We Worship Winter
CoC interviews Abbath from Immortal
by: Paul Schwarz
If you have not yet experienced the music of Immortal, then you have not yet discovered some of the finest black metal the Norwegian scene has ever brought forth. The band's second album _Pure Holocaust_ is a black metal classic; grim, cold, harsh, fast, black as pitch and uniquely Immortal. _Battles in the North_, which followed _PH_, is faster and more brutal but likewise excellent; it includes what is probably the band's best known song, "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)". Immortal's last album, _Blizzard Beasts_, wasn't bad but didn't really capture as dark and black an atmosphere as their previous releases, even though it was possibly yet more brutal than _BitN_. However, it didn't signal a decline as is evidenced by the band's latest output, _At the Heart of Winter_. _AtHoW_ encapsulates everything that is brilliant about Immortal's unique form of black metal, while also bringing quite a lot of new ideas into the previous musical structures. However, one very significant change, external to the sound of the album, is the departure of Demonaz Doom Occulta from the line-up. Abbath and Demonaz had been the essential core of Immortal until recently (drummer Horgh who joined on _BB_ is now a permanent contributing member of the band), but tendinitis invalided Demonaz out of the band for good -- he had already missed tours for treatment but later found out that he would never be able to play guitar, at least at the speed he did in Immortal, again. A cold end for Demonaz, but certainly not the end for Immortal, as Abbath explains.

CoC: How did the departure of Demonaz affect the songwriting for _At the Heart of Winter_?

Abbath: Well, I have always made most of the music, so it didn't actually have any big effect, you know. I have always made most of the arrangements and we have put them together, we have made the -structure- together. But this time he was not around when I made the music and, you know, it was no problem, it didn't have any effect actually. He wrote the lyrics and he was really inspired by my music, so he offered to write the lyrics and I had a bunch of proposals to the lyrics, inspirations for the lyrics, but he's the expert so I gave him all the credit for it.

CoC: What are the lyrical themes in particular, are they different from those covered on previous albums?

A: It is still the Frostdemon realm concept, beyond the depths of the plains of the North, it's still the Blashyrkh concept, which is the heart of winter in our vision, it is a total fantasy concept. For us the concept has no limits, it is a very awesome concept which we are really proud of; we still write about this concept because we don't think it has any limits to what we can put into it.

CoC: It is something you've made very much your own as a band.

A: Yeah, it is our fantasy, it is our work, fantasy work. It is like our Mordor [for those unfortunate enough not to know, the land ruled by Sauron, the Dark Lord, in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" -- Paul], if you know what I mean.

CoC: Yeah, I know what you mean. Will Demonaz be continuing to work with the band in any way?

A: Umm, he will probably be working with me when it comes to lyrics in the future; I will do more myself, I am getting more trained now, I am getting better in English, to form sentences in the form of verses. I am getting more into that now and I have an English friend called Simon Doncaster which I am going to work a little bit with, and he has also worked with Demonaz in the past. So I think I am going to do most of the work, the basic work, myself, and to get it perfect I will work with Demonaz and with Simon. Demonaz is working more with management stuff for us now, fixing dates for gigs and stuff, and doing more stuff so we can focus more on the artistic side of the band. He's still around, he was forced to leave because of his injuries, but we are still very close and Immortal still means a lot to him. He loves to be around and we love to have him around, and he's also with us on the tours making sure the money comes to our hand and stuff like that. He's very good at these kind of things on the business end.

CoC: With this new album, what would you say are the biggest differences between it and your other albums? I think what I'd say generally is that it concentrates a little less on speed than _Blizzard Beasts_ and _Battles in the North_ did.

A: We have focused to be more open this time and more diverse, and it is very important for us to develop our style, at the same time to make our music more listenable and our style more open so that new people, and our old fans as well, can get into our style more easily, and have a better understanding of what we do. We didn't want to be so one track minded and we didn't want to rush so much into it this time, we want to slow it down and make our music more atmospheric and more catchy.

CoC: I found also there was more music, there were much longer periods without vocals.

A: Yeah, that's just how it turned out to be, you know. I think the music does most of the talking on this album and for us it is very important to develop. I think the intensity and the atmosphere is more important than the blasts themselves and I think that's more the right Immortal atmosphere, to still have blasts, but we don't want that to be the main stuff in our music. We want to be more diverse and more open, we want to give our listeners a bigger view of our music.

CoC: It's like on the song "At the Heart of Winter", you have that whole two minute keyboard intro which shows a very atmospheric approach.

