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from UNRESTRAINED! #12
It's an easy question to answer: name several bands that have helped shape the genre of black metal. Obviously there's Celtic Frost, Bathory and Venom. And there's Mayhem. Darkthrone. Emperor too. A band who are less likely to be mentioned but had a distinct role in developing the scene are Norway's Immortal. Containing a prestigious back catalogue rich with grim and cold atmospheres, the band has crafted such essential albums as Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, Pure Holocaust and Battles In The North. Forging metal in fire and ice, founding members Abbath Doom Occulta and Demonaz Doom Occulta created Immortal 10 years ago this autumn. While Demonaz was forced to leave due to injuries to his arm, the band battle on with one thing in mind -- black metal with no compromises. We wouldn't have it any other way.
The new millennium brings us a fresh Immortal release entitled Damned In Black. Relating back to Blizzard Beasts as far as brutality goes, it also comes with an added sense of technicality that won't be lost upon the ears of their many fans. The new album marks the debut of bassist Iscariah, who, thanks to a great production job, has a strong presence in Damned In Black, following the lead of drummer Horgh, turning in his best work yet. Abbath proves to be up to his old tricks, writing some mighty cold riffs and giving a great vocal performance. It's the quality album that fans have come to expect, and with pre-sales of 50,000 and expectations to sell 100,000, it could be one of black metal's hottest selling albums ever.
Placing the call early one morning, I reach Abbath at home ready to start talking about the new album. I could sense from him an obvious excitement over the new album, with an interest in making sure everyone knows about it. We talked in length about what the band have done both in the past and recently.
"It's recorded at Abyss, the same studio for At The Heart Of Winter," begins Abbath on his synopsis of Damned In Black. "We recorded with Peter this time too. There are seven songs on the album. We've taken our style to a different level from At The Heart of Winter. It's more intense, a bit more brutal, but the atmosphere and the epic stuff is still there. So it's an album with all of the best sides from all of our albums, for the style that we have developed. It's a turning point for us, I think."
Abbath continues his feelings on how At The Heart. differs from the new album. "They're two very different albums. Both contain different atmospheres and I like them both very much, but in different ways. They have different sides to them."
Damned In Black also reveals what sounds like more of a death metal influence than prior releases. Commenting on this, Abbath said, "We are inspired by the old bands. People say they can hear a bit of death metal and they hear black metal. So yeah, you can hear both death and black metal in it. It's Immortal metal (laughs)! We just write music from the heart, we don't follow in the rules."
What seems like an ever-present problem in Immortal is the instability in their lineup. Abbath talked briefly about their current lineup and talked about their history with changes in band members. "The lineup now is Horgh on the drums and a bass player called Iscariah, who came into the band in February of last year. This lineup is permanent and I'm very satisfied with it. Iscariah is very dedicated and he shares the same kinds of musical tastes as us. And he's an Immortal fan. Horgh has been in the band since May of '96, so he's very much established. The collaboration with Horgh, we made the music together for this album and the dialogue I had with him and the collaboration is getting stronger every day. Maybe Iscariah will make some music on the next album."
How about Demonaz, does he have any sort of role in the band? "He's not in the band, but he's writing lyrics. We work on the lyrical concept together; he wrote all of the words for the new album."
Immortal recently came back from a successful North American tour, or what was originally planned to cover North America. Abbath first gave his feelings on their first show in North America, at the March Metal Meltdown in New Jersey. "The audience was great. The guitar amps they gave me sucked, they went in and out. We were promised to play 50 minutes; they told us to get off the stage after about 20 minutes [a total outrage -- ed]. I was supposed to breathe fire; they took the torch away from me. It sucked! The sound, everything was bad! But the audience was great -- that really amazed me. A lot of people showed up, which was the best thing about it."
Continuing about the tour, Abbath said, "We had to cancel shows in San Francisco and Montreal, and that sucked, but there was nothing we could do about it; it's not our fault. (For the Canadian show) they didn't fix the papers for us, so we couldn't go. When shows are cancelled, people always look at the band -- it's the band's fault. If we were to cancel a show it's because of us, like if there's a bad sickness. The only show we have ever cancelled was one show in Rotterdam last year. I had a really bad ear infection. I couldn't fucking move. The rest of the shows were great -- a lot of people showed up, and they were very dedicated fans. I didn't expect that. I didn't expect it to be that good, so it's going to be great to go back to do a bigger tour of North America."
Any plans in the works for this? "We'll probably come back and do a tour with Vital Remains at the end of the year or the start of the next one. It would be a big tour, like five or six weeks or something. We have to do Europe first and stuff like that. It would be a headlining tour for Damned In Black. We didn't play any new songs on this tour as the album's not out yet, so it was the final dates for the At The Winter tour."
