Monday, February 9, 2009

Immortal - Battles in the North (1995)

Battles in the North is the third L.P. from Immortal. It was recorded in Grieghallen Studio, produced by Pytten, in September 1994. Just as with Pure Holocaust, everything here is played by only Abbath and Demonaz. As a side note, the promo and the first version of this album had a bad mix and gained terrible reviews in all magazines. Due to this, the very first edition was suddenly replaced by the one we all know.

The sound is very similar to the previous album, yet less organic. On this album, the guitars seem to merge together to create a impenetrable wall of ice that slowy crushes everything in its path, like a glacier. The lyrics of Demonaz are still dealing with the same themes, sending ice water through your veins.

"Battles in the North" begins the album in a very intense manner. The riffs swirl around you like blizzard winds and Abbath's vocals are more venomous than before. This completes his transformation into a winter demon from the farthest north. He no longer sounds like anything human. The drumming is incredibly violent, as one gets the image of a horde of frost giants storming through the land, destroying everyone in sight. This song never really lets up and is a great way to open the album. The one calm moment, near the end, only serves to leave you unsuspecting for the coming deathblow.

The next song possesses one of the best titles, ever: "Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms". Abbath's dry croak is accompanied by more battering riffs. The sound has really transformed from being frozen by icewinds (on Pure Holocaust) to being repeatedly crushed under sheets of glacial ice. This song is rather short and is over a little too quickly.

"Descent Into Eminent Silence" begins with less intense drumming, at first, before speeding up again. One gets the impression here, and on "Throned By Blackstorms", that they sped through the songs and lost something by not allowing them to breathe. The compositions are a little too compact, as there are brief moments where certain melodies seem poised to unfold and take you within their icy grip, yet it never happens.

"Moonrise Fields of Sorrow" begins with a memorable riff; however, this gets cut short before really having time to do much. This song seems to be an endless series of blasting drums and a thick wall of guitars that seems to suffocate the listener and the melodies that attempt to take hold. There are some really nice moments here, yet the song could have been even better.

An extremely brief acoustic section leads into total winter holocaust riffs on "Cursed Realms of the Winterdemons". This is another fast and intense song, with Abbath's vocals creating a lot of tension. It is a vast improvement over the few songs that precede it. The only thing that might this song better would be for the drumming to be lowered in the mix and for the guitars to be a little louder and sharper. Otherwise, this song is one of the best on here. It is also one of the longer pieces on the album, clocking in just under four minutes.

"At the Stormy Gates of Mist" continues to solidify Battles in the North as the most brutally intense and violent Immortal album. You really have to concentrate, closely, to pick up the cold tremolo melodies that are flowing beneath the monstrous pounding of the drums. For some reason, parts of this album seem reminiscent of the Mayhem song "Buried By Time and Dust".

"Through the Halls of Eternity" features some unsettling melodies. It starts out like most of the songs on here, yet the tempo does change at certain times and this eerie spectre is allowed to spread out like a poisonous shadow. A few of the earlier songs seem like filler, honestly, but this definitely belongs here.

"Circling Above in Time Before Time" begins with icy cold tremolo melodies, with a nice acoustic part underneath, and has kind of an epic atmosphere. These are really some of the best and most memorable riffs of the whole album. The distant atmosphere that Pure Holocaust exhibited as a whole has been replaced with an up- close, drier, and more deadly atmosphere where the blurry guitar riffs and twisted ravings go right for your jugular. If the first two albums were like having your throat sliced open and being left to bleed to death in the winter forest, this is like being bludgeoned with hammers of ice.

The album ends with "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)". This song is reminiscent of "As the Eternity Opens", being mid-paced and epic. Early on, there is an acoustic part that seems more in tune with their first two albums. The tremolo melodies weave through the song, circling the power chords like winds blowing from a glacier. The riffs really get a chance to breathe here, creating a very cold and dark atmosphere. The calm, acoustic section really adds to this feeling, while Abbath's grim screams suit this, perfectly. There is even a brief touch of keyboard use, only adding to the overall mood.

Battles in the North is a good album, but not quite as great as the first two. Despite the savage ferocity displayed throughout, there are moments where a sense of melancholy and darkness pervades before the the stroms of snow and ice begin again. A couple songs feel as if they could have been developed a little further and the production (especially the drums being too high) was distracting from the riffs, at times. However, these are minor complaints and the second half of the album is very strong. The songs actually seem to get better and better as it goes along. With this L.P. Immortal firmly established their trademark sound. This is not recommended for those of faint heart.