Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism(Osmose - 1992)
One of the original Norwegian black metal bands that emerged from the circle around Euronymous/Mayhem along with Darkthrone, Emperor, Enslaved and Burzum. As with many of these bands, early demos and sounds were death metal, which later changed to black metal influenced by Euronymous and Bathory/Celtic Frost. This is their first release and a far cry from their later holocaust speed-ripping metal. This debut makes good use of the typical grim and cold Norwegian black-metal sound of the time similar to Darkthrone or Burzum, with elements of Bathory. Phlegm-mixed-with-glass vocals, and slower (relatively), dark and cold music. This stuff is raw, primitive and harsh music. There are some blast beats, but the overall effect of the album is one of grim moodiness rather than blast, and the vocals are more classically raspy than the croaky belch of later releases. The compositions can get too simplistic and the album can easily lose one's interest after the first couple of songs, but despite this I would rate this album relatively high for its quite effective, dark and grim mood, and I do enjoy it and find myself listening to it several times for its very strong raw sound. The production is somewhat muddy but adequate for this kind of sound and it actually helps the atmosphere. It's a good album to put on if you're in the mood and it works if one just sinks into its effective atmosphere. An above-average, enjoyable, not great, but solid and consistent release.
Pure Holocaust(Osmose - 1993)
Pure holocaust is correct; This album is 100% blast beats and then some. Yet, surprisingly enough, I always found a grim musical path to take me through this blizzard hell. A jagged tour with racing guitar riffs and maniacal drumming, this is a harsh, devastating and great album. Vocals are a harsh black metal belch - great stuff. The energy is superb, the blasting drums backed by blackened moody buzzing guitars and jagged infectiously malicious riffs, and the croaking rasps sit on top of it all like a satanic toad-demon from hell. There is just enough dynamism in the composition to take a breather now and then before going back to blasting. I surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying this release and I enjoy it every time I listen to it from start to finish. Non-melodic, non-keyboard, unrelenting, no-frills harsh black metal at its finest. A classic in the genre.
Battles in the North(Osmose - 1995)
Their third release. This time they left me and much of their audience behind. It sounds like they concentrated only on increasing the speed of their blackened metal and forgot to make it musical. The album rushes by you at Mach 6 without leaving anything behind but a dull, flat wreckage. It all sounds the same. It may have helped if the mix gave the muted lead guitars more prominence, and one can sometimes hear something more interesting going on there in the background, but this production, although clearer than the previous album, emphasizes the droning blast, vocals and drums, making for a very dull sound. There is almost nothing to grab onto musically and this is a big step down from Pure Holocaust. It's just blasting guitars and drums, then a different pattern of blasting, accompanied by the same croaky blackened vocals, repeated for 35 minutes (except perhaps for the first and last tracks which are better). There is no buildup, no dynamism, no music. To quote the vocalist: 'Blaaaahh'.
Blizzard Beasts(Osmose - 1997)
In this fourth release we get a totally new sound with dizzying jagged riffing very similar to Morbid Angel but still in hyper-speed mode in the vein of the last two releases. This new sound makes the album sound like brutal death metal at times, even grindcore, but the core is still holocaust black metal. The production has improved greatly with all the instruments receiving a better mix and clearer sound. Unfortunately the overwhelming emphasis is on constant speed again, resulting in an even worse album than 'Battles in the North'. The jagged riffing at this speed sounds completely flat and pointless rather than adding a brutal and energetic element to the sound. It's like someone is just randomly moving all over the guitar in an attempt to impress with fingering acrobatics, but there is nothing that grabs onto the listener, neither an infectious energy nor any kind of musical structure or quality. The vocals are the usual hateful but strong croak and rasp, and the drums are different this time with more dynamism, thanks to a new drummer. But the music is simply not there. I tried to get into this one the best I could, but I didn't find any enjoyment in it. The music sorely needs more rest notes, structure and dynamics in order to be as brutal as it thinks it is.
