War Against All

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. War Against All
02. Thunders Of Darkness
03. Wargod
04. No Sun
05. Return To Cold
06. Nordlandihr
07. Immortal
08. Blashyrkh My Throne

The problem with being black metal legends is that every single move is destined to be scrutinized by a devoted and often extremely picky fan base. In 2015, when Abbath left IMMORTAL, it wasn't entirely clear what kind of future the band had, but cynics had not accounted for the sheer determination that flows through founder Demonaz's veins. Since returning to playing duties, after a long hiatus caused by acute tendinitis, he has made it abundantly clear that IMMORTAL marches on. If anyone had any doubts about a lineup without the talismanic former frontman, 2018's "Northern Chaos Gods" provided a devastating riposte. Plainly rooted in the Norwegians' classic sound, but delivered with more venomous aggression than ever before, it was such an invigorating blast of undiluted Blashyrkh brutality that the identities of those behind it seemed an irrelevance.

Five years on, IMMORTAL are in a similarly uncompromising mood on their tenth studio album. "War Against All" lives up to its title, both in terms of the sheer, swivel-eyed ferocity of the whole thing, and in the defiance and haughty disdain that drips from every hyper-speed blastbeat and keening, dissonant riff. The more adventurous textures of earlier classics like "At The Heart Of Winter" are conspicuous by their absence, but the omission is perfectly understandable when IMMORTAL are so obviously in unrelenting beast mode.

The title track erupts with no warning, and stays at a manic, feral pace for as long as it takes to establish that this is going to be a sustained, ultra-icy assault. Even at what sounds like one of the fastest bpm rates in their history, Demonaz has stuck ruthlessly to the notion this is black metal with the emphasis on metal. "War Against All" has a catchy chorus, albeit one that sounds like a cluster-bomb raid at the North Pole, and has instant anthem written all over it. "Thunders Of Darkness" is somehow even more berserk, and yet the combination of Demonaz's crystalline rasp and a sub-zero rush of riffs is rousing, riotous and aimed squarely at the headbanging contingent. Likewise, "Wargod" moves at a stealthy mid-pace, shrewdly reducing the storm to a simmering rumble and tipping a frost-covered hat to VENOM along the way.

Considering that they first coined this sound in the early '90s, it is extraordinary how fresh "War Against All Sounds". Both "Return To Cold" and (we can only assume) new theme tune "Immortal" are essentially grand, left-field heavy metal anthems, immaculately produced and performed with militant precision, but the cliches are all taken from IMMORTAL's original and still to be bettered blueprints. Meanwhile, the closing "Blashyrkh My Throne" weaves some melancholy and finesse between its rigid, imperious lines.

As with "Northern Chaos Gods", "War Against All" is a powerful restating of Demonaz's musical and thematic values. IMMORTAL have never sounded more potent or direct, and while an unexpected detour or two would have been welcome, it's undeniably satisfying to hear this seminal band take flight with such fearless abandon.

Author: Dom Lawson
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