve only had Northern Chaos Gods since Friday, which isn’t nearly enough time to fully assess it. Rather, let’s just call this a “brain-dump” — a summation of some things I’ve been pondering about both the album itself and what it means more broadly: for Immortal and beyond. So, here you go.
Midway through my first time through Northern Chaos Gods, Immortal’s ninth album and first without inimitable frontman Abbath, something occurred to me. I don’t think I’m the only one that does this — though who can be sure? — but, when a band acrimoniously breaks up, makes unexpected lineup changes, or otherwise experiences “personnel challenges,” I often find myself choosing sides. (The key, there, is the word “acrimoniously”; I’d hardly see fit to pick between, say, Baroness and former guitarist Pete Adams, or with the guys in The Dillinger Escape Plan — where the splits were, all things considered, pretty harmonious.)
I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty late to arrive at the sensible realizations here: that it’s not really a competition; that, in most cases, all of the parties involved in such disputes have contributed to my enjoyment of these bands in the first place; and that picking a side, in some ways, betrays the enjoyment I’d experienced as a result of their collective work. I’d like to think I’m mature enough to have reached this point sooner, but…nope. I’ve always ended up appealing to my baser instincts. I’ve picked my sides, dammit.
I did it with Agalloch — 100% team Khôrada; “visionary founder” John Haughm and Pillorian be damned. I did it with Sólstafir — initially siding with ex-drummer Guðmundur Oli (“Gummi”) Pálmason upon his split, before then falling in love with the band’s next album, Berdreyminn, and being won back over. I did it with Queensrÿche — LaTorre or GTFO. And I did it with Immortal, too.
When Abbath left the band in 2015, I took the stance that he’d be the one to follow from here on out. He’d been the band’s most public and endearing face — the guy who made goofy faces and gave tongue-in-cheek interviews and openly made fun of his Norwegian contemporaries who’d gotten off on church burning back in the day.
Plus, I mean…what was left? Demonaz and Horgh? The guy who hadn’t been able to play guitar in almost 20 years, and the drummer? I remember, when I first learned they were planning to release an album of their own, I chuckled to myself like, “yeah, okay” and mostly forgot about it. A few months later, Abbath dropped his eponymous solo debut, and it was…honestly, nothing special? But whatever…it was freaking ABBATH! I saw him on tour and headbanged along with the album and pretended not to care that it hadn’t really done much for me because he was hilarious and did stuff like this:
Which brings us, a couple of years later, to Northern Chaos Gods.
In May, the band dropped the album’s title track as its lead single, and…goddamn, it sounded pretty great! Pretty much exactly what you’d want to hear from Immortal! A month or so after that, we got its closer, “Mighty Ravendark.” It, too…pretty great! Immortal may not have been breaking any new ground, but they’re also one of the last bands I’d ever want to try to break new ground. Give me the grim, frostbitten winter storms of Blashyrkh each time out, and I’ll be good!
And that’s pretty much what this album does. In the same way that Darkthrone’s Arctic Thunder and Satyricon’s Deep Calleth Upon Deep gave me exactly the albums I wanted from those bands in 2016 and 2017, respectively, Northern Chaos Gods delivers the goods for Immortal. It’s got the riffs. It’s got another drumming masterclass from Horgh. It’s got that polished-but-not-too-polished, Peter Tägtgren production sound. It’s got, more or less, what I want from Immortal.
What it doesn’t have — that occasionally thrashy feel, the distinctive old vocal style…let’s call it the band’s “Abbathism” — is occasionally noticeable; but that also hasn’t hindered the band at all. As the band’s once and future riff master, Demonaz picks up right where he’d left off on Blizzard Beasts. The chaos he creates on songs like “Into Battle Ride” or “Blacker of Worlds” defies logic. How was this guy basically unable to play guitar for two decades, and then come back this strong? And he carries the torch admirably from a vocal standpoint, too. Nobody growls quite like Abbath — or maybe “seethes”? Can we call what he does a seethe? — but the first-wave worship Demonaz shows as a vocalist works pretty damn well, too. (Folks have compared his performance here to early Quorthon and they’re not wrong.)
All told, I don’t really think Northern Chaos Gods is the best Immortal record, but based on these early listens, it does appear to be a very good Immortal record — and one that has me really, genuinely excited for what this new era of the band has to offer going forward. (This is my crow; I am now eating it.)
Now, where’s all this leave us? Immortal doesn’t have any tour dates confirmed at the moment, but Demonaz appears to be planning for them. We know Abbath is working on a second solo album — and recently lost bassist King ov Hell over conflicting opinions on its planned subject matter, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.
So…I’m really going to try to be mature about this. Let’s hope Abbath can right the ship and deliver a follow-up that sticks the landing a bit better than his debut. Let’s hope Demonaz and Horgh can figure out the live setup and give the world a taste of this new Blasyrkh. Let’s pull for both of them. After all, it’s not really a competition, is it?
…oh hell, who am I kidding? Advantage Immortal.
Keep it heavy,