Within the Black Metal scene there are many legendary bands. The likes of Venom, Bathory, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, Burzum, and a dozen more are all established legends within Black Metal and the forefathers of pretty much everything that followed, with each of these bands gaining fame and popularity either through their pioneering creativity, their exceptional musicianship, and in some cases, their controversial actions and notorious crimes. However, there is only one Black Metal band that can be described not only as legendary, but also as larger than life. That band is Immortal, one of Norway's most acclaimed and revered Black Metal bands and one that falls entirely within the category of exceptional musicianship.
So what does it mean when a Black Metal band is "larger than life"? Well... for a start, if you have ever listened to an Immortal album, you will agree that there is an overwhelming sense of epic grandeur in the frozen landscapes that are transmitted through their music, even more immense than the atmosphere that Emperor were able to convey on In The Nightside Eclipse with the use of keyboards. Furthermore, combining the sheer vastness of their music and lyrics with their fantastic album art, monumental live shows, distinguishable appearance, and above all the fact that they don't take themselves too seriously, the end result is a band that is undeniably larger than life.
Immortal's roots can be traced back to when Olve Eikemo and Tore Bratseth formed a Death Metal band called Old Funeral in 1988 in Bergen, Norway. Old Funeral only released two demos and one EP before splitting up in 1992, however this band would later gain attention precisely because Olve Eikemo and Harald Nævdal, the two founding members of Immortal, had once formed a part of the band. Additionally, Varg Vikernes of Burzum fame and Jørn Inge Tunsberg from Hades Almighty also played with Old Funeral, granting the short-lived band even more recognition, although they joined the band in 1990 at the same time that Olve Eikemo and Harald Nævdal were leaving.
Olve Eikemo, Harald Nævdal, Jan Atle Åserød and Jørn Inge Tunsberg also formed another Death Metal band in Bergen in 1988 called Amputation, although they too only managed to release two demos before disbanding in 1990. After leaving Old Funeral and upon the disbandment of Amputation, Olve Eikemo and Harald Nævdal founded Immortal in Bergen in 1990.
Early years and shift in style
In their beginnings, Olve Eikemo handled bass and vocals, adopting the pseudonym Abbath Doom Occulta, while guitarist Harald Nævdal adopted the pseudonym Demonaz Doom Occulta, although they are more commonly known throughout the Black Metal community simply as Abbath and Demonaz respectively. They were joined by Gerhard "Armagedda" Herfindal on drums, and with this line-up they recorded a self-titled demo in the summer of 1991, with the style on this demo being a brand of Death Metal not unlike that found on Old Funeral's and Amputation's demos. Jørn Inge Tunsberg contributed his guitar skills on this demo.
This Death Metal style would be short-lived for Immortal, as it wasn't long before the band members met with Euronymous, guitarist and founder of Mayhem, Norway's pioneering Black Metal band. With the inspiration found from such bands as Venom, Bathory and Celtic Frost, together with the influence from Euronymous and Mayhem, Immortal began gradually shifting their style towards Black Metal, and by the time they released their self-titled Immortal EP in 1991, the change in genre was essentially complete. Immortal now formed an integral part of the Norwegian Black Metal scene, and would never look back.
Immortal: A Band Apart
In April 1992, Immortal entered the famous Grieghallen Studio in Bergen, Norway, to begin recording their first full length album, titled Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. The Grieghallen Studio is well known throughout the Black Metal community for being the studio where a great number of landmark Black Metal albums were recorded in the golden days of the genre, and Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism would be no exception. Early on in their careers, Immortal proved that they were more than adept at making top quality Black Metal, and upon it's release their first album was met with a universal positive reaction within the small Black Metal community, and still remains a classic album to this day, having aged exceptionally well and featuring fantastic songwriting and great performances all round. The album was released through the Osmose Productions record label.
