Between Two Worlds
bbath, perennial posterboy for black metal's most ridiculous photos, has dropped the panda paint and battleaxes for stripped-down rock 'n' roll. Between Two Worlds doesn't merely cater to the current "blackened rock" trend, though. It's a collection of timeless metal that, but for its modern production, could have come out ten or twenty years ago. Ten or twenty years in the future, these jams will be just as relevant.
In Immortal, Abbath and his colleagues helped shape black metal's present blueprint—dark chords, raspy vocals, blastbeats to carpal tunnel syndrome-inducing extents. Purists favor Immortal's earlier albums—Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, Pure Holocaust, and Battles in the North. However, on its final two full-lengths, Damned in Black and Sons of Northern Darkness, Immortal slowed down and improved its production values, which exponentially increased its heaviness. Sure, blastbeats can be technically impressive and trance-inducing. But speed occurs at the expense of heaviness, and by putting more space between notes, Immortal learned to write songs that could actually be distinguished from one another.
However, Immortal encountered mortal problems—fatigue, burnout. The band went on hiatus, and Abbath began writing for a solo project, appropriately called I. The material nodded to roots in Bathory and Venom, and to a time before blastbeats. He assembled an all-star team of likeminded veterans who weren't afraid to break black metal's mold—former Immortal drummer Armagedda, Enslaved guitarist Ice Dale, and bassist TC King, formerly of Gorgoroth and currently in stoner metal outfit Sahg and experimental black metal/dark ambient duo Jotunspor.
The result, to put it bluntly, rocks. Abbath has written some of the strongest metal riffs in recent years, and that's counting impressive comebacks from masters like Slayer and Iron Maiden. Minus the blur of blastbeats, his riffs finally have room to swing and swagger. These aren't simple cock rock riffs, either. They're catchy, fist-pumping hooks, the likes of which haven't been heard since the '80s. Song titles are indicative: "The Storm I Ride," "Warriors," "Battalions." The latter sculpts machine gun riffs and thundering drums into a sonic battering ram. Not only does Abbath write strong riffs, he also crafts anthemic countermelodies that further sear songs into memory. With modern, clear, and powerful production, these songs are arena rock in the best sense of the term.
Vocally, Abbath isn't challenging Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford. He's toned down his demonic rasp in Immortal to an avuncular croak, with shades of Alice Cooper and Lemmy. It's a wise move, considering his limited range, and oddly charming. He's also hired former Immortal guitarist Demonaz to write lyrics. This is frankly unnecessary, considering pedestrian lines such as, "I ride a wind of no return / My soul is cold, my mind burns / I ride my fate, with all my hate / This is my search, this is my state." But metal is for rocking, not reading, and Abbath hasn't rocked this hard in years. Not only is he already writing new I material, he's also talking about starting up Immortal again. I could very well be an affair that saves a marriage.