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Review for 'Immortal - At the Heart of Winter'
With At The Heart Of Winter, Immortal finally cemented their legendary status within Black Metal forever, if they weren't considered legends already, with this landmark 1999 masterpiece proving to be one of the genres most perfectly executed and memorable albums ever.
At The Heart Of Winter is Immortal's fifth full length album, recorded at the appropiately named The Abyss studios in Sweden in November 1998, and it marked several changes regarding various aspects of the band. Firstly, it was the first Immortal album to not feature Demonaz on guitars due to him beginning to suffer from acute tendinitis in his hands, although he maintained his role as lyricist, manager and creative director, a position that he holds to this day. Secondly, At The Heart Of Winter was also the first Immortal album to showcase their new logo, and coincidentally the first album to not feature photos of the band members themselves on the cover art.
Finally, and more importantly, At The Heart Of Winter marked a subtle but nontheless distinct shift in Immortal's musical approach to their own frosty take on Black Metal. Venturing ever deeper with each album into their self-created demon and battle filled realm of "Blashyrkh" that the their lyrics portray, Immortal eventually began blending Thrash Metal elements into their formula with this album. Bear in mind, this shift is only slight, so don't expect this to sound like a Slayer or Kreator album. It's still very much Immortal both at heart and on the surface, but with a minor thrashy edge.
Another notable aspect of the band's slight stylistic shift is that the guitars on At The Heart Of Winter have a more organic feel than on any other Immortal album, and by organic I mean that they have a more natural feel with each note flowing into the next, something that only a true master like Abbath is able to pull off without the resulting complexity falling apart. The riffs really are quite unlike anything I've heard elsewhere. This flow of the guitars, together with Abbath's famous croaky vocals and Horgh's seemingly effortless drumming, gives the whole album an authentic feel of being quite literally at the heart of winter.
It just seems pointless to go into the specifics of each song on this album, but if there could only be one word used to describe At The Heart Of Winter, it would be Quality. Two words? Top Quality. Three? Top Fucking Quality. Okay, you get the idea. Immortal represents some of Black Metal's finest musicians, and while many of Norway's most famous Black Metal bands have repeatedly been at the center of controversy in one way or another and as a consequence have marginally enhanced their legendary status even more, Immortal's legendary status can be attributed in it's entirety to the band's relentless output of top quality Black Metal albums time after time, At The Heart Of Winter being no exception, with the aforementioned minor shift in style only reinforcing this attribute.
What other albums sound similar to this?
Immortal are well known for their borderline obsession with northern battles, icy landscapes and subzero temperatures, and have successfully pulled off this atmosphere on all of their albums using just plain old guitars, drums and frosty vocals (although the lyrics do help lower the temperature even more!), and At The Heart Of Winter is one of their "coldest" albums ever. Damned In Black and Sons Of Northern Darkness, their two last albums before splitting up temporarily in 2003, bear a strong musical resemblance to At The Heart Of Winter, so they are a good place to start although the guitars themselves don't carry the same "flow".
Obviously, any other Immortal album is also worth checking out, as they always deliver in terms of quality and feel, but if it's this specific style of Black Metal that you are looking for in other band's discographies, try checking out Elite, Bathory, Inquisition, Zarathustra, or even some of Immortal's related side-projects such as I and Demonaz. Also worth mentioning are Ukrainians Gromm and their Sacrilegium album, and Belgians Taranis and their Flandriae album.
In a nutshell...
Immortal's At The Heart Of Winter is their most creative album to date, with a steady flow of excellent guitar work from start to finish. Each of the six songs provides the listener's imagination with an epic wintery landscape, with Abbath's creative riffs sticking in one's head long after the album is over. If you ever wanted to know what "organic" guitars in Black Metal with Thrash Metal undertones sound like, this is the best way to find out.
Site Admin - BestBlackMetalAlbums.com
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