Immortal aren’t just one of the most popular black metal bands of all time, they’re also iconic. When people who don’t care about black metal hear the words “black metal”, they think about Immortal because of Guitar Hero and the gifs and memes and whatnot. That puts such a seasoned band in an interesting spot when it comes to making new music because they cannot escape their heritage.
Sole remaining member of the band Demonaz couldn’t start making industrial metal or dungeon synth under the Immortal moniker. It wouldn’t work. People listen to Immortal for a particular brand of blackened heavy metal and it is exactly what Demonaz delivers on the new record War Against All. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but boy is this thirty-eight minutes of grim and frostbitten fun or what?
War Against All opens up with the title song, which will bring you right back to the blast beat happy days of Battles in the North. It’s a very simple song played with breakneck speed and intensity. It’s my first Abbath-less Immortal record and I thought the band would miss the charismatic croak that was integral to their sound, but Demonaz can shriek with the best of them. His delivery is clear and inspired and it has a timbre that’s easy to recognize. It’s quite the commanding opener.
The follow-up Thunders of Darkness opens under a similar deluge of blast beats and obsessive riffs before transitioning into more of a classic heavy metal hybrid that the band started integrating to their sounds since… I don’t know, Sons of Northern Darkness? It’s still uncompromising as all hell, though. Thunders of Darkness sounds like a Judas Priest song possessed by Satan. It is incredibly catchy. That was only a teaser for Wargod, where Immortal goes full classic metal on us. Big, chuggy, groovy riffs and inspired vocal delivery by Demonaz are imbuing that song with an infectious fist-pumping edge. It’s one of these songs old school Immortal fans will never claim to like, but will listen to on top volume in their car.
Halfway through War Against All, No Sun features the first bit of tremolo picking. I’m impressed. Black metal bands are usually so overreliant on this technique, it took me aback to hear it so late on the record. But it was just a decoy! The song breaks into another mid-tempo anthemic banger about thirty seconds in. It’s so chunky and unapologetically catchy, it’s hard not to smile and flash your horns even if there’s no one around. We're dealing with that type of record.
Return to Cold reminded me of their classic song Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark). The guitar riffs breathe better, the tempo is more controlled, there’s even a clean guitar bridge at the beginning (and one in the middle for all that matters). It doesn’t have the same sardonic bite as their most iconic song, but I’m glad they were willing to explore that space in between blast beats galore and arena rock that served them so well that one time. Norlandihr is a seven minutes-long instrumental epic that features some of their more out there material to date. Demonaz experiments with different melodic riffs that tell a story in their own way. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not trying to rip off In Flames here. It features enough grit and fuzz to remain an Immortal song, but I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.
The following song is titled… uh, Immortal! It isn’t uncommon for bands to record a song that wears their name. Frozen Soul just did it, but this comes late in Immortal’s discography. It follows the pattern established early on War Against All. Early onslaught on blast beats followed by a smooth transition into classic, anthemic riffs. Rince, wash, repeat. I’m not complaining, it works. The song stands out by the absolute god tier performance by Demonaz who is really good at delivering catchy choruses. I dare you not beat your chest and grimface when he shrieks: “I AM IMMORTAAAAAL”. The lyrics might seem boilerplate on paper, but Demonaz’s spirited delivery is really empowering. In my opinion it is the best song on War Against All by a mile.
War Against All says goodbye with Blashyrkh, My Throne, another groovy and filthy mid-tempo number that breathes better than most Immortal songs. It’s silly and dramatic and it will make you bang your head almost subconsciously. It’s an assumed crowd pleaser that will part the crowd in half like the red sea at festivals. Is it Demonaz trying to rewrite his band’s best song for a second time on the record? Absolutely. Is it a bad thing? Absolutely not. I don’t know what else the band would do at this point in their career except trying to make the largest number of people possible vibe together at festivals. Immortal is a band who knows what they are and why people love them. Demonaz is not busting his balls trying to break new ground.
If you’re a metalhead and you don’t like War Against All, I’m going to question your capacity to have fun in life. Is this emotional, paradigm-breaking music? Absolutely not, but it isn’t trying to be. The concern here was to make the most ridiculously over-the-top headbanging Immortal record and it’s up there with the best of them. Don’t overthink this. Press play, flash your horns and bang your head. This is what War Against All is about. I am so trying to catch Immortal if they ever visit Montreal again.