Fire, Ice, and Surf Rock: Immortal A to Z
The Norwegian blizzard beasts are still at war. Check out our Immortal primer while you blast 'Sons of Northern Darkness' and remember the good old days.
Photo by Chris Bubinas
I thought my last love letter to Norwegian black metal icons Immortal would be my final word on the subject, given that it was written on the heels of the band's breakup announcement, but as it turns out, I, a mere mortal, was wrong. Between Abbath's triumphal North American solo debut at Heavy Montreal last weekend and the latest newsflash from Blashyrkh, it seems like the saga of the Wintermoon has a few more chapters left after all.
In case you're wondering what the hell I'm talking about, here's the Cliff's Notes version. Abbath Doom Occulta (Olve Eikemo)—the band's croaking voice and grinning demonic face since its formation in 1990—is no longer affiliated with lyricist Demonaz Doom Occulta (Harald Nævdal) and drummer Horgh (Reidar Horghagen). He struck out on his own earlier this year after tussling with his now former bandmates over the rights to the Immortal name; after his trademark application was denied, he bounced, noting "The name of Immortal, for the time being, will rest; the essence, the power, the music–and Abbath–will not." Since then, Abbath has thrown himself into his new self-titled project, and if his thoroughly awesome (and Immortal song-heavy) performance last weekend is any indication, he's going to be just fine.
Today, though, a press release went out that announced the unthinkable: a new Immortal album is brewing, sans Abbath. As a joint statement from Demonaz and Horgh reads, "Immortal never stopped, we just had to go through a long legal process before we could go out in the media with the news. Immortal is much more than just a band, and much more then just a form of music. The departure of one member cannot change that, no matter. We will continue what we believe in, and the power of ”Blashyrkh” shall live on."
Echoes of the Gorgoroth mess I mentioned in another A to Z piece abound, and it's sad to see such old friends at odds—Demonaz used to live in Abbath's parents' basement, and Abbath has a son with Demonaz's sister. Ultimately, the fans will determine the parties' respectives fates. Who would you rather see: an Immortal-less Abbath or an Abbath-less Immortal? While you ponder that, take a stroll through the band's long, monochromatic history below.
A is for Abbath
Estwhile frontman, guitarist, and former bassist (and drummer) for Immortal. He and Demonaz formed the band in Bergen, Norway in 1990, while a series of temporary members occupied the drum throne prior to Horgh's arrival in 1996. Loves: rock'n'roll, crab-walking, facepaint, leather, fire-breathing. Hates: having his trademark applications denied, clogged pores.
B is for Blashyrkh
Immortal immediately stood out from their Satanic peers in black metal's Second Wave by steering clear of the anti-Christian sentiment and violence that were such a fixture in that nascent scene. Instead, inspired by their own isolation in Bergen, Demonaz dreamed up an entire battle-torn fantasy land of ice, snow, and demons for him and his comrades to conquer. He called it Blashyrkh, and Immortal have spent the rest of their career immersed within its frostbitten world, and even after this most recent schism, it's safe to assume that Demonaz will hold the keys to the kingdom in perpetuum.
C is for Croak
Abbath's distinctive froggy vocal style (as well as his impish onstage presence—keep your eyes peeled for his trademark high kicks and crab-walking) sets him well apart from the rest of the black legions—Inquisition is the closest modern match, but even Dagon's still got nothing on ol' Olve.. Though Abbath utilized a more traditional black metal screech on the first few albums, the thrashier stylings of 1999's At the Heart of Winter ushered in a new era for the band, one ably narrated by that immortal croak. Whoever next joins Demonaz and Horgh at the mic will have some massive spiked boots to fill.
D is for Demonaz
Founding member of Immortal; former guitarist, current lyricist, tendonitis sufferer, and Abbath's (former?) best friend.
E is for Euronymous
Word has it that Euronymous himself first introduced Abbath to black metal, though it's clear from Immortal's squeaky-clean arrest record that the fallen mastermind failed to impart his political or irreligious views onto young Olve. Abbath remains a fan, telling one journalist severeal years ago that, "If he focused more on Mayhem back in those days, Mayhem would be the greatest, biggest band on the fuckin’ planet right now."
F is for Fire
G is for Grim
"Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms" is an undeniably dope song, but the word also applies to a tragic footnote in Immortal's history. Drummer Erik Brødreskift, known as Grim, appeared on the cover of 1993's Pure Holocaust (despite not actually playing on the album) and accompanied Immortal on two European tours before parting ways with the band. He also drummed for Borknagar (for which he was also a founding member), Örth, and Gorgoroth, before ultimately committing suicide in 1999. Norway's long-running Hole in the Sky Festival was dedicated to his memory each year.
H is for Horgh
Immortal's current and longest-running drummer; he joined the band in 1996, and has weathered the storm to outlast even Abbath. He and Demonaz currently comprise Immortal, and Horgh also played drums for Swedish death metal OGs Hypocrisy since 2004.
I is for I
After Immortal first broke up in 2003, Abbath, Demonaz, and original Immortal drummer Armagedda reunited in order to start an entirely new project. They enlisted King ov Hell (Gorgoroth) and Ice Dale (Enslaved) and formed I, which resulted in an album's worth of gloomy, groovy midtempo black metal with a gritty rock'n'roll edge and a touch of epic Bathory style.
J is for Jørn Inge Tunsberg
Jørn played guitar on Immortal's very first demo (released in 1991), but by the time the band released their self-titled EP later that year, he'd already been kicked out. Prior to his involvment with Immortal, he'd played in Amputation and Old Funeral, and once those ties were severed, went on to play in Hades Almighty and Dominanz. He also spent two years in jail following a conviction for church arson alongside Varg Vikernes. He regrets nothing, telling one documentarian that, "The most important thing that happened was that the church were burnt up. So that's something I stand for, and I stood for it then, I will stand for it now and I will stand for it until I die." I bet he's fun at parties.
