You don’t expect (or want) smooth from Abbath.
His output with Immortal was all abrasive edges and coarse rasps, and all the better for it. The consequence, of course, is that some less-than-perfect moments are perhaps inevitable. So it shouldn’t surprise too many followers that his first release since his old band’s second, messier split has a few obvious flaws. The album is back-loaded, with most of the best songs coming at the end. It opens with its worst riff, suffers from a tinny drum sound and a woefully synthesised trumpet that ruins the chorus of Ashes Of The Damned, and is fairly short on the instantly iconic vocal moments its maker is so inimitably known for. There are likely to be committed fans of Abbath’s previous work disappointed with Abbath.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s not a shitload to get excited about. For one, Abbath’s signature croak is one of the most charismatic, expressive voices in extreme music, and the sense of drama and theatre and snarling, demonic glee is as palpable as ever. Further, the base of thunderous rock’n’roll balls of his riffage is front, centre, and as furiously great as ever. The litany of icy riffs come thick and fast, and (bar the very first one) largely rule. From the strident marches to war of Count The Dead and the excellent Winter Bane, through the swirling, bludgeoning blackened death blizzard of Fenrir Hunts, and even to the blues groove of Root Of The Mountain (a Tyrants-esque swaggering number that Glorior Belli would be proud of), the guitarwork is excellent. It makes you want to grab an axe and charge off on a rampage of untold plunder and destruction through a frosty landscape ripe for conquest – just as Abbath riffs should.
If Abbath wanted a clean break with Immortal, this isn’t it. There’s a lot here that’s reminiscent of his old band, despite the sound being more raw than the two post-Damned In Black albums (we’re not in Blashyrkh anymore, but it’s still bitingly cold). What it is, though, is eight songs of fuck-you metal crammed to the brim with personality, honesty and fun.