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Review for 'Immortal - Sons of Northern Darkness'
If there is one Black Metal band that not only ranks amongst the most legendary of them all, but can also base their success exclusively upon the consistent quality of their music without having to rely upon any kind of notoriety or controversial crimes to have given them a helping hand at reaching their legendary status, then that band is Immortal, one of the pioneers of the Second Wave of Black Metal and without a doubt one of the most exemplary bands to have ever emerged from Norway.
Picking up where they left off with their Damned In Black album from 2000, which itself was a continuation of their masterpiece from 1999, At The Heart Of Winter where they first began to give their music a slightly more thrashier feel, Immortal confidently combined the best of both of these albums to create the magnificent Sons Of Northern Darkness, released in 2002 and marking their seventh and final full length album before the band was put on hold the following year.
The line-up on Sons Of Northern Darkness remained exactly the same as on their previous album, Damned In Black, with Olve "Abbath" Eikemo handling guitars and vocals, Reidar "Horgh" Horghagen on drums, Stian "Iscariah" Smørholm on bass guitar, and Harald "Demonaz" Nævdal as lyricist and general overseer of the band's artistic direction, a position he has maintained ever since he was forced to stop playing guitar due to the onset of tendinitis.
As has been mentioned before, Immortal managed to stand out from the crowd not only for their excellent music, but also by being one of the few bands that do not openly partake in the deliberate blasphemous aesthetics or otherwise outwardly anti-christian behaviour and lyrics that are commonplace and almost fundamental amongst the vast majority of Black Metal bands. While their musical approach to Black Metal stays very close to the genre's roots, more so than most in fact, their lyrical and thematic approach contrasts with this by dealing almost exclusively with the imaginary realm of "Blashyrkh", which according to the bands founding members Abbath and Demonaz, is a "demon-and-battle-filled" land of snow and ice, reflecting their feelings of isolation from living in their home town of Bergen, Norway.
One of the most symbolic aspects of Bergen, and Norway in general for that matter, that is widely represented in Immortal's lyrics are the frozen landscapes and overwhelming cold that is almost synonymous with Scandinavia. Sons Of Northern Darkness is probably where these themes are more apparent that on any other album, with each song's lyrics saturated with endless references to darkness, snow, winds, storms, glaciers, tundra, permafrost, and other such sub-zero related themes. This, combined with Abbath's trademark icy vocals, makes for an end result that is cold enough to freeze an erupting volcano. The production on the album is very clean, but this doesn't detract in any way from the atmosphere created. Quite the opposite, the clean production only lowers the temperature even further, allowing the catchy riffs to really shine through and obliterate everything in their path.
Sons Of Northern Darkness can be divided, somewhat inaccurately, into two halves, with the first five songs being of the more aggressive variety, and the remaining three bearing a slightly more epic feel, although there are of course some parts on the first half that imitate the latter, and vice versa, to great effect. In typical Immortal fashion, the album doesn't feature any kind of intro, and instead begins straight away with "One By One", a fantastic song and perfect album opener that blazes head-first into some relentless Thrash infused Black Metal that doesn't stop for one second until it's over, featuring some of the most memorable riffs that Abbath has ever created. In fact, with the exception of their At The Heart Of Winter album, Sons Of Northern Darkness is Immortal's finest album when it comes to excellent riffs, and that's saying a lot when it comes to Immortal, a band known for their exceptional guitar prowess.
The following four tracks are all equally satisfying, notably the title track "Sons Of Northern Darkness" with the guitars and drums blending perfectly, and "Tyrants" which is monumental from start to finish and features a brilliant build-up to one of the most unforgettable parts of the band's career. Don't worry, you'll know what I mean when it arrives.
The second, and somewhat more epic half of Sons Of Northern Darkness begins with "In My Kingdom Cold", a song so towering and awe-inspiring, and so perfectly placed, that this track alone will have you definitively obsessed with the whole album upon first listen, and will keep you returning for more time and time again. Even if you consider yourself to be beyond something as petty and childish as being obsessed with a Black Metal album, and you somehow managed to remain superficially unmoved by the might of "In My Kingdom Cold", then I'm afraid you have no escape because either one of the two remaining songs on Sons Of Northern Darkness will seal the deal. For real! Your only chance of escape would be to stop listening to the album before it is over, and that would be a very foolish thing to do indeed.
The next track is titled "Antartica", and begins with a very nice instrumental introduction that summons you effortlessly to the shores of the eponymous continent, before exploding into life and charging further inland as it progresses, hooking on to you with its brilliant riffs and dragging you along with it every step of the way to the coldest place on Earth. This is one of the rare occasions in Black Metal, if not the only occasion, where a Scandinavian band has paid any kind of homage to the South Pole, making the song even more memorable. Things soon return closer to home with the album's closer, "Beyond The North Waves". If you felt uncomfortable with so much musical excellence being dedicated to the southern hemisphere, then don't worry any longer. "Beyond The North Waves" is an eight-minute masterpiece that just gets better and better as it goes along, conjuring lively images of all things Scandinavian, culminating in a simply awesome finale that couldn't have ended the album in a more majestic way.
All in all, Sons Of Northern Darkness is as brutal as it is epic, with every song being so damn good you'll be shitting ice cubes from here to next July.
What other albums sound similar to this?
Immortal are the undisputed kings at producing pure frozen Black Metal wizardry, and they have a number of albums that back up this claim. In fact, every single Immortal album is proof of their skill, each one providing a specific take on the fantastic realms of Blashyrkh with it's own unique sound that changes slightly from one album to the next. As is usually the case with bands that follow this method of subtle evolution, the albums which bear most resemblance to Sons Of Northern Darkness are its immediate predecessor Damned In Black and their follow-up and latest album All Shall Fall, from 2009. Nethertheless, make sure you don't miss out on their other masterpiece At The Heart Of Winter too, and any other Immortal album you can get your hands on while you are at it. Also worth mentioning are Abbath and Demonaz's side-projects, titled I and Demonaz respectively.
Outside of Blashyrkh, it's hard to find a band that can produce an album similar to Sons Of Northern Darkness. That is, it's hard to find a band that can both convey the Northern cold in all it's glory and use a clean production on all instruments at the same time. Instead, most rely on fuzzy production values and raw guitars and vocals to take care of that aspect.
A couple of recent albums that do actually pull off the difficult mixture of clean production and genuinely cold atmosphere are Taake's recent Noregs Vaapen masterpiece and Ragnarok's Collectors Of The King, but the similarities are minimal and I would greatly appreciate user recommendations because, to be honest, I can't think of any other albums that fit the shoes of Sons Of Northern Darkness.
In a nutshell...
Sons Of Northern Darkness is one of Immortal's finest albums, giving At The Heart Of Winter some fierce competition for their best album ever, and if you don't fall in love with it upon first listen, it means you weren't paying attention and consequently didn't deserve to be listening to it in the first place. That said, it is very hard to not pay attention to Sons Of Northern Darkness, because this isn't some obscure Ambient Black Metal album that requires several listens just to uncover it's details and depths, but rather an unmistakable and merciless assault of subzero temperatures and superhuman musicianship that reveals all it's brilliance on the first spin.
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