When Immortal fractured and Abbath went solo, all eyes turned to Demonaz. With Northern Chaos Gods, he proved the band had plenty of life left
No other extreme metal album this year arrived with as much anticipation – and trepidation – as Northern Chaos Gods. When Abbath and Demonaz parted ways in 2014, with more regret than outright acrimony, it was the end of a unique creative partnership. They had overcome all manner of challenges over a decade and a half, reforged black metal according to their own, singularly unselfconsciously OTT image, and had seen the band become an institution and a byword for epic, sometimes absurd, sonic exploration. Immortal had already gone on hiatus in 2003, returning with the exuberant grandeur of 2009’s All Shall Fall, but this split felt final, the two men charged with finding their own path out of the wreckage.
With Abbath going solo, the pressure was on what Demonaz did next. Abbath, as garrulous and antic-prone as ever, just had to continue being Abbath; the name Immortal came loaded with a quartercentury’s worth of history, the blizzard-bound world of Blashyrkh to maintain and a chemistry to repair – all without their iconic frontman. While Abbath courted the media and released his solo album, the Immortal camp – now just Demonaz and long-time drummer Horgh – kept mostly quiet, releasing one statement at the end of 2015, rebutting Abbath’s claims on what led to the dissolution, while the release of their first album without him kept on being put back. Without anything but speculation to go on, many feared the worst.
“When we started to write for this album,” says Demonaz from his Bergen home, “I said to Horgh, ‘Forget about everyone, this is going to kick fucking arse.’ I didn’t want to say anything to anybody, even though we got requests. People wanted to know the situation, blah blah blah, but if I should talk about Immortal, I want to talk about what we have delivered. I just said to everyone, ‘There is a time for everything, and there is a time for Northern Chaos Gods.’”
R“i wanted it to Be a fist in tHe face”
eleased in July, Northern Chaos Gods blew away any doubts that it wouldn’t live up to the Immortal name the second the opening track’s seething, serrated lead riff stormed out
of the speakers. If felt like an eruption of intent, a primal force ripping through the permafrost from the very heart of Blashyrkh. Northern Chaos Gods took a step back to move forwards, delving into the band’s seething core and wringing fresh urgency from it. Still lashed to a masterful set of dynamics, the tempo changes weren’t so much a breather as a retooling of momentum.
“When you know you have something, everyone else can say what they want and make up their minds upfront,” says Demonaz. “Make your own rules, your own kingdom, and your own business. I’ve always enjoyed being the underdog, or at least have had that underdog feeling. I think that got lost the way the band was before this album, in a way. It was nobody’s fault, it’s just the way things worked out. It was important not to rush anything, but it was still a frantic, attacking sound. It’s like a neverending pulse. When you put it on, it doesn’t stop ’til it’s finished. I wanted it to be a fist in the face.”
For all its immediacy, Northern Chaos Gods is the coalescing of a continuity that had once seemed broken. As vast and open as their sound has often been, Immortal have always been a cornerstone of the black metal scene, and to enter Blashyrkh is to find a world to explore, but also to be orientated amidst the classic marker points of blizzards, battles, Northern climes and kingdom gates to be stormed. Currently recovering from an operation on his back, and with another one pending to replace a disc, Demonaz has lots of time to think ahead for his next campaign, the signature riffs that are always forming in his head already starting to take shape.
“The next album is going to be written in the same way,” he says,
“but the structure of the songs may be a bit more unexpected. The songs on Northern Chaos Gods were written in the classic Immortal way; you know what to expect but still it makes sense. There aren’t so many surprises, but when it comes, it swings in the right way. I’m working with a bit more of an advanced structure, but I don’t want the music to be advanced. So you have to find that path in between.”
For Demonaz, nothing compares to the feeling of making new music. “I think the most magic time is when you find this key riff and the hair raises on your arms, and you think, ‘Wow, this is going to be fucking good.’
That’s what gives me the most pleasure. To me, the album was finished a long time ago, but it wasn’t finished for the world before it was released. It was a conclusion in a way. Now I can empty my brain completely for the next one.”
anaal Nathrakh: four legs, 200 riffs to scare your nan shitless