A: Yeah, for me that intro... when I was making that intro it was like watching the plains of the North, you know, the Winter plains gave me an inspiration of the beauty of the plains and the atmosphere and the beauty of a Winter landscape, and when the music starts it's like you go beyond. That's what I felt when I made the song, when the drums come in and the guitars and everything come in we go beyond that picture, we go into the depths of the North and it's like the beauty turns into a brutal realm of demons. I love the contrast, I love to have lots of contrasts in our music. I love to compare the beauty and the evil and brutality to each other, I want to include all those kinds of differences and contrasts into our musical concept, so really, with this album, I really wanted to create the right atmosphere in all kinds of ways.

CoC: So, in a sense, part of it was a plan, to do things in a slightly different fashion to attain a goal that you've always been trying to get to?

A: Yeah, yeah, it was like when I started to write this album I went more back to the old roots, and the old atmosphere, and the old, what shall I say, inspirations which I had earlier on and based more the songwriting on that. And I found that way more interesting to have more diverse and a bigger, larger concept. So I found it a lot more interesting and inspiring to work on that basis.

CoC: As opposed to _BB_, where you were more influenced by _Altars of Madness_.

A: Yeah, it's like _BB_ was a bit more one track minded, I think. We were a bit confused when we were making that album. We didn't actually know what kind of direction we wanted to go. Actually, we lost a lot of the old, basic influences we had. Also, you know, a lot of people who support that album say that it reminds them a bit of Morbid Angel, and I've got to admit that. We have always been fans of Morbid Angel, but I think it was wrong for Immortal to take that kind of direction with our music. So the song on that album which has the right Immortal atmosphere is definitely "Mountains of Might" [not similar to _AoM_]. But I really regret that we didn't make the concept of that album [better], I really hoped that we didn't bite off more than we could chew, which we did with that album. That was not the right direction for Immortal to go, but anyway it's great, most of the songs are great, but we should have realized when we were in the studio that we should have waited and worked more on the songs, but it was too late; we should have done a demo first. And also, when I made _AtHoW_ I was working more with studio machines when I was making the arrangements, so it was a lot easier to get the right impression of what I was doing and also with that done it was easier to make the riffs, it was easier to get a good sound to them. It was like, you know, with _BB_ we were only thinking "fast, brutal", and we went on a wrong track, actually. It was a turning point for us.

CoC: I think that happens to some bands sometimes, they make one album that they look back on and disagree with having made and make, as a result, a better album.

A: Yeah, I think we pushed that kind of thing to the limits with _BitN_ and we should have turned at that point and not continued that kind of thing. But you know, it doesn't matter now actually, were not interested in going back and changing anything, we want everything to be the way it is. But, you know, the most interesting thing about _BB_ is the sound, we were fuckin' around so much in the studio and nothing worked out the way we wanted. And we were finished, we just wanted to be finished, and we were tired of working in the studio with that album and we wanted just to stop and release it, and didn't realize that the sound on most of the songs was so fucked up. But, you know, I don't regret, you just have to carry on and I feel we are back on the right track now, and that is the most important. The most important is to take the best side of our style and carry on and base the development on the right influences.

CoC: Talking about sound, what most influenced you to move from Grieghallen and record in Abyss instead with Peter Tagtgren?

A: With _BB_ we actually recorded in another studio called Sigma, only the first three albums were recorded in Grieghallen. The problems in Bergen is we needed the right -- a big producer, a person who had a really good understanding of our music and, you know, these people in Bergen are very good technicians, but they were not into our music and did not have anything to give us. And we were not skilled enough ourselves at that point to find the right sound. And so we had an offer from Osmose to use Peter from Abyss and we heard a lot of good stuff about him and the rumours were true, for sure. He had a really good understanding, a lot of patience, and also this time we recorded all the songs beforehand, in the rehearsal room, with a four track studio machine. So we could present the songs to Peter before we started out. So, I discussed with him what kind of sound I wanted and he found the sound right away, you know, very fast, and he really knew what way I wanted to go with the sound. It was a real pleasure working with him and we worked very fast, you know, we had all the songs rehearsed and everything was ready before we went down there. We booked the studio for one month and we were finished in less than twenty days, so it was great.

CoC: Do you feel that black metal is a style that allows you to be totally creative, or do you think there are restrictions on what you can do and still be black metal?

A: What do you mean?

CoC: In terms of making music which you feel to be an accurate representation of black metal, do you think you can play around with a lot of different things, a lot of different influences, or do you think there is a certain, kind of, way of playing you have to stick to?