At the Heart of Winter(Osmose - 1999)
Thankfully scrapping the obsession over instantly forgettable speed, Immortal opt for more dynamic, relatively slower, and definitely more mature and developed compositions with this release, losing some but not all of their essential sound. This isn't a regression back to the Diabolical Fullmoon days, it's Pure Holocaust meets epic melodic metal and thrash metal riffs halfway. Containing six tracks and clocking at 46 minutes, this proves to be their most epic and interesting album composition-wise, albeit I don't enjoy it more than their classic Pure Holocaust and it is relatively less bleak sounding with more epic melody this time around. Thrash and NWOBHM elements (think Swedish death metal) are sprinkled on top of the blasting blackness, as is some Satyricon-style Viking metal music. They haven't completely left behind their jagged riffing and death metal from Blizzard Beasts either, especially in the beginning of this release. But it does become more melodic as it goes. There is even a short appearance of a synthesizer. All of these elements are brought together for a new sound which is sometimes complex, an album that seems to have come from nowhere for these formerly black-metal purists. The songs flow from one dark arrangement to another with a solid musical grip and dynamic compositions, bringing in new elements, riffing patterns and varying beats often enough to hold your interest throughout the long tracks. Croaking and rasping over this harsh but melodic sound, as always, is the vocalist, who thankfully hasn't changed his unique and enjoyable delivery. The drumming is quite good and the production is superb. Although many consider this to be their best album, I didn't find the result truly outstanding: The thrashy and jagged riffing is clunkily written sometimes, the epic sound feels somewhat derivative of NWOBHM and Swedish metal, and the riffs sometimes merely chug when they should rip and soar. But it's a mixed bag: The first two tracks are great, the second two tracks plod and repeat more than they should, the fifth track 'At the Heart of Winter' features surprising synth and anthemic heavy metal, but they combine this nicely with their harsh blackened sound, and the final track 'Years of Silent Sorrow' starts nicely and is dynamic and epic, but plods too much in the middle. This is definitely a worthwhile album despite the weak aspects mentioned above, and well worth getting if you enjoy this style. I still think Pure Holocaust is their best, however, and prefer the blacker and rawer sound therein.
Damned in Black(Osmose - 2000)
This band zig-zags in style more often than their riffs. This release tones down the epic melody and complexity from 'At the Heart of Winter' and increases the speed and energy. It feels like an attempt to find the middle ground between the jagged black-death speed of 'Blizzard Beasts' with the epic metal of 'At the Heart of Winter'. The vocals experiment here at times with more harsher sounding rasps that sound like he is gargling glass, or the occasional At the Gates-inspired growl-rasp energetic vocal. Peter Tägtgren's influence increases in this album after mixing the last one as well, adding more of that Swedish, semi-melodic, but mostly chugging and energetic death-metal sound (think Hypocrisy, or At the Gates, meets Immortal). Unfortunately, the dynamic epic complexity is what made the last release a success, and here the compositions are more simplistic, generic and mostly not memorable, and they don't contain that harsh black metal atmosphere of early Immortal either. For the most part, the songs feel flat despite the dynamics for some reason, bringing to mind similar problems in earlier albums such as 'Blizzard Beasts'. It's one of those albums that sounds like it should be more enjoyable than it actually is. There's a generic flatness despite the dynamic composition, and a lack of energy despite the blasting chugging sound. Perhaps the production had something to do with flattening it, but my ears say the songwriting takes most of the blame. So there is not much to praise despite the good sound and energy of this album. I think they simply need to stop copying these generic-sounding Swedish death/black metal riffs and come up with something from their guts. And this applies partially to 'At the Heart of Winter' as well. It's not a bad album per se, but it's also a very mediocre release without inspiration or originality.
Sons of Northern Darkness(Nuclear Blast - 2002)
Evidently, with a new label comes new energy. The sound here is less generic, although it seems to combine several of their earlier sounds judiciously. There's some harsh black metal, the jagged speed-riffing, the chugging almost-melodic Swedish death metal, the blasting grinding brutal death-tinged blackness, some dynamic complexity with several epic-length tracks, and an even better production mix with some layers this time. There is also some new Celtic Frost and Bathory-esque inspired primitive but good, pounding black metal. It all combines successfully this time with gusto, dynamism and energy, resulting in an infectiously forceful and enthusiastic black-death metal album. I still slightly miss the harsher and rawer Pure Holocaust sound, but this is a great, if slightly more accessible, sound with much more musical richness and variety than any of their previous albums. I enjoy it much more than 'At the Heart of Winter', and perhaps it is up there with 'Pure Holocaust', although it is a completely different beast. Many of the tracks on this album stand out in one way or another: The superbly vigorous 'One by One' with its jagged and dissonant edges, the slow but hulking and militant Bathory-esque epic 'Beyond the North Waves', 'Antarctica' with its alternating rhythmic aggression and atmospheric or even doomy sounds, 'Demonium' is a mediocre but not bad speed-oriented throwback, and 'Tyrants' is another slow but driving and effectively dark Celtic Frost track. The rest of the tracks are all good, driving black-death. Strongly recommended, and definitely their best since Pure Holocaust.
