IMMORTAL – Don’t Be Afraid Of The Ravendark
July 13, 2018, a year ago
It's a fair bet that one viewing of Immortal's "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)" video from 1995 would make it impossible to convince anyone unfamiliar with the band (shame on you) that the Norwegian outfit boasts legendary status amongst many a black metal fan. Understandable given it looks like an outtake from the old Power Rangers TV series, with a budget for the ski-lift to the top of the mountain where it was shot. Be that as it may, Immortal have since carved their way into the hearts of a legion of fans that have been waiting almost a decade for the band to return. Those soul-sacrificing prayers have been answered with Northern Chaos Gods, an eight-song romp of scathing black metal that bleeds old school thrash out its pores. It's a pleasant surprise when one considers Immortal had new material ready to go before frontman Abbath decided to go his own way in 2015, forcing the band to go back to the drawing board. It turns out those trials and tribulations are the best thing that could have happened to a band that has clearly hasn’t lost momentum or purpose.
"We never made a plan for this album; it's all natural inspiration," says frontman Demonaz. "In the back of our minds we wanted to bring something in that was 110% Immortal. We started from scratch in 2015 with the opening track on the album (‘Northern Chaos Gods’). We wanted a fast opener, and from there we got into the flow that created this album. There were no plans to do it in any sort of style, and I don't think we've ever been as focused on the songwriting as we were for this album. We did it song by song. When you're in a band you want to make a record that's better than the last one, but I feel that instead of leaving the last album (All Shall Fall) behind I think we moved away from a few of them (laughs). There are a lot of old school feelings on this album. Maybe that old school feeling shines through with the thrash influences that you're hearing."
"This album is Side A and Side B," he adds. "I love vinyl and I think it's a good way of thinking. I grew up with vinyl and that way of thinking; it's a magical formula. The best classic albums have four songs on each side. I'm most looking forward to getting Northern Chaos Gods on vinyl (laughs)."
Immortal in 2018 consists of Demonaz and drummer Horgh, supported by legendary Hypocrisy / Pain mastermind Peter Tägtgren on bass and as producer. Northern Chaos Gods is a skin-flayer of a record, what one voice in the metal media accurately described as "big fucking fun black metal." Minimalistic, loud and obnoxious, no unnecessary extra weight to drag it down, the album is what diehard Immortal fans wanted.
"There is no compromise on this album," Demonaz states. "We worked on every theme and every riff. If there was any riff we had doubts about we threw it out. I think we were really cynical to some degree and had no problem saying 'No, this isn't what we want. Move on to the next thing.' When we had about half the album we started to get a vision of the whole thing and had to find a balance, to figure out what was missing. It was clear from the beginning, though, that 'Northern Chaos Gods' would be the opening track. And 'Mighty Ravendark' is nearly 10 minutes long, which was an obvious choice because it sort of makes a conclusion for the album."
The album as a whole is a crusher, but "Mighty Ravendark" is most certainly one of the standout tracks in that it builds to monstrous proportions before bringing Northern Chaos Gods to a dark and soothing close.
"I wouldn't believe it," Demonaz laughs, referring to the song's running time. "On 'Mighty Ravendark' we wanted the guitars to be massive and huge, and we wanted to make an epic song without any keyboards. That means we had to work even harder on the song to make it work. Our vision was to make 'Mighty Ravendark' simply massive with what we had, which was only guitars, bass, drums and vocals. I can't believe it's that long. Don't put it on your player in the morning if you're having a bad day (laughs)."
Northern Chaos Gods is noteworthy not only because of Abbath's absence, but because it marks Demonaz's return as an active member of Immortal. Sidelined since 1997 and the Blizzard Beasts album with acute tendinopathy, he has operated behind-the-scenes as lyricist and manager because he wasn't physically capable of playing guitar at the level required for Immortal. The condition has since been rectified and Demonaz is front and center on what is widely being considered as one of Immortal's most volatile offerings.
"It's hard to describe," Demonaz says of getting back to playing guitar. "I had shoulder surgery in 2012 and they discovered that one of the muscles had split, so they put everything back together and I had a recovery of six or seven months. I was able to play the guitar in a much better way than before even if it wasn't 100% healed, so there was a big difference compared to before the surgery. It used to be that I'd play and get tired much faster than you or anyone else would, so the result after the surgery was a big relief. Doing the guitars on this album was very satisfying, of course, but it was a hard job. A lot of those riffs are complicated; not in a technical way, but in the speed and tempo and the way of playing from song to song."
There's always a certain level of bitching and moaning that goes on within the metal community as to what should be considered black metal. Demonaz effectively removes Immortal from the discussion by giving the band a label of its own.
"I prefer to call us Blashyrkh metal (laughs). I don't want to say anything stupid but I think we have a style of our own, and we work on our own terms. I hope that when the fans listen to the album they'll get into the mood we've made, the same as before. If you want something particular nothing else can replace it, and I hope that for the true Immortal fans, I hope they will feel that it's 100% Immortal."
By a current show of hands, many Immortal fans do indeed. It makes the absence of Abbath far less of a big deal compared to when he officially left the band in 2015, and back when he formed I in 2006 following Immortal's 2003 split.
"You've heard the album, so you understand why we didn't put the band down," Demonaz says of choosing to continue without Abbath. "We had complications and disagreements with Abbath in 2003 so the band was down. When it happened the second time it was clear that we had to part ways. When a band is around for as long as Immortal has been, sooner or later something like a split might happen, so we just had to cope with it and continue with what we believe in. We never wanted to give up; we just wanted to make the next record and do what's right for Immortal."
Asked if it was a challenge to make people - particularly the record label - understand that Immortal would be perfectly fine without Abbath, or just another day at the office, Demonaz shrugs off the idea of feeling any pressure.
"I'd hope for something in between. There was never any plan. We were just working to make the ultimate Immortal album, which has always been the case. We're fine with Abbath not being here, we can cope with that. It happened and now we're here, simple as that."
That it took almost 10 years for Immortal's return is a bummer for the diehard fans, to be sure, but Northern Chaos Gods made it worth the wait. Particularly if Abbath's self-titled return in 2016 left you cold.
"So, 18 years until the next one," Demonaz laughs. "We definitely hope it won't be that long until the next one, but there is a reason it took almost 10 years for us to come back. We issued some official statements about the split, but when things get personal, I don't think that's the focus to have because it's unhealthy. I think it's better to leave the past behind and talk about the new album."
"We concentrated on the eight tracks you hear on Northern Chaos Gods. It took longer to put it out because we had to start from scratch, as I said. Most of the material that we wrote with Abbath before he left, he took it and used it. I happy about the fact we were able to start over, actually. We wrote new songs, we waited for studio time, and we didn't put any pressure on ourselves. We just wanted to take our time and make the ultimate Immortal album. I think it was a good thing, taking our time, because rushing things would have made the album suffer."