Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Immortal- Blizzard Beasts

This is the last Immortal album with Demonaz on guitar, and their most underrated album. In some ways obviously a continuation of Battles in the North, in other ways a stylistic dead-end which they would not continue on At the Heart of Winter, Blizzard Beasts is deeply influenced by Morbid Angel; in the words of Dark Legions, "a death metal work ethic in black metal servitude to melodic conceptual songwriting." What this means is that it is much choppier; shorter phrases, much less "melodic blasting" than on Pure Holocaust. This, however, is a good solution to the band not repeating itself: thus producing what may be black metal's most intelligent album. (Compare, for example, with Darkthrone's recent (brilliant) atavism...)

Every second of this work is interesting, even if Immortal no longer offer the bracing speed and majestic fuzziness of their best albums. They keep it short (under 30 minutes), and aside from the obligatory "howling winds" intro track (1:00), it is all riffs.

Listen to "Battlefields."

At :52, there is a beautiful riff that comments and elaborates on the much starker palm-muted verse riffs just before... and THEN we are in the midst of an incredible thrashy breakdown at 1:03. It sounds easy, but unfortunately Immortal have not been able to effortlessly reproduce such moments on later works-- Damned in Black being notably deficient here.

Of course the best song here is the much-ballyhooed "Mountains of Might," which is a monument of the genre and a true journey of the soul through song. It is hard to imagine that much thought was given to the sequencing of this album other than "the goofy intro has to go first, and Mountains of Might is the... how do you say?... centerpiece." The song feels like a preview of their later epic rock/metal, what with the flange-y interludes, the pretentious ambient opening, the foreboding mid-tempo... and it is true. THIS is probably the song that Immortal have been rewriting ever since.

The next song, however, is one of their most chaotic creations, clocking in at an outrageous 2:23, in a genre where riffs are lazily cycled out for six minutes or more on average. I think I even spot a Suffocation influence in the ending, which imaginatively continues into the next song's persistent "thud."

In short, this album is full of surprises, if you pay attention, and reveals the utmost perfectionism on the band's part, and although it will never be their most acclaimed or obvious work, it is the kind of album that takes a hold in your permanent rotation and always elicits a delighted conversation when another it is discovered that another fan "knows" Blizzard Beasts.

Score: 4.5/5 (**** 1/2)

Best songs: Mountains of Might, Battlefields, Blizzard Beasts, Frostdemostorm

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