Immortal also recorded a homemade video for the song "The Call Of The Wintermoon", which in recent years has drawn attention not only to the album but also to the band and Black Metal in general, due to it featuring the band members going on an improvised and somewhat tongue-in-cheek run through the forest with some slightly over-the-top Black Metal aesthetics thrown in for good measure. These characteristics would be a defining theme for Immortal, and as has been mentioned before, their ability to not take themselves too seriously and yet put forth nothing but excellent Black Metal of the highest quality is what makes Immortal stand out from the rest of the pack.
Furthermore, Immortal can also differentiate themselves from their peers on one other interesting detail. While the vast majority, if not all of the legendary Black Metal bands at the time focused their creative ideological output on their outwardly anti-christian lyrical themes and blasphemic aesthetics, Immortal opted instead for a more mythical approach, with their lyrics dealing primarily with the demon-filled battles and glacial landscapes of the fictitious realm of Blashyrkh, which according to Abbath and Demonaz, is an imaginary land that mirrors the sensation of isolation that they felt from living in Bergen, although the specific concept of Blashyrkh itself would not become apparent until their 1995 album Battles In The North. This borderline obsession with frozen landscapes can be observed in any Immortal album, with each album's song titles and lyrics filled to the brim with references to the dark, wintery panoramas that are characteristic of Bergen and Norway in general. The man behind the idea of Blashyrkh is Demonaz, and he remains as Immortal's lyricist to this day.
Additionally, it is worth mentioning that Immortal's core members never participated in the church burnings that were perpetrated by many other central figures within the Norwegian Black Metal scene during the early 90's, and neither did they commit any other noteworthy crimes for that matter, concentrating 100% of their energy into the musical aspect of Black Metal.
Pure Excellence and Battles In Blashyrkh
In 1993, Immortal returned to the Grieghallen Studio and set out to record their second full length album titled Pure Holocaust. Unfortunately, drummer Armagedda left the band before the recording took place, so Abbath took over drumming duties in addition to handling bass guitar and vocals. Curiously, the late Erik "Grim" Brødreskift is depicted on the album cover and credited in the album booklet as performing drums on the recording of Pure Holocaust, although his role within Immortal would be limited to two European tours between 1993 and 1994 before leaving to play in Gorgoroth and Borknagar. Pure Holocaust was released through Osmose Productions on the 1st of November, 1993, and once again Immortal proved that they had what it takes to make excellent Black Metal, although this time around the end result was faster and more intense than anything to be found on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. Both Abbath's and Demonaz's talent really shine through, with particular emphasis on Abbath's drumming abilities.
Sadly, Grim would later commit suicide in 1999 by drug overdose, but the yearly Hole In The Sky metal festival which has been held in Bergen from 2000 until 2011 was dedicated to him, and the profit gained from the ticket sales has been used to promote a multitude of metal related activities in Bergen and the surrounding areas, with Immortal headlining the festival on a number of occasions.
In the fall of 1994, continuing as a duo with Demonaz on guitars and Abbath on vocals, bass and drums, Immortal returned once again to the Grieghallen Studio in Bergen to begin recording their third full length album, titled Battles In The North. As mentioned before, prior to this album Immortal's lyrics had followed the same general theme of icy landscapes and demonic beings, albeit in a series of separate and almost unrelated accounts. Battles In The North was released in 1995 through Osmose Productions, and on it Immortal finally introduced the specific concept of Blashyrkh, the "demon-and-battle-filled" realm of frozen landscapes upon which Demonaz would build all future lyrical themes for the band, all interconnected. Musically, the album is a continuation of the excellent and relentless Black Metal that was found on Pure Holocaust, but with an ever so slightly rawer production on all instruments, adding to the icy atmosphere that the music conveys, although this minor change in production quality is probably most apparent with Abbath's vocals than on the instruments themselves.
Accompanying the release of Battles In The North, Immortal recorded two further music videos for the songs "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)" and "Grim And Frostbitten Kingdoms" with the help of David Palser as director. The videos were given the collective title of Masters Of Nebulah Frost, and in a similar manner to their first video for the song "The Call Of The Wintermoon" from their first album, these new videos have also garnered wide-spread attention in recent years thanks to the internet. Jan Axel "Hellhammer" Blomberg of Mayhem fame plays drums in the music video for "Grim And Frostbitten Kingdoms".
