IMMORTAL’S ALL SHALL FALL: A FINE COMEBACK, CORPSEPAINT ASIDE
No other black metal band better typifies the genre’s silliness than Immortal. While most of their True Norwegian ilk left their corpsepaint at home almost a decade ago, the band have stuck to their guns (and battle axes), not letting a silly thing like aging stop them from posing for promo photos and playing shows shirtless and done up like a Hungarian KISS knockoff. And while Darkthrone cornered the market on the angry-banshee/bad-production black metal market, Immortal laid claim to the running-around-the-forest-ominously brand. Though I understand the significance of black metal’s silly image (well, at least I like to think I do), I’ve always thought of it as a shame that Immortal have allowed themselves to be so governed by their absurd appearance when their music, for the most part, has been so fucking righteous. Though they’ve fumbled through some of black metal’s typical snags– vague anti-Semitism (the title of Pure Holocaust), riff salad with a side of murky production (Blizzard Beasts), and not to mention having the majority of their lyrical content be based on a mythical land called Blashyrkh– they’ve also contributed some of the most solid, riff-heavy material the genre has produced. And even despite a seven year absence between 2002’s Sons of Northern Darkness and now, the band are still top notch, schooling both their tired peers and frostbitten newbies with their massive, excellent new album All Shall Fall. Though one would be silly to deride you for thinking the band is ridiculous– the unintentionally homoerotic covers of Battles in the North and the aforementioned Blizzard Beasts were most likely made by dudes unaware of camp or kitsch– one would also be remiss not to point out that you’re missing some of the best stuff black metal has to offer.
Though All Shall Fall lyrically takes place in Blashyrkh and features Abbath Doom Occulta’s trademark raspy grumble, it also employs the meaty, triumphant riffcraft that the band have relied upon since 1999’s classic At the Heart of Winter. Once one gets past the band’s general ridiculousness, they’re likely to discover an epic, enormous metal album that stands shoulder to shoulder with Immortal’s– or any black metal band’s– revered back catalog. From the blast-driven title track to the galloping steed gigantism of “Arctic Swarm” and “Mount North” to the epic trod of closer “Unearthly Kingdom,” All Shall Fall is excellent metal that just happens to feature some of black metal defining qualities. Though it doesn’t have the sort of surprising emotional depth of Sons of Northern Darkness’ “Beyond the North Waves”, the album sounds like it picks up where that one left off, despite the close-to-a-decade gap between the two. If anything, it’s great to see that a band so seemingly gimmicky came back not for the Open Air Festival money, but because they had more of substantial value to say. If you like your metal gargantuan and confident, there will be a lot for you to enjoy on All Shall Fall.
The one debatable weak point of the album is its massive, slick production. While truer-than-thou purists will balk (as they most likely have been for the better part of a decade) at All Shall Fall’s sheen, even those that don’t think black metal has to be made on a four track in your grandparents’ basement may find the album a little too polished. The battle sound effects on “Hordes of War” or (especially) the flanger-heavy acoustic intro to “Norden on Fire” will leave many cringing. But, for the most part, the album’s epic production plays to the band’s sense of grandiosity; a rawer approach would have obscured their panoramic ambitions. While most black metal is internalized and deeply personal by nature, it also has the potential to be as big as power metal or as ballsy as death metal. Despite being the poster boys of the genre’s inherent absurdity, Immortal have usually been the band to prove that black metal can be as heavy as any other niche. All Shall Fall, just as much as any of the band’s other albums, is yet another exhibition of their prowess. In an age of irony, Immortal are having none of it. Though the image of the band running shirtless through the forest with antiquated weaponry is a hard one to get out of your head, this writer highly recommends you do so.
(4 out of 5 horns)