Thursday, February 12, 2009

Immortal - Sons of Northern Darkness (2002)

Immortal's musical journey has taken many twists and turns, over the years. No two albums sound alike, yet the core spirit of the band manages to survive the countless changes. From the barbaric fury of Battles in the North, to the disappointing piece of garbage known as Blizzard Beasts, to the epic masterpiece that was At the Heart of Winter and then the utterly pathetic Damned In Black, Immortal manages to tie all of this together on their final album. There are even moments that hearken back to Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Pure Holocaust, if not in sound, then in spirit.

Sons of Northern Darkness is the seventh full-length album from Norway's Immortal. It was recorded in Abyss Studios, in September 2001. While the production has a certain modern sound to it, the band intentionally went for more of an 80s approach to the songwriting, while still maintaining their trademark sound. The traditional heavy metal influences are stronger on this album than any they have done before, as well as keeping with the spirit of old Venom and Bathory. Demonaz, as usual, contributed all the lyrics for this album, and it is easy to see that he was much more involved this time as the lyrics are some of the best in Immortal's career. He also played a part in some of the song arrangements.

The album erupts from the silence with the song "One By One". The riffs are very thrashy and this kind of sounds like a more successful version of what they attempted on Blizzard Beasts. Everything sounds much more natural on this album, rather than seeming forced. Also, Abbath's vocals seem to have recovered from whatever affliction that they suffered on the previous album. The songwriting has a nice, old school feeling to it, while Horgh's drumming is simplistic when needed and inventive enough to keep things from sounding stagnant at any point.

The title track begins with an interesting drum intro that precedes some of the coldest thrash riffs ever written. Somehow, the band manages to keep such an atmosphere of frost, no matter how they choose to approach the music. The slower sections truly freeze the blood in your veins, as the thrash transitions to open-arpeggios and then to fleeting tremolo parts. It all flows so effortlessly. Abbath's vocals channel the grim essence of a battle-worn troll. The brief lead solo, near the end, is also a nice touch.

"Tyrants" is a dark, mid-paced epic. The melodies are very memorable. Near the middle of the song, there is more use of open-arpeggio riffs, followed by a calm acoustic section. The feeling is cold enough that you feel you have been encased in a block of ice. This serene atmosphere is interrupted by a scream that is accompanied by tremolo riffs and double bass that serve to carve you out of the ice, leaving you to lay on the frozen ground, gasping for air.

The next song is "Demonium", beginning with more furious riffs that have become synonymous with Immortal. The spirit of Battles in the North is quite strong, here. After a couple minutes of this blistering assault, the song takes on a different tone. The songwriting is very skilled, as they manage to take the listener on some sort of journey with each outing. Nothing is awkward or out of place.

"Within the Dark Mind" starts out kind of mid-paced, keeping an utterly cold feeling with the guitar riffs. The vocal delivery perfectly captures the grim and diabolic nature of the lyrics. This song conveys a deep desire to see the sun forever extinguished, as shadows creep over the frozen landscape, swallowing the world for eternity. The latter half of the song sees limited bursts of the more typical barbaric pace that Immortal is known for, which strongly contrasts the atmosphere created up until that point, allowing those moments to make more of an impact.

Bitter cold guitar riffs begin the song "In My Kingdom Cold". Open-arpeggios quickly transition to thrashier moments, before flowing into icy tremolo riffs. The winter ambiance is aided by the incredible lyrics.

"In my kingdom cold...
At the mountains of madness
Unending grimness
This kingdom is mine..."

"Antarctica" tells a tale of the frozen continent moving and spreading across the world, taking all under its icy dominion. It may not be very Nordic, yet this subject matter could not be more fitting. The song begins with a very eerie synth intro, accompanied by the sound of frigid winds. The riffs have sort of a somber tone, though heavy enough to represent the massive glaciers depicted in the lyrics. The keyboards from the intro seem to continue on, flowing beneath the surface, adding to the dark and epic feeling. Near the end, the song becomes very still and calm, as the bass rumbles beneath the acoustic section, with Abbath's dry croaking.

Sons of Northern Darkness is brought to its conclusion with the majestic epic, "Beyond the North Waves". This reaches back to the earliest days of Immortal, being somewhat reminiscent of "A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland" in all its glory, having a similar feeling to Viking-era Bathory. The song begins with the sound of waves gently crashing against the side of a ship. For anyone that has sailed across the North Sea, you know the cold purity of those waters. This feeling is evoked by these sounds. The accompanying acoustic guitar sounds almost as if it was recorded under water. The guitar riffs crush you with their frozen might. This is slow and mid-paced, engendering the sense that one is being taken on a great journey. The brief tremolo riffs that blow through, like winter winds, chill your flesh. Lyrically, this may be one of the most powerful pieces in this band's history. Rather than the mythical realm of Blashyrkh and tales of fantasy, this song remains rooted firmly in actual Norse history and pagan ideology.

"For he who battles for his land, his pride and for his men
Shall be remembered and stand eternally named
In the legends of our land"

The open-arpeggio riffs, in the latter half of the song, truly envelope you in the cold and dark waters of the North. The clean, spoken part only adds to this utterly epic atmosphere. The solo that follows captures this feeling, perfectly. The lyrics serve as a proper epitaph for what may very well be the climax of Immortal's musical career. It is quite fitting that the last song on their final album leaves you in such an awe-inspired state.