Album Title: War Against All
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Date of Release: 26 May 2023
Hopefully, I can provide a useful overview of this record as I am not saddled with years of history with Immortal. They may well be one of the first names that come to mind when thoughts turn to Scandinavian black metal having been creating music for around three decades, but my knowledge of them is limited. It is limited insofar as I have only one of their albums in my collection, possibly two. I know that I have 1997’s ‘Blizzard Beasts’ on the shelf, and I may also have the 1999 follow-up ‘At The Heart Of Winter’ knocking around as well. But that’s it. I wasn’t, truth be told, that enamoured with ‘Blizzard Beasts’ and so I wasn’t swayed to go on a deeper journey of discovery with the band. I had other avenues to pursue, and Immortal got left behind.
Additionally, I was a touch put off by the absurd imagery that the duo of Demonaz and Abbath created, and more latterly, the behind-the-scenes shenanigans between the musicians. What made it worse was the fact that these issues weren’t really conducted away from prying eyes, and so the split that led to Abbath leaving, followed now by the departure of Horgh due to legal issues only served to put me off further; I didn’t want to delve into the politics, arguments, bad blood, and general negativity of it all. I have always wanted to focus on the music and so I steered clear.
What has changed now, then? It’s hard to say to be honest, but when I saw the promo become available from Nuclear Blast, I had a moment of curiosity that led me to investigate further. What would Immortal sound like after all the backstage issues, especially now that the band is essentially a solo endeavour at the hands of Demonaz Doom Occulta, to give him his full title. For this release he has enlisted the help of drummer Kevin Kvale (Gaahl’s Wyrd) and Enslaved’s Arve ‘Ice Dale’ Isdal on bass duties. However, Immortal is very much Demonaz’s of that there is no doubt.
Putting aside all of these contextual, background issues, it’s time to turn to the music and that’s the largest reason why I have written my first ever review of an Immortal album. ‘War Against All’ is actually pretty good, and better than I was expecting to hear if I’m brutally honest. I haven’t enjoyed Abbath’s solo material, and I was expecting to dislike this album too. However, that isn’t the case, and I’m rather pleased about it, too.
It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that this album’s title is a thinly veiled attack on all those that Demonaz feels has done him wrong over the years, a list that seems to be ever-growing as time marches on. Even if this wasn’t a conclusion you’d drawn, you’d be hard pressed to think otherwise after hearing the first couple of tracks on the album. The title track itself doesn’t take a pause for breathe or anything, instead choosing to go on the offensive from the very first second. Sharp, icy riffing at the hands of Demonaz himself, complimented by furious blastbeats from Kvale leave us in no doubt that Immortal mean business, and that Demonaz has a point to prove. The track is littered with cool riffs, intensity, and a sense of cold bleakness that is exactly what old school black metal should possess. Add to this a touch of melody, a scything lead solo, and vicious vocals, and we’re off to a great start.
With barely a break, ‘Thunders Of Darkness’ takes over, using an incredibly similar formula. Breakneck speed from the opening note, to the last, with only the odd passage where the attack softens slightly in order to inject a bit of groove via a slightly slower tempo. Again, the riffs are the central focal point, alongside the almost rabid rasping growls, full of spiteful intent. Bearing in mind the fact that Ice Dale was partly responsible for the production job on ‘War Against All’, it’s rather surprising to note that, within a generally decent production, the bass isn’t more prominent in the mix, often going a little A.W.O.L. altogether.
For my personal tastes, it’s with the introduction of ‘Wargod’ that things get even better. A slower, more mid-tempo stomp, it brings with it more groove and dark melody, as well as a trademark Immortal mid-song clean-guitar section that injects some extra atmosphere, whilst acting as the precursor to a second half that’s even more epic and melodic than the first.
The great thing about this album is that there’s a decent amount of variety to be heard within the familiar Immortal framework. ‘No Sun’ manages to blend the speed and ferocity of the first couple of songs, with the epic, melodic intent of ‘Wargod’, making it another interesting and entertaining composition. Then there’s ‘Nordlandihr’, which is a seven-minute instrumental piece that offers something different again. Less intense and evil-sounding than much of the other material on the album, it’s an intriguing composition in that the riffs themselves offer more melodic intent, whilst there’s room without the vocals for some playful lead guitar work to add drama and extra memorability to the song, as well as a vague folk-like vibe. It still makes you feel like you’re clinging to the cliff face in the middle of a violent and uncompromising snowstorm, but somehow makes it an experience to which you’re willing to succumb. So much so, that it vies strongly for the accolade of being best song on the album.
The ending of ‘Blashyrkh My Throne’ might be a little bit abrupt as it cuts off without warning to complete the record, but it is entirely in keeping with an album that lasts less than forty minutes in total, and which offers nothing in terms of fat or gristle, from the opening blast to the last vertigo-inducing note. As I said before, I don’t have the affinity with Immortal that many others will have, and so I’ve yet to take ‘War Against All’ to my heart. What it has done though, is provide me with a pleasurable slab of black metal aggression that I admire and enjoy in equal measure. It might even be the record that convinces me to explore the early days of Immortal in more detail. For now though, I’m simply contemplating whether to double the number of Immortal albums in my CD collection…and the signs are positive.
The Score of Much Metal: 82%