Sunday, October 15, 2006

Immortal - Damned In Black (2000)

Damned in Black in the sixth full-length album from Norway's Immortal. For this record, Abbath and Horgh were joined by Iscariah, on bass. All of the lyrics were, of course, handled by Demonaz. Recorded in Abyss Studios and produced by Peter Tägtgren, that would only mark the beginning of the mistakes made with this collection of songs. In April 2000, when Osmose Records released this album, Immortal fans were likely expecting something else, entirely.

My first impression was that this was a horrible album. Despite Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Pure Holocaust being my favourite Immortal albums, At the Heart of Winter won me over and I hoped for something similar. Sadly, the epic, melodic feel of that record was replaced with the jerky, stop/start riffing reminiscent of Blizzard Beasts. The terrible modern production made things even worse, as even the Teutonic Thrash riffs seemed strange and out of place. I was tempted to return the CD, several times, and kept changing my mind on a daily basis. Being such a fan of the band, I wanted to like this and gave it many chances, but eventually just gave up and let it collect dust for a while before randomly tossing it in a couple years later.

To get the negative things out of the way first, the songs seem rather short and uninspired when compared to the previous album. Even worse, the lyrical content that Immortal had come to be known for was largely absent. The grim images of winter landscapes and frost demons were now a thing of the past, which was rather disappointing. The overall feeling was that they had gone out of their way to abandon what they started on At the Heart of Winter in order to try making Blizzard Beasts Part II. However, in that context, it should be stated that they did a much better job the second time around.

The album begins with "Triumph", which is the most memorable and energetic song to be found here. It features a great deal of Thrash riffs, but to call this Black/Thrash would almost be misleading, as it would conjure images of grim 80s bands instead of the polished and modern sound that Immortal achieved on this release. The only thing that really saves it is that it is quite intense, and the feeling is there. Other than the middle section, the song keeps a frantic pace and has a sense of violence and force that was lacking on the last record.

"Wrath from Above" keeps the fury going, as it sticks to the intense (almost Death Metal-like) riffs that reminds one more of Morbid Angel than any Norwegian Black Metal band. Again, the middle section sees a slower pace but it soon speeds up and proves to be completely ineffective. In later interviews, Abbath admitted that the album was somewhat rushed and that seems quite apparent here.

The next song is "Against the Tide (In the Arctic World)" and this one sounds reminiscent of At the Heart of Winter, while not managing to be as epic. One noticeable difference between the two albums is that Abbath's vocals seem weaker, as if he was battling some sort of illness while recording. The song features a few changes and a decent solo and, while standing out when compared to other songs on this record, it still falls somewhat short of what the band was capable of.

"My Dimension" goes right back into the speed, with rather generic Thrash riffs that do little to convey any sort of intensity or feeling. Later riffs seem a bit more natural, though the song seems carried by the percussion more than it should be. The slower riffs, in the middle and at the end, are far more appealing and could have been used to build a different song, altogether.

Next up is "The Darkness That Embrace Me", which is a little more subdued and flows more naturally. It would be one of the better songs on here, if not for the breakdown in the middle, which completely kills the atmosphere, dead. Eventually, the song recovers, but it is hardly worthwhile after that disgusting display.

"In Our Mystic Visions Blest" starts out with the intensity of a Death Metal song, and the effects on the vocals only add to this feeling. For one reason or another, it reminds me of something that belongs on Covenant, by Morbid Angel. This is not a huge surprise, as they once said that they were inspired by them. Later in the song, some more interesting guitar melodies are introduced, though that is not quite enough to give the song a better rating.

It all ends with the title track, "Damned in Black", which starts out as if it is going to be epic as hell and thus represents the last hope for any traces of the previous album to be found. The more epic parts alternate with parts that can be described as slow staccato riffs as well as some restrained Thrash bits. Later in the song, the speed increases and hearkens back to the old days, before a calm acoustic section leads into another mid-paced riff. Some of the riffs drag a little, but this is still one of the better songs on the album.

Damned in Black is an odd album in that Immortal seemed to run away from the style that they utilized on At the Heart of Winter, in an effort to revisit and improve upon Blizzard Beasts. While the result was much better than that atrocity, it was still a let down and many fans were grateful that they got back on track with Sons of Northern Darkness, a couple years later. This is not a completely horrid effort, but it remains something for die-hard fans and is certainly not essential. If you give it a chance, keep in mind that it may take a while to grow on you.