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IMMORTAL War Against All

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, June 1, 2023 @ 8:40 AM


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IMMORTAL
War Against All

Nuclear Blast Records




And then there was one! Two decades of squabbling over personalities and rights to the band's trademark have left founding guitarist/lyricist Harald "Demonaz" Naevdalas the last man standing from the ranks of pioneering Norwegian black metal horde IMMORTAL - if three people can indeed constitute a horde.

Frontman and co-founder Olve "Abbath" Eikemo split in 2015 to form is own band after an initial dispute coincided with allegations that his alcoholism had effectively left IMMORTAL unable to function - this after an initial breakup/reunion in 2003/2006. Now, following a second round of legal battles with longtime drummer Reidar "Horgh" Horghagen, Demonazis carrying on under the IMMORTAL banner on his own - even though the Norwegian Patent Office ruled last year that the rights to the name belonged to the band as a whole, and not to the individual members.

Which brings us to the aptly titled War Against All, IMMORTAL's 10th studio full-length. While deeply rooted in tales of demons, gods and warriors - or some combination thereof, and usually with some ravens - from themythic frozen realm of Blashyrkh the band created 30-some years ago, it ostensibly ushers in yet another new era, amounting to what is IMMORTAL's third consecutive comeback album. First came 2009's post-breakup effort All Shall Fall, followed by 2018's post-Abbath debut Northern Chaos Gods, the first release on which Demonaz actually performed since 1997's Blizzard Beasts after surgery finally corrected the tendonitis that had prevented him from playing guitar with the requisite black metal ferocity for two decades.

As was the case with Northern Chaos Gods, ferocity is never really an issue with War Against All. The title track and "Thunders Of Darkness" lead things in a blizzard of hyper-speed riffs and hurtling tempos powered by GAAHL'S WYRD/HORIZON ABLAZE drummer Kevin Kvale. The theme song-like "Immortal", and the opening salvos/outro to "No Sun" and "Blashyrkh My Throne" blast and hammer with equal vigor, recalling the balls out intensity of IMMORTAL's more primal early work.

But where Northern Chaos Gods delivered its fury with a raw, suitably icy bluster, a hallmark of longtime producer Peter Tagtgren, Demonaz chose to work this time with current and former ENSLAVED members Arve "Ice Dale" Isdal (who also plays bass here) and Herbrand Larsen at Larsen's Conclave & Earshot Studioin Bergen, Norway. They help give War Against All a cleaner, more expressive tone thatstill offers plenty of bite but with less old school gnarliness. It's certainly the most "modern" IMMORTAL has ever sounded.

And that polish pays off on the album's anthemic tunes, like the trudge and surge of "Wargod" and "Return To Cold", giving them a triumphant catchiness that buildson the sort of grandiosity and depth that made 1999's At The Heart Of Winter such an landmark.It also provides the already vivid, if certainly familiar, sagas of epic clashes in a kingdom cold and dark that Demonaz long has authored more colorby allowing the music additional texture and some space to breathe. This is especially true, oddly enough, for "Norlandihr", the album's majestic instrumental, as its evocative guitar lines mimic vocal patterns to the point that you'll almost swear you hear clean voices somewhere in the mix.

The downside to this is that War Against All doesn't quite have the urgency or attack dog tenacity of Northern Chaos Gods. Where the latter had the sound of IMMORTAL with something to prove, here it feels more a case of Demonaz protecting the brand, so to speak, now that, as he declares in several tracks, "I am IMMORTAL". And as such, and quite ironically, it lacks the distinct personality that made Northern Chaos Gods feel so purposeful and vital.

Instead of leaning forward and reinforcing the notion that "his" IMMORTAL was the "new" IMMORTAL, Demonaz often falls back on updating or repurposing old ideas. Guitar motifs have been recycled, "Wargod", "Return To Cold" and "Blashyrkh My Throne" reconfigure schemes from any of a number of Sons Of Northern Darkness tunes, and the aforementioned opening juggernaut of the title track and "Thunders Of Darkness" - punishing as it may be - seems like same long song chopped in two. War Against All is still a worthy listen, but it kinda feels like IMMORTAL, meaning Demonaz, took the easy way out here.

In the end, it's as if these last two albums were delivered out of order, with War Against All better suited to establishing that IMMORTAL could still be IMMORTAL without its panda-faced longtime leader Abbath and Northern Chaos Gods showing that Demonaz was now very much in charge as the band's sole proprietor. But while IMMORTAL once regaled of "Circling Above in Time Before Time" there's no going back, and things are what they are, leaving War Against All often sounding like more of the same instead ofgenuinely ushering in a new era.

3.0 Out Of 5.0


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