Occasionally however I get request to write a First Impressions article about a non-classic album and this entry is such an occasion. As usual, you will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let missing a few points put you off the whole thing.
The album I will be listening to this time is Between Two Worlds, the debut album by the awkwardly named Norwegian band I, a band who’s name I always want to at least stylize as “I” so as to get across the point that it is a band name and not just a personal pronoun in my sentence.
“I” are essentially Immortal’s Abbath on vocals and guitar with Demonaz writing the lyrics. Which at first glance appears one Horgh short of an Immortal album. Upon closer inspection however I noticed that the band also featured Gorgoreth’s bassist King 0V Hell and Armaggeda on drums, who has worked on Demonaz’s solos albums. When I consider that one of my favourite extreme bands is Zyklon who themselves seem one Isahn short of an Emperor album however, listening to this “I” album suddenly seems like a more exciting prospect.
I had actually heard parts of the album once before, but a long-enough time ago to have lost every single second of its’ music from my memory, whilst also recently-enough to retain the memory of a surrounding conversation about how the press called it Immortal-Meets-Motorhead but that this was just lazy journalism. At the time, the idea of something that could be called Immortal-Meets-Motorhead didn’t sound any more appealing to me than the phrase “too much pepper meets a spicy food you don’t know,” but now, having recently watched a Classic Albums documentary about The Ace Of Spades and writing a First Impressions article about Immortal’s ‘At the Heart of Winter’ album, the idea sounds more like “ketchup meets grilled chicken breast.”
There were huge chunks of At The Heart Of Winter that really appealed to me and I am reliably informed by my good friend that those same parts make up most of “I”’s sound. Upon firing up the album, within the first ten seconds I know that his relentless advocacy for the album was well founded. The music “grooves like a bastard” in the same way that my two favourite Entombed songs do. (Those being ‘Say It In Slugs’ and ‘That’s When I Became A Satanist’ if you were curious)
Listening to it now; the production isn’t exactly of my world, and fits in a little better into the Melodeath sort of turf than my usual 80s-Thrash, Classic 80s-Heavy Metal and Modern Metalcore comfort zones, and I wonder what it would have sounded like if produced by either Colin Richardson or Andy Sneap… but that being said I actually think the production job suits the music and Abbath’s voice absolutely perfectly and lends immense character to the album that may otherwise be lost with a more mathematically perfect job.
The lead guitar work, especially on tracks such as on ‘Warriors’ and ‘Far Beyond The Quiet’ is utterly majestic and powerful. I had previously described Abbath’s leads in Immortal as “triumphant” sounding but they come across even more evocative on this release, they conjure up all sorts of imagery and emotions in a way that only the genuinely best players can manage to.
Even Abbath’s vocals, which I really love in small doses but feel kind of dragged a little across a whole record, are so much better here. He is freer to take chances on this non-BM (I just noticed that the initials for Black Metal are the same as those of the phrase Bowel-Movement in real time whilst typing that sentence, but don’t read too much into that) outing and is consequently more varied than on any other occasion that I’ve heard him, and I would also argue that the timbre of his vocals suits this type of music more than Immortal.
Some of the music reminds me a lot of Melodeath, or at least specifically Amon Amath and Arch Enemy. ‘Battalions’ wouldn’t feel out of place on the three most recent Amon Amarth records, and the low end parts remind me of Wages Of Sin era Arch Enemy (minus their Euro-Metal lead style and Carcass-esque vocals.) There are even a few moments that remind me of At The Gate’s ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ album, which I’ve covered in a previous First Impressions, only this time those moments are more suited to my tastes.
One of my favourite things is when an extreme band “sells out”/“waters down” or streamlines their music into a more conventional form. They always offer an interesting perspective on the music that can’t be found in bands that just start normal to begin with. Carcass’s ‘Swansong,’ Entombed’s ‘Wolverine Blues’ and Architect’s ‘The Here And Now’ are all such examples. Some fans hate them in comparison to earlier work, but to me they are all excellent. I think this idea of extreme perspective on mainstream album is undoubtedly a part of why ‘Countdown To Extinction’ and ‘The Black Album’ were so successful, at least on an artistic level. (Not that Thrash is as extreme as Black or Death metal)
Anyway, the reason that I bring this up is that “I” is essentially such an album, it is almost Immortal’s superb sell out album, but with the clever defence of not actually being an Immortal album, although it is close enough that it could’ve been if they had a record label like Black Sabbath’s, Megadeth’s or Jethro Tull’s (all three had a similar project rebranded as an album by the actual band, instead of allowing it to be released as a new band, in case you didn’t know)
In some ways it is a shame that it didn’t get forced out as an Immortal album, because the fuss over it (think Morbid Angel and Metallica’s recent whinge-inducing releases) may have drummed up enough publicity to get the album the attention that it deserves. It is rather a shame that the record isn’t more well-known in my opinion, based on how good it actually is. Consider this an official recommendation to check it out.
Overall, I have no idea why I was so hesitant to try out this album and why I put off doing so for so long, it really is perfectly “up my street,” and apart from having a very slight Black Metal overtone that I am naturally suspicious of, is arguably one of the most perfect distillations of the entire genre of Metal music. If you had to explain what Metal in the Noughties was to an Alien from another planet, you could do a lot worse than to chose the Title Track from this album as your initial example. The riff that kicks in at 3.20 for example is one of the most fun riffs I’ve heard all year, alongside some I came across when discovering some Helloween and Accept (its been a good few weeks)
If it were up to me, there would be more “I” albums and they’d get a lot more press coverage and festival invitations. Ignoring the Abbath connection, musically they wouldn’t be out of place touring with Judas Priest, Metallica, Iron Maiden or Heaven & Hell (while they were going) and would be perfectly suited to a semi-extreme-semi-mainstream bill like Defender/Destroyers Of The Faith, Gigantour or Hammerfest and deserve a lot bigger an audience/position-of-legitimacy than they currently have.