When Permafrost Thaws
If the universal gods of Karma were to scribe an epitaph on the tombstone of Norwegian black metallers Immortal, would it read, “here lie Abbath, Demonaz and Horgh, who fell asleep… but we buried them anyway!”?
Some people will tell you that Immortal ( ☼ 1989 † 2003 ☼ 2005) put together their most convincing fits of fury a decade prior to temporarily closing their business in the summer of 2003. Others will say the oeuvre of these ‘grey metallers’, as they were once upon a time described by those who could not observe the radiant and insistent glory of Immortal, is nothing but a manipulative fluke, a bandwagon-riding endeavour based on lacklustre, if not nonexistent, beliefs and standard, if not preposterous, musical backbone. Round these parts, neither of these allegations strikes the brain buds as the unequivocal truth. Not quite. As beamingly as Pure Holocaust is received upon every listen, it only marks the early acme of this excellent band. Many other high points were to come, among them the roasting rage of Battles in the North, the calmer, more contemplative iciness of At the Heart of Winter and, finally, the catchy, engaging heavy metal thrust of Sons of Northern Darkness, a ‘classic in the making’, as they say. Even Abbath’s approach on Immortal bastardised by Motörhead—as proven by I’s Between Two Worlds—is genuinely chilling.
The momentary loss of one of the most entertaining extreme metal ensembles to come from Europe was an unfair one. At their choicest moments, Immortal were the musical equivalent of the northern darkness in Siberia at -55°C when the heat pipes start to crack. They were very much alive until the decision came to take leave. What we are left with today is the music of Immortal plus the hope that one day there will be a return—not in the form of a ‘comeback’ or a ‘reunion’, though—which picks up exactly where they left off. Here’s to the fulfilment of that prospect.
On the splendidly bright day I interviewed Abbath prior to the hiatus, little did I know of what was to come. Little did Abbath know, too, speaking of Iscariah ‘getting there’ when it comes to songwriting, speculating about the return of Demonaz into the fold, and promoting in advance the live album which he hoped “will be out next year”. Ah, all these sweet expectations and hypotheses, and then the sneering figure of fate paid a visit. Perhaps it will bring this magazine a welcome sense of perspective to issue here some of Abbath’s words from that interview, which now seems a bit more than distant.
“We’re damned in black,” the bearded Norwegian says when I ask him what’s the well of Immortal’s strength and endurance. Punctuating his sentence is a hearty bit of laughter. “This is what we have become, this is what we are, this is what we’re like; it’s not the latest trend or anything. This is what we do, this is what we’re proud of, this is what we want. Starting from last year we’ve been lucky to live from this and not have to do other things. That’s also a real privilege, we worked very hard for that, to play this kind of music and not change our style to survive. We didn’t have to do that. If it had been only for fame, money and all that, we wouldn’t have played this kind of music. So we are very proud that we have achieved this long playing the kind of music that we want to and the music we like, following our heart feeling. When we started playing this kind of music, only death metal was the big thing. But we didn’t want to play that kind of music or be that kind of band. We wanted to do something different, and we did. We are still being that band and nowadays a lot of bands who followed us have changed again. They’ve changed their style very drastically and taken out their make-up and stuff, but we don’t feel like doing that. You will never see Immortal without make-up, not being the kind of band we are, but we do develop anyway, we don’t feel like stagnating and doing a Pure Holocaust part II or something like that. We just want to be around doing our thing and getting better and better in what we do. You’ll never hear or see an Immortal album without knowing that it is an Immortal album.
“There’s always progress. We try to make our concept and music and everything better. We are now way better musicians than earlier on. At the same time, we don’t overdo anything; we don’t want to change because of that. We just want to make our style and sound better. Instead of making new versions of the old songs we make new songs inspired by what we’ve done in the past. It’s like we bring the old roots and the old stuff with us to new songs and mix them with new ideas for today and for the future. Of course, like I hear now afterwards, you can find things on the new album that have links to Battles in the North and so on. We are 100 percent proud of everything we have done. Blizzard Beasts could have been better done, but we were in a rush; there are still great songs there even though they could have been played better and could’ve had a better sound. Instead of making new versions of the old songs, as I told you, we are honouring them on new songs, if you know what I mean.”
Even though money is a factor no fan of Immortal will want to reminisce at present, it is something that, at least to some extent, made the wheels of the Immortal carriage turn at the end of their career—hence the contract with Nuclear Blast.
Abbath sets the line straight: “Of course money is very important, but it’s not only about money, no. I don’t think Nuclear Blast would have started in the first place with this if it were only for the money. Nuclear Blast is doing a very important and good job for the metal scene in general; I don’t think metal would have been this big in Germany if it wasn’t for Nuclear Blast. We have one of the most lucrative contracts on Nuclear Blast; I think Immortal and Helloween have probably the best contracts on the label. They really wanted us and we got what we wanted. We’ve been very satisfied so far. They don’t tell us what to do and they can’t tell us what to do, it’s total artistic freedom—and what’s better than that? Nuclear Blast has no effect on the Immortal concept or the Immortal style or whatever. They are a bigger label and they have a bigger capacity and they can do a better job for us now. We are a bigger band, so we also need a bigger label.”
When the steeliest of ice starts to melt, there is undeniably something wrong with the environment.
“What I hear is that the sun is expanding, it’s expanding and expanding and expanding, and then it will start to die,” says Abbath. “But nowadays it’s still expanding. Also, in some places the ozone is extremely thin, like on top of the Antarctica, is it? I guess it will start most radically from down there.
“I have already seen some changes in the nature of Norway. The winter has started very late and the summer in the north of Norway has been very long, and that’s not normal. So of course I think that most places are on a roll and everything changes. We will see a lot of changes in our time, but I think the people of the next generation will be the ones who will suffer from that.
“Our time is short and we’re just doing what we want to do and what we’re able to do. You can die any minute, you can die ten or fifty years from now, you can die tomorrow, you can die in five minutes. Try not to think too much about it. We should enjoy life and do what we want to do as long as we are here.”