20 Years Ago: Immortal Declare They Are the ‘Sons of Northern Darkness’
By late 2001, Immortal had released six scorching albums and undergone several sonic and compositional transformations. As they gathered their tools and weapons to start preparing their seventh album, they were agitated and battle-scarred, but fully prepared or one massive final onslaught before taking a lengthy and overdue break. That strategic barrage came with Sons of Northern Darkness, which Immortal released on Feb. 4, 2002.
Suffering from severe tendonitis, original guitarist Demonaz handed all guitar duties for the third album in a row to Abbath, who toiled away to write songs that captured the essence of the band’s black metal sound without repeating what it had previously accomplished. In addition to showcasing blast beats, tremolo guitar and sepulchral vocals, the band integrated a variety of catchy thrash riffs, counter-melodies and even elongated chord patterns that defied the traditional tenets of black metal. While much of “One By One” and “Demonium” whizzed by at the speed of machine gun fire, “Tyrants” was slow and sluggish, emphasizing atmosphere over velocity and “Within the Dark Mind” triumphantly marched and stomped like an army after a successful invasion.
“I think that Sons of Northern Darkness has a lot of links to what we have done previously, but also we have gone more back to the eighties, the more basic, thrash stuff,” Abbath told Metalkings.com. “But that's important for us, that's what had inspired us and made us who we are today.”
Immortal — Live (2002)
Sons of Northern Darkness was Immortal’s third album in a row produced by Hypocrisy and Pain frontman Peter Tägtgren, who had learned how to best capture their sound; the album is, by far, the band’s crispest, most well-defined release. Sons of Northern Darkness also marked Immortal’s first album in a new deal with Nuclear Blast, which granted them greater distribution that Osmose could provide as well as complete creative freedom.
“It was time for us to move on and for Osmose to let go,” Abbath said. “Osmose still hasn't got distribution in the United States, for example that explains a lot, doesn't it? Nuclear Blast have been an honest and strong ally.”
While Abbath and drummer Horgh wrote many of the songs for Sons of Northern Darkness from scratch, some of the more experimental and thrashy passages had been written for past releases, but didn’t fit the vibe of the music.
“Some of the riffs on 'Beyond the North Waves' have been along for quite a while, also some of the riffs on 'In My Kingdom Cold' have been around for a couple of years,” Abbath said. “We haven't got the right ideas or feelings for making those songs until now. And still while working on Sons of Northern Darkness album, I would come up with riffs which I just have to put in the freezer and wait and see if I can fit them into the next album, because you see, I got killer riffs and sometimes they don't fit in.”
Abbath on Reality Check TV (2002)
It would be a while before Abbath was able to try out the “freezer riffs” with Immortal, if he ever accessed them at all. As much as fans and critics praised the brutality and cohesiveness of Sons of Northern Darkness, a division had grown within the band that couldn’t be mended for years. Bassist Iscariah quit after recording only one track, leaving Abbath to tackle bass in the studio as well as all the vocals and guitar. And while Demonaz provided all of the colorful, imaginative lyrics, his inability to play in the band or tour caused a rift with Abbath.
“The band’s spirit was not there,” Abbath told Revolver. Me and Horgh, we were out, we did the studio, we did the music, the touring, everything, and Demonaz only did all the lyrics. He wasn’t that much involved, just the lyrics, and we didn’t have a permanent bass player… We were fed up, especially me. We could have continued and made more money, but that’s not the first issue in this band. Immortal is about the brotherhood; Immortal is a sacred thing, you know, it’s not only for the money?”
In mid-2005, Abbath, Demonaz and original Immortal drummer Armagedda got together with Gorgoroth bassist King Ov Hell and Enslaved guitarist Arve Isdal to work on an album for a band they called I. They released the album Between Two Worlds in November 2006 and by the summer of 2007 Immortal were playing reunion shows, which paved the way for their 2009 album All Shall Fall.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.