Abbath – ‘Self-titled’

By Glen Bushell

Regardless of your thoughts on the genre, there is no denying the importance of black metal. Its influence on almost every corner of heavy, or aggressive music is vital. While it is easy to get caught up in both the mystique and controversy that surrounds many of the Norwegian scene’s key figureheads, the music spawned from the second wave of black metal was revolutionary. One of the bands that started to bring something different to the genre was Immortal. Fronted by multi-instrumentalist Abbath Doom Occulta, they played at a ferocious speed, and centred their manifesto around Nordic mythology, and the desolate surroundings of their home country.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Abbath is “fired” from Immortal after 25 years. Instead of resting on his laurels for too long, Abbath set about starting a new band, under his own name. Recruiting former Gorgoroth bassist King Ov Hell, and Benighted drummer Creature (who has subsequently left the band), Abbath debuted his new band at several live shows to critical acclaim. While largely performing select material from Immortal’s back catalogue, the new songs aired were met with praise. Of course, there were questions that needed to be answered. How would Abbath fair without his Immortal writing partner Demonaz? Would this be merely a vanity project for him? And most importantly, would it live up to the high standard that fans of Immortal have come to expect?

The appeal of Abbath has always been that there is little to no controversy surrounding the man. For him, it has always been about the music and the masquerade, and that makes him both likeable and intriguing. In terms of the albums writing, Abbath has exceeded expectation. Not only being a solid guitarist, he is also a competent drummer, meaning that he has overseen each section, and they have been meticulously thought out. From the groove of opener ‘To War!’ through the machine gun drumming of ‘Winterbane’, the songs remain a cohesive fusion of thrash, and speed metal. There are distinct hues of classic black metal on ‘Count The Dead’ and the terrifying ‘Fenrir Hunts’. Buzz saw guitars and agonising howls are layered on top frenetic blast beats, conjuring images of Abbath marching into battle.

The crisp production job has made the songs sound thick at the bottom end, while still allowing for the solos – and Abbath’s unmistakeable vocal – to cut through the mix. Nothing here is fighting for a position to be heard. The drumming is air tight, and there are few drummers of this style playing at Creatures level of technicality. Of course, King Ov Hell’s accomplished playing was never going to up for debate given his CV, but you can hear that a lot of the groove on the record comes from the bass. This is not a platform for Abbath alone, but one to show how technically proficient the entire band are.

By rights, no artist should be judged against their previous work, and their current state should be the main focus. Unfortunately, that’s just life, and Abbath was always going to get compared to Immortal. There’s no denying that as good as this record is, it isn’t revolutionary. It doesn’t have the same frostbitten intensity of ‘Blizzard Beasts’ or ‘At The Heart of Winter’, or the crushing ferocity of ‘Sons Of Northern Darkness’.

However, that was then, and this is now. Abbath was never going to try and recreate his former glory, and any attempt to do that would have been a wrong move. What he has achieved is a tight and powerful contemporary heavy record. Pulling from a variety of metal sub-genres has worked in his favour, and while it sounds familiar, it stills feels current. It is a big step forward for Abbath, and a great start to the year for heavy metal.

GLEN BUSHELL

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