FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume Eight: Immortal – At The Heart Of Winter

Immortal - At The Heart Of Winter

Immortal - At The Heart Of Winter

First Impressions is a series of articles for this blog that describe my thoughts and opinions on hearing a supposedly classic album that I’ve missed out on until now, for the first time. The format is similar to, but distinct from, a review and places more import on my gut reactions as well as my preconceptions and history with the music than on a making a helpful description of its content that allows you to make a more informed decision on buying a copy yourself.

For this installment I will be listening to At The Heart Of Winter by Immortal. This was the Norwegian Black Metal band’s fifth full-length studio album, released in 1999 and consists of six tracks all between six and nine minutes in length.

I’ve already stated my relatively inexperienced history with Black Metal in a previous entry of this series so I won’t go over it again too much, save for stating that I generally don’t much care for it, but do enjoy Immortal’s genre-atypical Sons Of Northern Darkness album.

Abbath’s voice is a lot more palatable to me than many other black metal artists and though he can be a little monotous his vocals aren’t ever annoying or piercing in the way that some Black Metal singers can be, in my experience.

I wasn’t expecting much to like this album and despite trying to go into things with an open mind I was a little defensive in the beginning. After two minutes of unenjoyably blasting however, the first track really captured my imagination. The mixture of swirling icy Black Metal riffs with meaty thrash metal moments is really pleasing, and actually enjoyable on a raw human level rather than just enjoyable for Black Metal. Even when the blast beats return the song has won me over enough to enjoy the whole ride and not resent them. When the triumphant Iron Maiden style section that follows kicks in, a real big smile breaks out across my face.

A lot of credit should be given to the producers, the mix and the band’s decision to ignore the genre’s more foolish restrictions on audio quality. This fantastic mixing and production leaves the sections with Blast Beats as actual parts of the song in my eyes, and not just parts to sit through waiting for the good music to start again.

I have to say that the guitar style on this album is incredibly enjoyable and that I regret never giving this band a genuinely fair try before based on the genre that they belong to (as well as the ludicrous promo photos, amusing music videos and awful fans that said genre comes along with)

Two minutes into the second track ‘Solarfall,’ the section with rolling toms and shimmering arrpeggiated guitar work is a brilliant piece of music that I would readily associate with Isis and that genre of bands, but would never suspect a Black Metal band capable of on an album that wasn’t regarded as a sell out. It speaks of the quality of the band that they aren’t afraid to be diverse, and are able to work such different elements together into a track in a way that doesn’t feel forced or bolted on.

The fact that the band enjoy Black Metal, Death Metal and Thrash Metal, as well a Motorhead and Iron Maiden all at the same time comes across in the music, which takes the best elements from all and largely dispenses with the bad parts.

The band really do “Triumphant” sounding music well; ‘Solarfall’ has more highlights between its second and fourth minute than De Mysteriis Dom Sathanis had in its entire album-duration and ‘Tragedies Blown At The Horizon’ starts off like the final scene in a movie where evil is defeated atop a mountain, with a level of grandiosity in the music more traditionally suited to Power Metal bands.

I have read that the band’s previous works were more traditionally Black Metal and that this album was the beginning of the band’s period of incorporating more Thrash Metal influences into their sound and also the first album where Demonaz went from primary guitarist to lyricist. It surprises me that the album is fondly regarded in light of these facts, as I would imagine people would have bitter feelings towards the band broadening their horizons in the same way people hated when Thrash Metal bands changed in the 1990s or Prog Bands changed in the 1980s.

I guess it really is a testament to the sheer unarguable quality of the music, the catchiness of the riffs and the absolutely enjoyable nature of the overall package that people were able to get on board. The album certainly deserves its warm regard in my opinion.

The only problem that I have is that it can be a bit samey, but in saying that they have went out of their way to be inventive and diverse; with blasts, Black Metal Riffs, Thrash riffs, Triumphant riffs, double-kick beats, rolling tom beats, fast bits, slow bits, atmospheric sections and even groove sections. The title track for example, mixes all of these things together and even adds some keys and a really satisfying guitar solo.

I find that the album is similar to any of the recent Amon Amarth records in its mixture between sticking to a formula and making each song distinct. Every song does sound pretty like the last one and you could switch out parts between without noticing they were from another track or indeed create a medley of their key parts that would seem like it was actually one real song. Both bands also feature the double edged sword of only sticking to one great vocal style, which ensures consistency and quality but can become a bit of a drag, compared to bands who mix it up a bit more.

Overall, this album is much better than I ever expected it to be, or indeed could be. There are some absolutely brilliant moments of music, and it is every bit as relevant and interesting a musical force as any seminal Thrash, Groove, Death or Classic Metal album. I’m glad I listened to it and I would gladly listen to it again, had I discovered it on my own I’m sure I would be a t-shirt buying, recommendation-making, concert-attending full-on advocate of the record and the band.

Having heard the album, I was so pleased that I went and stuck on Sons Of Northern Darkness straight afterwards, and enjoyed that album for the first time in years and years, with a new appreciation for the band’s musicality and diversity.

1 Comment

  1. I did think you’d like this one. The non-black metal riffs and playing techniques are superb on it. Even that first blast Horgh plays on the opener has this marvellous 6-beat pulse to it that creates a rhythm WITHIN the blast which is a really neat trick and so musically satisfying. For the most part, the black metal bands who became really big where the ones who strayed outside the genre’s limitations. I think Immortal pushed that the most. You ought to love Between Two Worlds, the best record either Abbath or Demonaz has been involved with. Not unlike this, but without blasting and more vocal range. Perfik.


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