Sons of Northern Darkness

The epithet, “True Norwegian Black Metal,” may not apply to Immortal in its current incarnation, but the fact remains that the classification never truly fit the Bergen-based outfit anyway. Even at the height of their ‘cult’ career, Immortal never wholeheartedly prescribed to the conventions of their peers – Satan, church burning and murder were replaced by an imaginary world of Winterdemons, Blashyrkh, Frostbitten Kingdoms and photo ops against stark Norwegian landscapes. While this never fully set in with hardcore black metallers who’d rather see headline-making antics than honest musical progression, those actually interested in Immortal‘s musical output could care less.

The fact remains, Immortal are one of Norway’s rare gems, black metal or not. It’s difficult, however, not to smile at song titles such as “Storming through Red Clouds and Holocaust Winds,” “Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms” and “Throned by Blackstorms,” but you can never tell when Immortal are jesting or serious as a heart attack. Even album art is subject to preposterous posing and the band superhero corpse-paint schemes that could easily be construed as laughable. Yet, that’s part of Immortal’s appeal. Solid songwriting and explosive showmanship are two elements of black metal Immortal balance admirably. Where Damned in Black’s mid-paced heavy metal-influenced black metal was catchy but lacked a definite edge, Sons of the Northern Darkness, penned after the title of Immortal and Marduk‘s infamous two-part jaunt across Europe in 1994-95, displays a more vitriolic Immortal, one that isn’t afraid to show its fangs and unpleasant demeanor. In many ways, the album is sonically a continuation of the excellent At the Heart of Winter, where mountain-sized riffs (ala “Withstand the Fall of Time” and the title track) jut out of the saturnine soundscape and form a solid foundation for some seriously addictive black metal.

Opening cut, “One By One” is a blast-rock-blast effort that despite adhering to “Withstand the Fall of Time’s” formula, sets a serious tone for Sons of the Northern Darkness and, furthermore, ends what could have otherwise been a gimmicky KISS-style black metal venture. “One By One’s” shining moment is the myriad of riffs Abbath belches out of the guitar; some of these riffs could easily be at home on Pure Holocaust while others could just as effortlessly be somewhere on AC/DC’s Back in Black. The title track further illustrates the marriage of black metal and rock, which is something progenitors Bathory succeeded in doing on the legendary Under the Sign of the Black Mark. In many instances, “Sons of the Northern Darkness” and “Within the Dark Mind” are congruent to ’87-’88 era Bathory insofar as the songs are unashamedly catchy but still credibly malevolent. Basically, you can tap your toe without losing cred.

“Tyrants,” unlike the title suggests, is one of the album’s slower tracks. What it lacks in speed and ‘cult’ atmosphere, it more than makes up for in the creativity of the Riff. Here, Abbath’s true fretboard ability comes alive – he colors the song with subtle flourishes of melodic dissonance. It could be an overdub of a second guitar, but whatever the case is the idea adds much-welcomed depth. If anyone can update Bathory‘s “Enter the Eternal Fire” without blatantly plagiarizing it, it’s “Demonium.” The first half of the track is all spitfire and Horgh’s thunderous drumming, but midway through Immortal nail Quorthon’s scorching, epic gallop. Sons of the Northern Darkness also is smartly paced. “In My Kingdom Cold” similarly captures the quickness of “One By One.” The song’s 7-minute duration, however, allows Immortal to explore different textures. From the ubiquitous blast to the very “Tragedies Blows at Horizon” clean guitar segment, Immortal cover basically every step of their career without sounding clumsy or forced.

The album’s final track, “Beyond the North Waves,” unveils a very different Immortal. The song’s slow circular main riff invokes a feeling of triumph, a kind of victory message that winter has finally killed summer. “Beyond the North Waves” also has a melancholic side, too. Perhaps Abbath’s rare but inspired solo at the end reveals that winter and summer were brothers and the gravity of the situation is starting to take hold. Powerful. The only complaint to be had with Sons of the Northern Darkness is the production. Actually, it’s very good, but the guitars don’t hit quite like they did on At the Heart of Winter.

Overall, Immortal‘s Nuclear Blast debut should be a surefire signal to fans and critics that while Norwegian black metal may not be ‘true’ anymore it’s still a lethal force. Moreover, when black metal is performed with this level of conviction and talent, it’s not difficult to hear why Immortal have basically marched forward into their own musical space. Immortal rock unlike any other black metal and Sons of the Northern Darkness once again proves why that couldn’t truer.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Dick
May 8th, 2002


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