All Shall Fall(Nuclear Blast - 2009)
After a seven year gap with many band problems and breakups, they finally release this comeback album. After all the style changes the band has gone through in previous releases, I'm surprised that after this big gap, this release is similar in tone to 'Sons of Northern Darkness'. But not quite. Like 'Damned in Black' did to 'At the Heart of Winter', this release is an uninspired, toned-down, simplified and mostly forgettable attempt at repeating the previous album. It also increases the atmospheric sounds, as well as the power-metal and thrash-metal riffing, except these are often derivative and repetitive. The production this time makes everything blast at the same level, losing musical dynamics even though the album has a full sound. The sound they are going for here is big and full, it's a pity the music doesn't fill it with enough interesting stuff. The vocals are still a good croaky-rasp, but are relatively weaker without the crisp energy. There is much dissonance and atmospheric wailing of guitars while the music pounds away, leading many to compare this to Bathory. But it is often plodding and chugging rather than soaring. Many riffs are good to start with, but they don't develop and are repeated way too often instead instead of taking the song to more interesting places, and there is a strong feeling of sameness between many of the tracks, many of them with similar generic riffing and pacing. It lacks the variety of Sons. The first title track is a good one that stands out from the others with a superb riff and driving energy and sound, 'Hordes to War' is a very thrash-metal or early death-metal sounding track except with raspy vocals, and the final track 'Unearthly Kingdom' attempts another 8.5 minute epic as in the previous album, starting slow, erupting in a blast and then pounding away slow and heavy until the end, but it feels generic rather than inspired and it drones on too long. So, as with 'Damned in Black', I felt this wasn't bad objectively speaking, but I wasn't moved much by the album either. Mostly mediocre and forgettable.
The Seventh Date of Blashyrkh (live)(Nuclear Blast - 2010)
A live album to go with the comeback, and the first official live release from Immortal after all these years. Except that this was recorded in 2007, which explains the lack of tracks from 'All Shall Fall'. It also features only one guitar player, one bass player and one drummer. But, surprisingly, the music doesn't suffer too much from the lack of a second guitar and the bass fills the songs quite nicely. As far as live albums go, this captures the requisite live ambience and energy, without including too much of the noise. I.e. The instrumental chops and sound is a bit rough, but not in a bad way, and it adds to the live energy. There is the expected rowdy crowd interaction bits as well, actually quite a lot of it. The set-list includes one or two tracks from almost every album except 'Blizzard Beasts' for some reason, and the selection of tracks is quite good. In short, a pretty good live album if you need one, but nothing stands out, and the songs don't necessarily improve for the most part in this live setting. In fact, the tracks from Pure Holocaust lose their charm with this new booming sound.
Northern Chaos Gods(Nuclear Blast - 2018)
After the last comeback album, Immortal fell apart yet again. For this second comeback album 9 years later, Abbath is out and pursuing a solo career, and Demonaz is back with the songwriting and guitar-playing duties. This hasn't happened since Blizzard Beasts and, based on this album, it seems that all of the more 'accessible' albums since then have evidently been due to this. He also takes up the vocal duties, which has never happened. All of this makes for a different band and sound for this surprise release, and yet, it is also a partial return to Immortal's roots. His vocals are more classically black-metal raspy screams rather than the distinctive strong croak of Abbath, and they sometimes falter but, for the most part they are good strong vocals. The music, for the first two tracks, seems like the goal is nothing less than a complete return to speedy, blasting, old-school, harsh black metal in the vein of 'Battles in the North'/'Blizzard Beasts', only with a better production. But then it adds more tempos and musical styles such as light traces of doomy melody, and slower or epic sounds, but almost always with the harsh and cold sound of Olde Immortal. It feels like a middle-ground between 'Pure Holocaust' and 'Sons of Northern Darkness' with perhaps bits of 'Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism' (although this one isn't as effectively atmospheric and dark). This sound may or may not be what some fans have been waiting for, depending on your favorite Immortal albums; But if you are expecting Immortal's hybrid melo-death or power-metal elements of more recent albums, you may be disappointed (except in short glimpses, especially in 'Where Mountains Rise'). I like this new-old sound. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the compositions, being often generic-sounding and extremely repetitive, and the riffs don't develop or soar where one would expect them to, winding down whenever they should build up to something. The energy is good however, so, altogether, there are several pros and cons. But, overall, except for a couple of good tracks ('Northern Chaos Gods' and 'Called to Ice', and perhaps 'Blacker of Worlds'), I found this barely above-average, mostly because of the repetitive riffing.