Finally, in 1996 Immortal were able to find a drummer after recruiting Reidar "Horgh" Horghagen, and he has remained with the band ever since. Later that year, Immortal returned to the studio to begin recording their fourth full length album, titled Blizzard Beasts, although on this occasion the recording took place at the Sigma Recording Studios instead of the Grieghallen Studio that they had used for all of their previous albums. Blizzard Beasts was released in March 1997, and the incorporation of Horgh can be noticed with a shift in style towards a mix of Black Metal guitars and Death Metal drumming, although it blends together nicely and does not detract from the frozen atmosphere that Immortal transmits so well, and the aggression in the guitars and vocals make up for the rawness that is lost in the more sophisticated percussion.
Unfortunately, this would be the last album to feature Demonaz as a musician, as in 1997 he would be diagnosed with acute tendinitis in his arm and would no longer be able to play the guitar. Not being able to find an adequate replacement, Abbath once again saved the day, and took over as guitarist as well as already handling vocals and bass guitar, while Demonaz would remain as Immortal's lyricist and manager.
At The Heart Of The Abyss
During the winter of 1998, Immortal entered the famous The Abyss Studio in Sweden, managed by legendary musician and producer Peter Tägtgren, and recorded what would be their greatest achievement yet. At The Heart Of Winter, their fifth full length studio recording, was composed by Abbath and Horgh, and recorded literally at the heart of winter. Instead of continuing along the Black / Death Metal blend road that they had taken on their previous album, with At The Heart Of Winter they delved into Thrash Metal territory and the resulting sound is nothing short of breathtaking, with the album's overall atmosphere representing the album title perfectly, with the great organic guitarwork flowing through each song and Abbath's vocals more outstanding than ever before.
Upon releasing At The Heart Of Winter in 1999, Immortal went on tour and were helped out by Stian "Iscariah" Smørholm on bass guitar. Satisfied with Iscariah's performance, Immortal recruited Iscariah as their permanent bass player upon finishing the tour, allowing Abbath to focus on his increasingly impressive guitarwork. Now with a solid and more stable line-up, Immortal returned to The Abyss Studio once again in the winter of 1999 and set out to record their sixth album, titled Damned In Black. This time, Immortal ventured even further down the path of Thrash-infused Black Metal, minimally exchanging some of the organic feel of the guitars for slightly more aggessive overtones.
After releasing their masterpiece, At The Heart Of Winter, a great challenge lay ahead for Immortal to come up with an album that, while not necessarily surpassing it's predecessor, would at least not be overshadowed by it. It's safe to say that Damned In Black accomplished this goal rather gracefully at the time and can be considered an excellent Black Metal album, although it wouldn't be too long before Immortal once again amazed the Black Metal world by pulling another ace out of their sleeve, something on par with At The Heart Of Winter, cementing their legendary status forever and involuntarily overshadowing Damned In Black in the process. Damned In Black would be the last Immortal album to be released through Osmose Productions, as the band ended their contract with the latter and signed with famous German label Nuclear Blast.
To finish off the millenium, Immortal participated in the famous True Kings Of Norway split album, featuring classic songs from the early years of some of the best Norwegian Black Metal band's careers. The other bands to appear on the split were Arcturus, Ancient, Dimmu Borgir and Emperor, with Immortal being represented by the three songs that appear on their self-titled EP from 1991. This split was released through Spikefarm Records.