As far as what the band is doing presently, the band members are keeping busy by playing music or promoting the album they're very proud of. "Horgh is doing something for Pain [Pete Tagtgren's side project] in Sweden and I'll be heading off to Paris soon to do a bunch of interviews from the Osmose office. We come back to rehearse the new songs for the No Mercy Festival with Deicide, Hate Eternal, Cannibal Corpse, Marduk, Vader, Dark Funeral and another band I can't remember. We'll do some summer festivals and do another tour with Impaled Nazarene in Europe."
Switching gears for a moment, Abbath has been involved in the scene for some time, so he reminisces about the early days of the band and his early memories of a fledgling scene. "We started in 1990. We were of course very inexperienced but really excited. We were looking at the whole scene differently than we do now. We were pretty much crazy. We'd walk the fucking streets breathing fire, drinking liquor, listening to Bathory, worshipping Satan. It was a very special time, me and Demonaz. That made the foundation for Immortal today. We still have that spirit, but it's different. We're more experienced and we think a bit different, but the same spirit is still there. It's very difficult to explain, but one changes over time, attitudes and all. We are much more professional now."
And what are Abbath's views on the current state of black metal? "It's very different. It has expanded greatly. It's not small and concentrated anymore, it's a big blur. It's not even a black metal scene (today). There was a real black metal scene in the early nineties. That was the real black metal scene. Today it's just a couple of bands who I consider real black metal and still have the right spirit and the right feeling. Times have changed.
"We don't play like the black metal that we did on Diabolical. but we still have those feelings in the music. Our new album is very old- fashioned but at the same time it takes the old roots, the old metal and brings it into a new picture for the next generation. I figure a lot of bands don't have the old metal roots, like a lot of new bands. All of these bands we grew up on, they're still floating in our veins. We are very inspired by the old metal bands from the eighties, and you can hear that on the new album."
Late last year it was announced that Erik (aka Grim), a former member of Immortal (post-Pure Holocaust), along with Gorgoroth and Borknagar, took his own life. The suicide didn't take Abbath by surprise, as Erik had a pattern for such behaviour. "He was a great guy. We knew he was manic depressive. When he played with us, the same thing happened. He took an overdose of pills and Demonaz got him to the hospital in the nick of time. I heard he had tried a couple of times after. I really wasn't surprised, actually, since we knew he was suffering from depression."
Since Immortal has such a strong back catalogue, it was only natural to want to hear his thoughts on their prior releases. Abbath was happy to oblige. "Well, Diabolical is one of my favourite albums from Immortal. It's one of the albums I'm most satisfied with for the songs. It's totally the most darkest and most evil album of Immortal. It's very cryptic, a very strong debut. Pure Holocaust couldn't have been better; it's a good continuation and I'm very satisfied with it. And with Battles, these first three albums came out just great. Blizzard Beasts should have had better production. We were too impatient at that time. We should have done a demo first and waited a little bit before going to the studio. But the album's out, the songs are great, but we could have done it better. It's out and we'll probably re-record some of those songs in the future; that's in the back of my head. We'll see."
What longtime fans will notice is that for the cover for Damned In Black the band have returned to using a group shot, whereas for At The Heart Of Winter a piece of art was chosen. So, what was the reason for changing? "For At The Heart Of Winter we were a duo [speaking of him and Horgh] and we didn't want to present ourselves on the front cover. We wanted the Battles In the North front cover to be exceptional, of me and Demonaz. So we didn't feel like it. We had an offer from Oslo to use this professional, very good artist painter; we had seen what he did with the Ugra-Karma cover he did for Impaled Nazarene. I gave him ideas for a cover, he sent me back a sketch, so I said, 'Real cool, go for it.' When I saw the finished result, it was awesome. There's a limited edition box set, like 15,000 copies, which has the CD in it in which he did some painting for that. I don't know if it's out over there, but it should be soon."
I conclude by asking if Abbath sees any direction in particular that
Immortal may head, or if there was anything he wishes to see in the
future of Immortal. "Immortal will always be Immortal, and we don't
want to stagnate. If we want to change, we will follow our hearts. As
long as we do that we don't fuck up anything. If we are faithful to
ourselves, we are also faithful to our fans. As long as I have this
permanent lineup then there won't be any more lineup problems anymore
and we can make albums and tour. We're gonna be here until people are
sick of us (laughs)! Do your own thing and take what's coming to you...
because anyone can drop dead any time!"
-- LINKS --
review of Immortal's 'Damned In Black'
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c/o Adam Wasylyk
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