Immortal – War Against All (Album Review)

The word for Immortal these days is revitalization. Having long-ago fractured beneath the weight of internal conflict, the Norwegian Black Metal masters returned five years ago, helmed by Harald Naevdal, known in such frozen circles as Demonaz, with a new album. The co-founder of one of the foundational bands of the second wave, Demonaz continues the plot with his second effort as Immortal’s sole leader. Released on May 26, 2023 through Nuclear Blast Records, War Against All seeks to further cement this post-split legacy. In a saturated market which sees Black Metal spreading its wings ever wider, including the significant success of his former bandmate’s solo career, does War Against All achieve its aims?

In the ‘damned if they do, damned if they don’t’ eyes of fans and critics, legacy bands like Immortal do not face easy choices when it comes to new material. Were Demonaz to carry on the name and alter the aesthetic, lyrical, and musical approach of Immortal, he’d be labelled a sellout or just plain disingenuous. Keep it true, and there will be some who think he lacks imagination. He suffers from neither of these problems, as the album lands us firmly in the mythical world known as Blashkyrh. The surroundings are familiar, but the voice on the wind carries its own tune.

It is immediately apparent that Demonaz is not interested in taking it easy. “War Against All” and “Thunders of Darkness” showcase the hyper-fast blizzard of speed and darkness which permeates the Immortal signature sound. The latter song calls to mind that perfect marriage of the epic and triumphant with the hellish pace that defined 1999’s At the Heart of Winter.

Not one to crowd an album with too much track time, or too many songs, Demonaz also manages to avoid the plodding nature of some of the slower numbers on latter-day Immortal albums before Abbath left. “Wargod” could feature on Master of Puppets era Metallica with that repetitive heavy central riff. The languid strumming sans distortion pedal makes for a nice pivot mid-song; followed by a release of tension which is quickly married to an increase in tempo. Clearly, this song is so much more engaging and dynamic than previous slower Immortal songs that went nowhere.

Immortal manages to make Nordic weather reports into top-notch Black Metal songs, as “No Sun” once again showcases Demonaz’ absolutely wicked guitar tone. Rich, mean, yet gorgeous in itself, the studio job by Enslaved superstars Herbrand Larsen and Arve Isdal is superb. The old Bergen gang being involved ensures this album was handled with love and expertise. Have a listen to the final half minute of this song – Black Metal’s old ’90s heart is on display, beating into the eardrums in all its glory.

“Return To Cold” is less effective, being the closest material on the album to a retread. It has a tried-and-true feeling to the riffs, but it can kind of feel like Demonaz was emulating his former bandmate’s style a bit too much. Moving on, however, a rarity comes into the fold – that being an instrumental song entitled “Nordlandhr.” This one makes up seven minutes of a thirty-eight-minute album, so it is no afterthought. Breathtaking, magisterial, and melancholy; it is quite obvious that Demonaz’ blessedly un-tendinitis suffering hands are in magnificent form. Soaring leads abound, as this heavyweight effort unfolds like a stretch of primeval Norwegian forest. Despite being absent from the croak of its composer, an argument can be made that this is the best song on the album, and quite possibly the best Immortal song since the aforementioned At the Heart of Winter. It’s that good.

What better way to follow up the epic but with an eponymous song that unites a mid-paced triumph with a declarative blast-beat section on the chorus? To close it out, “Blashyrkh My Throne” harks back to 1995’s Battles in the North with its prideful mid-paced march. It is difficult to imagine how Demonaz could possibly honor his legacy more than he has with this superb follow-up effort. That is why Cryptic Rock gives War Against All 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Immortal – War Against All / Nuclear Blast Records (2023)

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