Sons Of Northern Darkness and the end of an era
In September 2001, returning for the third time to Peter Tägtgren's The Abyss Studio in Sweden, Immortal set out to record Sons Of Northern Darkness, their seventh and final album before splitting up in 2003. Immortal gathered the best parts from their two previous works and combined them into a monster of an album, featuring a perfect balance of the epic atmosphere and organic guitarwork found on At The Heart Of Winter with the aggression and thrashiness found on Damned In Black. Sons Of Northern Darkness was released in February 2002 through Nuclear Blast, and easily shares the throne with At The Heart Of Winter as Immortal's best album to date. Unfortunately, in April 2002 bassist Iscariah left the band, citing that he didn't feel like he belonged in Immortal's line-up, and went on to form his own band called Dead To This World. He was replaced by Yngve "Saroth" Liljebäck for Immortal's live performances.
The following year, due to a multitude of personal reasons, Abbath and Demonaz put Immortal to rest. In 2004 Horgh went on to join legendary Swedish Death Metal band Hypocrisy, led by Peter Tägtgren, and remains as their drummer to this day, while Abbath began a new project in 2005 simply titled I, together with Tom Cato "King Ov Hell" Visnes who played bass guitar in Gorgoroth, Arve "Ice Dale" Isdal who is guitarist for Enslaved, and Gerhard "Armagedda" Herfindal who had previously played drums for Immortal from 1990 to 1992. The I project remains active to this day although they have only released one album, titled Between Two Worlds. It is clear that Abbath is at the helm of this project, as the music shares strong similarities with that of Immortal, and needless to say, Demonaz handles all the lyrics.
Demonaz himself started his own self-titled project, and also counts with the collaboration of Armagedda on drums and Ice Dale on guitars and bass, with Demonaz handling vocal duties. So far he has released one demo and one album titled March Of The Norse under the Demonaz name.
Reunion and Resurrection
In the summer of 2006, during an interview with German magazine Rock Hard, Abbath surprised the metal community by announcing that Immortal would be reuniting, commenting that the time was just right and that "Immortal are timeless frost. One year more or less doesn't make a difference. We have all the time in the world."
Abbath was not lying, and sure enough in 2007 Immortal was alive and breathing once again. Breathing fire, that is! Together with Ole "Apollyon" Moe from Aura Noir fame as bassist, Immortal came back stronger than ever and headlined some of that year's most important metal festivals, including the Inferno Festival, the Tuska Open Air Festival, the Metal Camp Festival and last but not least the Wacken Open Air Festival. Also, they played two concerts in the United States and in 2008 they toured New Zealand and Australia for the first time in addition to a countless number of other concerts spread across Europe. Their performance at the Wacken Open Air Festival in 2007 was filmed and later released as a live DVD in 2010 titled The Seventh Date Of Blashyrkh.
After this extensive reunion tour, Demonaz confirmed in another interview that Immortal was working on new material and that they would soon be entering the studio to record their eighth album. In April 2009, Immortal returned not only to The Abyss Studio but also revisited the famous Grieghallen Studio, spreading the recording of the album between the two studios. The new album, titled All Shall Fall, was released through Nuclear Blast in September 2009, and although by itself it was an excellent album in typical Immortal fashion, it did have trouble living up to the fan's expectations. This was almost inevitable, as not only did All Shall Fall have to live up to the grandeur left by their previous album and masterpiece, Sons Of Northern Darkness, but it also had to make up for the seven years that separated the two albums. However, only the most exigent and elitist of fans were disappointed, and the vast majority of Immortal's fanbase warmly welcomed the new album and gave positive feedback. A music video was recorded for the title track, although on this occasion professional equipment was used.
In October 2009, Immortal participated in a split album with Hypocrisy titled Valley Of The Damned / Hordes Of War, featuring one song from each band, and more recently Decibel Magazine reported that Immortal had begun work on their next album. Hopefully it will not be long before Abbath or Demonaz choose to give everybody an official update regarding this.
As you can see, Immortal's journey has been one of persistence, creativity, and above all, talent. You will now agree that few bands have achieved the legendary status that Immortal rightfully hold, even fewer based on their musical prowess alone, and none other than Immortal can be described as larger than life. The best part about it all is that their journey isn't over just yet.
- Last updated by Imperator on January 1st, 2013 -
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