K is for KISS
KISS and Alice Cooper's theatrical flair begat Mercyful Fate and Slayer's paint-smeared early days begat Norwegian black metal's fascination with corpsepaint and Immortal's own instantly recognizable, stylized black-and-white stage makeup (which Abbath casually refers to as "demon warpaint" upon occasion). Perhaps unsurprising given the rock'n'roll nature of his various side projects, Abbath in particular has always had a soft spot for the band, telling a Bergen newspaper, "When I was little, most people would be lawyers and fireman and stuff, but I would always be Gene Simmons. KISS are gods!"
L is for Lars Ümlaüt
There's apparently a character in Guitar Hero named Lars Ümlaüt who represents Scandinavian extreme metal, and who's been modeled after Abbath and Lars Ulrich. The "Lars" part is obvious; as for the Abbath comparison? Well, see for yourself:
M is for Mötorhead
Much like every sensible human on earth, Abbath fucking loves Mötorhead. He takes it one step further, though, by forming a Mötorhead tribute band called Bömbers that regularly storms huge festival stages in Europe and will be making its American debut at NYC's Martyrdoom Festival on November 10. His Lemmy impression is more than just spot-on, it's downright uncanny.
N is for Norway
Immortal's home country, whose imposing natural beauty and frigid winters have been a huge inspiration for Demonaz's frosty lyrics and the band's bizarre, highly entertaining music videos. Immortal are considered one of the most important Norwegian black metal bands ever, and for good goddamn reason.
O is for Osmose Productions
This French label was launched in 1991, and has released classic albums from a number of influential black and death metal bands—including Immortal's first six albums: Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism (1992), Pure Holocaust (1993), Battles in the North (1995), Blizzard Beasts (1997), and At the Heart of Winter (1999),
P is for Pure Holocaust
Immortal's second full-length, Pure Holocaust, was released November 1, 1993, and is fast, raw, and vicious—a marked progression from their promising debut, and a highlight in a discography that just keeps growing. It's 34 minutes of all-killer, no filler ravishing grimness. Go listen to it, it rules (and keep an eye out for Grim on the cover).
Q is for "The Quest"
Horgh's other band, Hypocrisy, has been knocking around the Swedish death metal scene since 1990, helmed by village-owning record producer and melodic death wunderkind Peter Tägtgren. The band's 2009 album, A Taste of Extreme Divinity," features the song called "The Quest," and since Q is always the hardest letter to fulfill on these fucking things, that's all you're getting for this one.
R is for Reunion
This isn't the first time Immortal's name has proven false. In 2003, the band broke up, citing "personal reasons," but got back together by 2006 and released a new album, the well-received All Shall Fall. Only time will tell if they'll ever repeat that (lucrative) move, but I'm definitely pulling for an Immortal re-reunion tour in 2019.
S is for Surf Rock
A few years ago, the sons of Southern sunshine in The Immortals created a semi-parody (does it still count as a "parody" if the song in question is too good to be funny?) of the Norwegians' classic "Tyrants, sailing through a smooth, swingin' interpretation that totally works. When comes the Abbath/Dick Dale split?
T is for Tendonitis
After playing guitar on the band's pivotal first four albums, in 1997 Demonaz was diagnosed with acute tendonitis, and was forced to give up the instrument forever. However, he remained in the band and often joined the other members on tour, serving as the chief lyricist and sometimes manager.
U is for UHR-Warlords
Like any smart musician, Demonaz has a few sidelines to keep him afloat between album cycles. He's written the scores and contributed story ideas for severeal fantasy-based video games, including Naval War: Arctic Circle and UHR-Warlords. As the latter's creator explained in a blog post, "We went straight for the top, and contacted Demonaz... A phone call later, revolving around massive aircraft carriers, Russian steel battle cruisers, dark seas, the northern lights and the third world war in the Arctic, we were sitting around the table discussing the details."
V is for Varg Vikernes
Abbath is credited with introducing his former Old Funeral bandmate Varg Vikernes (known best for his highly influential work with Burzum and status as metal's most insane, reviled, and delusional racist neo-Nazi weirdo who ended up murdering Abbath's old friend Euronymous) to black metal. Given how that turned out, he probably still regrets it.
W is for Winter
One of Immortal's favorite lyrical subjects, and the inspiration behind one of their most over-the-top absurd music videos, "Call of the Wintermoon," which is beloved for obvious reasons (not least the fire, swords, and witch hats):
X is for Ex-Members
Immortal's got loads of them (proper members and live players alike), and now Abbath has joined the ranks of Hellhammer, Armagedda, Iscariah, Apollyon, Ares, Saroth, Kolgrim, and our boys Grim and Jørn. At least he's in good company.
Y is for "Years of Silent Sorrow"
At the Heart of Winter is chock full of bangers, and while "Solarfall" might be the big hit on this album, I've always been partial to the furious blasts and caveman stomp of "Years of Silent Sorrow"—I think it shows the winterdemons' softer side.
Z is for Dragon Ball Z
The further you get down a list like this, the further away from relevance (and sanity) you venture. Typing "Immortal band z" into Google sent me spiraling down a wormhole that landed me here, in front of a Dragon Ball Z video set to Evanescence's saccharine nu-goth ballad "My Immortal." What's more, thare are a fuck ton of these things out there. I don't get it, and I don't think I want to, but, here we are. Sorry.
Kim Kelly wants Immortal to kiss and make up. She's holding out hope on Twitter - @grimkim