A: We don't follow any rules; there's no limit for us, actually. We do what we feel is right for our style, we don't think we should do it like -this- or like -that-, we follow our intuition. But of course, you know, for me it is very important to have an "old time" feeling, that we have a lot of roots in our music and for us it's important that we don't turn hype. I don't feel it's right for Immortal to have synthesizers leading our music, you know, we have synthesizers on the album in some of the arrangements but it is important that the main instrument which leads the atmosphere is the guitar. With some arrangements we have put synthesizers behind the guitars to lift some of the riffs and some of the atmosphere in some of the riffs. For us it is important to be a bit old fashioned, but at the same time develop and make a new thing, at the same time be totally Immortal, at the same time fit into this day and age with our music. That's all we think, other people, other bands they are into more hyped... I think some bands really forgot the real root in metal and I think more bands should have had more. There's a lot of new people coming into the scene, there's a new generation coming up and I personally think it is important that these people also get into the old time [sound] and the roots. That's my opinion, you know, that's what I think.

CoC: That's similar to what Satyr from Satyricon said when I asked him a similar question. He said that he didn't see that there were limits but he did feel that he'd rather have black metal bands listen to and get inspiration from Darkthrone than get inspiration from Cradle of Filth. In terms of just what different people like out of it, I think, myself included, a lot of people like the older influences like Celtic Frost and Bathory as opposed to the female vocals and the gothic sound.

A: I think it is very important to develop the metal in general, it is very important that the music doesn't stagnate. At the same time I think it is very important that the bands realize that it's very important to develop -and- keep the old metal influences. And not going back and being exactly [like] all those old bands were, but be creative and create new stuff based on these old time influences. I think that has a great deal of importance.

CoC: Why did you decide to change your logo?

A: Well, I wanted this to be a new era of Immortal, we wanted the four previous albums to be exceptional and also, when it comes to the cover, it was only me and Horgh who did this album and we didn't want to present the band on the cover as a duo, we wanted _BitN_ to be exceptional when it comes to that. Also, it is a big change: we have a painting, a very professional painting which really tells the whole concept and adds the right atmosphere to our music and there was the concept. It's like the Blashyrkh we see in our vision and we love to present this kind of vision in that kind of way with _AtHoW_. We had an offer from Osmose to use a professional painter and I thought, "yeah". I sent a proposal and I thought it would be pretty good, and I was just amazed. Also, I wanted a more pronounced logo this time, and a logo which was more readable. I think the name is more important than the logo itself. When people see the cover, I want people to see who it is right away. And Herve from Osmose, he got a person to design a new logo and I thought it was great, some people do like it and some don't. The most important is that I wanted it that way myself. I think some people, and some old time fans of Immortal, are a bit disappointed right now, but I think they will accept it more in the future. We still use the old logo, it's on the CD, it's just not on the front and we don't have it as the main logo. I think the old logo is cool art but it is more important for me now that we... it is like a new era and it is very important to me that the name is very clear to everyone. Anyway, it is just a logo and I think the music and the cover itself and all that concept is still Immortal, it still sounds Immortal, we still have -our- style, it's still Immortal concept, that's what's most important, of course. Also, at the same time, everyone can see what kind of band it is, what we're called.

CoC: Any final word?

A: I just hope that people understand, especially the old fans, really understand our new era, our change and our development, and I hope that the old timers can still stick to us and have an understanding of what we do, and the new people as well, you know. To me, I think we are doing the right thing and I hope that people around have the same understanding of what we do, and that people understand that we are still totally Immortal, but in a more professional way. I hope that people don't feel that we have "wimped out" or anything like that, since _BB_ was so brutal. The intensity is still there, the brutality is still there; it's more back to the basic Immortal and more melancholy.

CoC: I think, for me, in all the right ways it's a much darker album, to me it taps better what I like, what is "heavy" about black metal. _BB_ is much like a death metal album [and note that I -love- death metal and its feeling, but, to clarify, I don't feel _BB_ captures a great death metal feeling -- Paul], this album captures much more of the black metal spirit.

A: Yeah, the new album has a lot more atmosphere, it's deeper, more cryptic, but at the same time it is more open and I think that's the total right thing when it comes to Immortal.

(article submitted 19/5/1999)

11/13/2009 J Smit 9 Immortal - All Shall Fall
7/3/2002 P Schwarz 10 Immortal - Sons of Northern Darkness
5/25/2000 A Wee 8 Immortal - Damned in Black
5/19/1999 P Schwarz 9 Immortal - At the Heart of Winter
4/9/1997 S Hoeltzel 8 Immortal - Blizzard Beasts
7/3/2002 P Schwarz Immortal / Hypocrisy Northern Darkness Descends
7/3/2002 P Azevedo Immortal / Hypocrisy / Holocausto Canibal The Night After the Night Before
8/12/2000 M Noll Deicide / Immortal / Cannibal Corpse / Marduk / Vader / Dark Funeral / Hate Eternal / Vomitory There's No Mercy in Satan's Oven
6/7/1998 P Schwarz Immortal / Angelcorpse / Desecration London's Underworld Holocaust
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