Bergen, Norway’s much-loved iconic black metallers enter their postAbbath era.
After Abbath returned from the rubble of Immortal, all eyes turned to what remaining members Demonaz and Horgh would do next. Now that question has been answered
Of all the bands that emerged from the Norwegian black metal explosion of the early 90s, Immortal alone elicit the kind of mad-eyed devotion that marks out the truly legendary. Consequently, the band’s return stands out as one of the events of 2018. But the impending release of ninth studio album Northern Chaos Gods isn’t just the next chapter in an illustrious saga; this time, new Immortal material arrives bearing the weight of long-held expectations and against a backdrop of behind-the-scenes turmoil caused by the acrimonious departure of talismanic frontman Abbath in 2014, and a subsequent legal tussle over rights to the band’s name and logo.
In October 2015, remaining members Demonaz and Horgh issued a statement in the wake of winning the court battle, declaring that “the conflict was not about anyone leaving the band, as Abbath claimed. It was all about his personal problems. He had cancelled rehearsals and ruined the band’s progress for a very long time. We were forced to confront him about it… He told the band, friends and family that he needed to go to rehab again. He had got help from a clinic before. We offered to wait for him to recover this time also. Sadly, he changed his decision.”
According to the statement, Abbath then secretly applied for a trademark ownership of the band’s logo and name, only to be denied by the court who surmised, not unreasonably, that he was a co-writer rather than the band’s sole composer. The eventual result of those not entirely edifying legal proceedings is that Abbath is now a solo artist and Immortal are back, not so much in a new incarnation as an old one redesigned: for the first time since 1997’s Blizzard Beasts album, founder member and long-time lyricist Demonaz is back on guitar and, for the first time ever, providing vocals, too. Back in 1997, he had to step away from his onstage role as a result of a brutal dose of tendonitis, but a combination of necessity and good fortune have brought him enthusiastically back to Immortal’s onstage A-team.
“I had a shoulder operation in 2011 and it made my arm work properly again so things became different,” he shrugs. “The vocal thing? Well, me and Horgh were working on the songs for the album and we just decided that I would do the vocals. It felt natural to do it. It’s difficult to explain, but we’ve worked so hard on this band for all these years that it just felt normal to do it. I’ve been a part of this band since we started it, so who else could do it?”
For once in the metal world, this is a line-up shuffle that few purists should complain about. Demonaz is both an original member and the chief architect of Immortal’s conceptual universe, while Horgh has been a permanent fixture in the band since the mid-90s. This being 2018, of course, the return of Immortal without Abbath will inevitably receive its fair share of spitty-lipped opprobrium. This, daft people will doubtless say, is not the real Immortal.
“Well, I can’t really think about that,” Demonaz muses with a chuckle. “If we had to think about what people thought of this band from the start, we would’ve broken up many years ago. There were always a lot of critics, right from the start. It was like, ‘We’re Immortal and no one likes us!’ you know? Ha ha ha! We always felt like that. Having said that, there is a great bond between us and our fans. They will understand that we never gave up on this band. We never stopped. And now it’s time to move on.”
As it turns out, Demonaz and Horgh seem to have been holding the black metal equivalent of a royal flush. From the blitzkrieg battery of the opening title track onwards, Northern Chaos Gods is an explosive, gripping and supremely confident return; easily as epic and vicious as anything in Immortal’s catalogue and yet subtly fresh and surprising, too. The absence of Abbath’s iconic snarl and trademark guitar tone aside, it’s hard to imagine a more imperious musical rebirth, as songs like the seething Into Battle Ride and the Maiden-saluting Where Mountains Rise strike a sublime balance between grandeur and grimness. There is a definite sense that a lot of time has been spent on ensuring that the new album is exactly what it needs to be, regardless of what fans or critics might be desiring or expecting.
“We just said, ‘Let’s take a step back and do this properly and deliver the best album we can…’,” Demonaz states. “We’ve always talked about making the ultimate Immortal album, but we never really had the chance to think it through properly. So maybe that’s
“There’s nothing To regret”
DEMONAZ REFUSED TO PIAF ABOUT AFTER ABBATH’S DEPARTURE
something we’ve done this time. We had no pressure, we just took our time and made a fucking kick-ass album. We didn’t think about perfection. Everything felt natural. We had time to think, maybe for the first time. I guess you could say that we had all the time in the world! Ha ha ha!”
It’s far from unusual for a Norwegian black metal musician to express a total disregard for outside influence or pressure, but somehow it rings far more true coming from Demonaz. Immortal have never exhibited even the teensiest sliver of interest in compromising on their original vision, lyrical flights of fancy through the mythical, symbolic kingdom of Blashyrkh included. If anything, Northern Chaos Gods represents the expansion and refinement of that irresistible Immortal essence, as if all the trials and disruptions of recent years have pushed Demonaz and Horgh to focus ever more closely on what the now-frontman describes as “the right Immortal feeling”.
“We wanted to create a diverse album, but still fast and spectacular,” he grins. “The last track, Mighty Ravendark, it’s nearly 10 minutes long, it’s really epic. I always wanted to do something like that, something massive. Perhaps this was our first opportunity to do a few of these things, but if you listen to the album, you’ll hear a lot of that old Immortal feeling, too. I’m really into those first four or five albums and I wanted to bring back the intensity that we had at that time. I really wanted that to come through the speakers, that Immortal attack.”
As furious as the songs on Northern Chaos Gods manifestly are, Demonaz himself cuts an amiable and relaxed figure today. Noticeably delighted to hear our positive first impressions of the new album and eager to note how excited he is to be resurrecting the band he formed way back in 1991, he nonchalantly notes that, “I just didn’t see any reason to put this down and I think people will understand that.” Of course, he is also more than aware that many people will be hoping for vitriolic denouncements of his former bandmate, but several years on from the split and with a brand new album primed for launch, Immortal’s other founder member has already moved on. With the album completed and promotion underway, he is now beginning to focus on establishing and rehearsing a new line-up for the in-the-flesh onslaught to come. Demonaz’s long-awaited return to the stage, you may be ecstatic to hear, is very much on the cards. Meanwhile, he and loyal comrade Horgh have simply picked up where their band left off nearly a decade ago, armed with that unmistakable Immortal spirit and driven by a primal need to keep ploughing – or perhaps blasting – inexorably forward into the bleak Blashyrkh landscapes, with no compromises and no regrets.
“Do I regret anything? Not really, because I can’t change any of it,” Demonaz muses. “We tried to solve the situation with Abbath, but in the end we couldn’t agree on it. It doesn’t look like that’ll change in the future, so yeah, I guess you never know. But 2014 wasn’t the first time. The band broke up once before. Some decisions were made and we moved on. There’s nothing to regret. That wouldn’t help me or anyone else. So it’s history and I can’t change history. The only thing we can do is try to make the best out of the situation… and to make sure every album kicks the ass of the last one! Ha ha ha!”
NORTHERN CHAOS GODS IS RELEASED ON JULY 6 VIA NUCLEAR BLAST
“our fans understand that we never gave up on This band”
DEMONAZ IS DRIVEN BY A PERSISTENT GENE