Photo by Peter Beste / Courtesy of Immortal
It sucks when a band you like breaks up, especially if said band meant something special to you at at some point in your life. People are inundated with music from sun up to sun down, and finding a band that actually sticks with you seems to get harder by the hour. Earlier today, Abbath Doom Occulta (Abbath for short, and Olve Eikemo to his mama), the estwhile mouthpiece and ringleader of Norwegian black metal icons Immortal, announced that the band as we know it has been dissolved. After a long-running dispute over the rights to the Immortal name, Abbath will be moving forward musically with a new band without longtime members Demonaz, Horgh, and Apollyon. According to the statement he released to Metal Hammer, "The name of Immortal, for the time being, will rest; the essence, the power, the music – and Abbath – will not." The language leaves a handy loophole for the inevitable reunion announcement in three to five years, but for now, Immortal's name has proven false. A band who helped shape an entire genre from its infancy on is no more, and honestly? I'm pretty fucking bummed about it. Directioners aren't the only group capable of feeling a pang when the band they love crumbles; true, we're not seeing any #Cut4Demonaz tags trending yet, but that's not exactly a bad thing.
The first time I saw Immortal, they were already past their prime. The band came together in 1991, weathering various storms and breakups before reuniting for the second time in 2006 and scheduling a pair of US dates a year later to celebrate. I was 19, and the blizzard beasts themselves were playing B. B. King's in the heart of glittering, suffocating Times Square. I trekked up from Philly with a few friends, splashed out an inordinate amount of cash on trains, tickets, and shitty pre-show pizza, and bounded inside the venue the moment doors opened like an excitable Doberman puppy. At that point, black metal was my world; I'd first discovered the genre as a sophomore in high school, and its monochromatic menace swallowed up my listening habits entirely, shunting my death metal and grindcore CDs to the side like spurned lovers. Seeing Immortal was a dream come true, not least because I'd already seen or knew I could see Emperor, Mayhem, Celtic Frost, and Venom; Darkthrone don't play live; Burzum’s Varg Vikernes was barely out of jail then, and I wouldn't want to be in a room with him anyway; Bathory sure as hell wasn't playing anytime soon and I wasn't tuned-in enough yet to know that I should be dying to see Master's Hammer and Root. Immortal was the only other member of black metal's old guard that I stood a snowball's chance in hell of witnessing live, and they put on one hell of a show.
As comfortable as they seemed in their well-deserved role as black metal's court jesters—the Rockettes wish they could pull off an impromptu high kick like our boy Abbath, and they remain the most meme-able band on the internet—Immortal’s music was the part that drew me in, and what makes them so legendary. These Norwegian lifers left an indelible mark on black metal’s progression with their impeccable riffs, icy atmosphere, unapologetic melodies, Abbath's signature croak, and a driving pace spawned of their love for German thrash. Their 1992 debut, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism kicked off an untouchable trio of albums—including 1993’s Pure Holocaust and 1995’s Battles in the North—that stand as some of black metal’s most pronounced victories, The rollicking rock ’n’ roll undertones that now characterizes Abbath’s non-Immortal output (in Motörhead cover band Bömbers and his supergroup I) reared its head in later years, leaving an especially groovy mark on records like 2000’s Damned in Black, 2002’s much-loved Sons of Northern Darkness, and Immortal’s final album, All Shall Fall (how’s that for portentous?).
Unlike so many of their peers in black metal’s notorious Second Wave, Immortal never got mixed up in politics or violence; they were so far removed from territorial evil that they—or more specifically, lyricist Demonaz— instead invented an entirely new fantasy universe to run rampant throughout: the grim and frostbitten kingdom of Blashyrkh, the cursed realm of the winterdemons far beyond the North waves. So much of fervent music fandom is about escapism, in metal perhaps more than any other genre. Immortal understood this, and offered their fans an entirely different world to get lost within.
It’s incredibly easy to make fun of the band’s patently absurd (and they are absurd) music videos and over-the-top personas, but it’s important to remember at the same time that this band was immeasurably important to metal, and to a whole lot of metal fans. I haven’t seen them play in a few years, but will always remember that first time they stalked onstage, cloaked in fog and blue light, and showed me a window into another world.
So long for now, Immortal. You didn’t withstand the fall of time, but I’ll see you again someday, out where dark and light don’t meet.
Kim Kelly is moping around on Twitter - @grimkim