Abbath manages to exceed initial expectations by incorporating more modern sounds into his usual blend of frostbitten black metal. This record features multiple stand-out moments from the former Immortal front-man but is hampered by a less than stellar vocal performance and blasts of predictable bland black metal.
Everyone’s favourite croaky voiced badger lookalike is back with his first solo album since leaving iconic Norwegian black metal group Immortal. Those not aware of Abbath’s previous work should certainly check out albums like Sons of Northern Darkness and Battles in The North as they epitomise the cold, frostbitten sound Abbath and Immortal are best known for. Now with this album it’s fair to go in expecting more of the same due to the fact Abbath has been playing this brand of black metal for what seems like forever. There have been more thrash metal elements thrown into Immortal’s most recent work but they never tended to stray too far from the snow covered path.
Upon first listen it’s really refreshing to hear that Abbath has clearly decided to shake things up a little. Whether this be down to the new line-up accompanying him or just that he wanted to try something new. From the get go, opening track To War! Kicks things off with a really groovy stomping riff sounding closer to Pantera than it does say, Darkthrone. You also quickly realise just how good this record sounds too; the modern production really adds to the heaviness along with giving the album a real bounce to it. Most black metal albums admittedly sound like they’ve been recorded in a biscuit tin so to hear this level of production values is pleasantly surprising. It’s important to also mention the guitar tone here too as there’s a real crunchy beefed up sound coming out of Abbath’s guitar. Listening to a lot of Immortal’s early work the guitars can sometimes be somewhat unbearable due to the buzz saw almost wasp-like tone, so Abbath gets a thumbs up here for adding some much needed bass to his sound.
As mentioned earlier Abbath has certainly made an attempt to try and introduce more diversity into his brand of black metal. This is evident with songs like Count the Dead which features a really bad-ass stomp to it giving off a more contemporary metal vibe. Endless also features a proper old school mosh pit inducing beat down whilst the penultimate track, Riding on the Wind, happens to be a gravely voiced take on a Judas Priest classic. Unfortunately, the aforementioned Riding on the Wind also features one of this records largest weak points that being Abbath himself. Abbath’s signature croak is one of the many things people associate with his music but with this song in particular he sounds like he’s at deaths door. During the records higher notes his voice becomes so strained he begins sounding like a strangled frog and it makes some parts of this album quite laughable. Also it has to be said that some of the synth work on this album is frankly shocking. The horns in Ashes of the Damned sound like they’ve come from a cheap keyboards demo mode and it’s difficult to believe anyone in the studio thought this sounded good.
Despite the obvious attempts to add more diversity to this record some tracks do feel slightly laboured. Now there are some great songs on this record but when Abbath reverts to type it’s actually quite disappointing. The more typical black metal parts on this album just tend to wash over you and it would certainly be more interesting to hear Abbath almost abandon his roots and go for something a little different. Most of the stand out moments on this record come from the more diverse tracks like Root of the Mountain, a song which almost comes from left field featuring a lumbering slow head bobbing rhythm as oppose to the ravenous frenetic speed Abbath’s music is usually known for.
Ultimately Abbath’s debut solo effort is a surprisingly good one which sounds somewhat of a backhanded compliment but it was hard to go in not expecting Immortal B-sides. This more contemporary metal style is refreshing to hear from someone who’s been doing it as long as Abbath has and it’ll be interesting to hear what’s next for this new project. For anyone who’s a fan of Immortal or even someone who’s never heard of them before there’s plenty to enjoy about this new release from one of black metals most iconic front-men.