Uncertainty loomed following the departure of original and iconic, crab-walking frontman Abbath, but with its first album in almost a decade, IMMORTAL has returned in a big way. The Norwegian band has shown that it is able to stand on its own without said vocalist/guitarist, who has gone on to prove his own continued musical worth with the project that bears his name. While some heralded Norwegian black metal bands have taken left turns, quite drastic in some instances, IMMORTAL's footprints in the snow have never strayed too far from the group's original path. Its later work began to embrace traditional heavy metal more than all that's black; however, the outlandish one's development made sense and remained true to its original essence throughout.
The corpse-painted crew could have gone a few directions, but the group ultimately chose to take a familiar path that many had been longing for on its ninth full-length album. "Northern Chaos Gods" is a raging album that embodies the blitzkrieg blast attack of "Blizzard Beasts", but offers more by way of dynamics with the tempo variety and more recent inclination for classic heavy metal the unit is so passionate about. Sure, cold climate adjectives may be deemed obligatory, albeit predictable, over-played and perfunctory they are in describing IMMORTAL, but they're actually apropos in terms of a description of the picture that its music paints. The music, energy and mental images of landscapes created truly are frostbitten, cold, etc.
Demonaz Doom Occulta, since the band's inception, has been an integral part of IMMORTAL, and even before that in the unit's precursor, AMPUTATION. Following the 1997 classic hyper-speed release "Blizzard Beasts", however, due to severe tendonitis, Demonaz was rendered unable to play guitar at the high speeds required for IMMORTAL's music. He remained an integral part of the fold by continuing to pen lyrics and by assuming band management responsibilities. Corrective surgery five years ago fortunately enabled him to perform again, and he has filled the void caused by Abbath's departure, both vocally and as guitarist. Demonaz wrote "Northern Chaos Gods", in fact. Longtime drummer Horgh is actually the only remaining member, in terms of recordings and live performance, since the mid-nineties, with HYPOCRISY's Peter Tägtgren handling bass duties in addition to album production due to Apollyon's departure.
It seems that everyone wins and benefits—including personnel and fans—from Abbath's departure, considering that he has done well with his own, comparatively more subdued project, and that IMMORTAL is leaving jaws on the floor with "Northern Chaos Gods"'s back-to-basics, icepick-to-the-skull barrage. The Norwegians' long-awaited return may not be ultimately revered as highly as the likes of "Pure Holocaust" or "At the Heart of Winter", but it's one of the year's best black metal albums, and it speaks volumes about how good the band continues to be this deep into its career.