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The last couple of years have been fairly turbulent and eventful for Bergen, Norway-based black metal pioneers Immortal. The mystic realm of Blashyrkh has seen a great deal of conflict and battle recently. Most of said battles seem not to concern itself with Blashyrkh although they are still fought in the North. As in the Northern courts. First Demonaz and Horgh battled estranged frontman (and multi-instrumentalist) Abbath over ownership of the ailing brand. The result was the uniformly and universally barbaric "Northern Chaos Gods" in 2018. Apparently in the intervening five years there was a falling out between co-founder Demonaz and longtime drummer Horgh. The sternly bearded, spiked, and corpse-painted Norsemen spent the pandemic years fighting each other over the trademark plunging the once unstoppable and war-forged Immortal in an extended second hiatus. Now that the legal dispute with Horgh has been settled Demonaz (effectively the sole remaining member through sheer will, determination, or attrition) is back with the suitably antagonistically titled "War Against All". Is the third time the charm? As soul singer Edwin Starr famously asked in 1970, “War, what is it good for?

There’s no contesting the historical importance of Immortal’s contributions to the fledging Norwegian black metal scene. While chaotic and rambunctious “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” was a clear delineation between their past in Old Funeral and the present, conceptually and musically. The band truly came into their own and made their mark with “Pure Holocaust”. It offered a barbaric fusion of early Bathory and Blasphemy informed war-like black metal and “Battles In the North” streamlined that sound to ice-cold perfection. Each individual chapter of the Holocaust Metal trilogy stands recognized as an undefeated genre classic. The band started to lose its way with the sloppily executed “Blizzard Beasts”. The recording debut of Horgh was indeed bestial and a love-note to all things Morbid Angel but a subpar demo-like production reduced it to a whiff rather than the veritable storm it was ought to be. After years of performing acute tendinitis caught up with Demonaz forcing him into a more managerial role and Abbath promptly steered Immortal into a more easily digestible anthemic black/thrash metal direction for the trio of "At the Heart of Winter", "Damned in Black", and "Sons of Northern Darkness". In 2009 the grim and frostbitten duo reconciled for “All Shall Fall” and the rest, well, is history.

'War Against All' and 'Thunders Of Darkness' open the record in a classic one-two in tradition of 'Battles in the North' and 'Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms'. 'Wargod' is the prerequisite slow-building epic Bathory worship track and very much modeled after 'Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)', complete with an acoustic guitar break and slight washes of subdued keyboards exactly where you’d expect. 'No Sun' is an apparent callback to 'The Sun No Longer Rises' but is nowhere near as scorching with its steady marching trudge. 'Return to Cold' continues with the mid-paced march and is a very thinly-veiled retread of 'Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)' structurally, melodically, and otherwise. 'Norlandihr' is an instrumental harking back to the days of "Pure Holocaust". 'Immortal' is Demonaz' (very obvious) state of intent and his attempt at creating a contemporary hymn in vein of 'Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)'. Since "Battles in the North" closed out with a Blashyrkh-themed song "War Against All" concludes with "Blashyrkh My Throne". Familiarity tends to breed the blackest of contempt and while “War Against All” is uniformly strong a slightly broader musical scope and some variation (do another gloomy ‘Unholy Forces Of Evil’ or atmospheric ‘Mountains Of Might’ already) would be appreciated.

Having alienated or exhausted any and all former members for this session Demonaz hired latter day Enslaved bass guitarist Arve Isdal who has a well-established reputation as a notorious mercenary unencumbered by trivial things such as integrity (artistic, personal and otherwise) and who's in the habit of lending his services in the blink of an eye to whichever project is willing to part with the right amount of money. Drummer Kevin Kvåle is a relative newcomer and he follows the template of Horgh by delivering an absolute stellar performance with an avalanche of blasts and a cascade of double bass. The bass guitar was actually clearly audible and integral to the music when it was performed by Peter Tägtgren on "Northern Chaos Gods" here it's conspicuous only by its absence. Thankfully, Demonaz can still solo with the best of them. Perhaps it would be wise for Demonaz to make Kvåle a permanent addition to give Immortal sonic continuity and hire session bass players for live campaigns.

Ever since Demonaz took creative control Immortal has, for better or worse, become enamored with its own legend. If anything Blashyrkh is a concept ripe for expansion and exploration. For whatever reason (mostly nostalgia, if we were to make an educated guess) Demonaz has become a victim of his band's own limited creative mythology and instead of building and expanding upon established and existing concepts the post-Abbath albums are aggressively and regressively intertextual (often close to being embarrassingly self-referential) as far as the lyrics go. "Northern Chaos Gods" was emblematic of exactly that and "War Against All" perseveres with the nostalgic pastiche route regularly bordering dangerously close on parody. Nobody’s expecting Bal-Sagoth levels of detail but the whole Blashyrkh thing comes across as more of an afterthought rather than the supposed central concept. For a realm of might and magic Blashyrkh doesn't come off as very fantastic these days.

Demonaz continues to recycle past assets with this all too familiar looking Mattias Frisk artwork. While not ugly or unfitting it's little different from the monochrome Jannicke Wiese-Hansen drawing for "Northern Chaos Gods" and the Pär Olofsson digital rendering for “All Shall Fall” before that. It beggars belief that Nuclear Blast continues to let him get away with it too. It makes you long for the halcyon days when silly band photos were de rigueur. Now is the time to expand upon these concepts instead of repeating them with little to no variation. Looking to the past for inspiration is one thing but reducing Immortal to name-checking a handful of choice phrases and visual cues is doing nobody any favors. Oh yeah, the iconic (and vastly superior) original logo is still very much absent and very much missed. Make of that what you will. Immortal might be undying, unyielding but new blood is very much needed.

Plot: disgraced janitor is the only one who can thwart a terrorist plot.

There was more to Hawaiian low budget trash specialist Albert Pyun than cyberpunk, chop sockey martial arts, and post-apocalyptic nonsense. He never shied away from occasionally trying to do something topical and timey. He was early to the virtual reality craze of the early 1990s with Arcade (1993) and, for example, the 1997 Handover of Hong Kong in Hong Kong 97 (1994). Blast was his woefully underwhelming contribution to the cycle of Die Hard (1988) plagiates that was winding down by that point. To give on idea of just how dour and dire the American low budget action filmmaking scene was around this time Andy Sidaris was making far better, or least nominally more fun, romps with Day Of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1998), respectively. Old Andy could always be counted upon to hire a spate of beautiful women and his movies were set on sunny Hawaii, also not important. We have spilled a lot of blood on Pyun’s most enduring properties and some select titles here and there over the years but we were nevertheless saddened to hear of his passing on November 26, 2022, age 69, after many years of suffering from dementia and multiple sclerosis. While Pyun actively stopped filming in 2018 due to debilitating health the throne he vacated was usurped by Rene Perez and Neil Johnson, specialists in the kind of stuff he used to excel at.

There are those things that are better avoided. Like things that could potentially damage or ruin your career. One of these things was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997). When offered the role Bridgette Wilson kindly declined to return and played a supporting role in I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) instead. Linden Ashby and Christopher Lambert were given copies of the script as well and they too refused to return. While Wilson actually went up a rung on the Hollywood ladder Ashby and Lambert found themselves in a different kind of hell, the one called Albert Pyun. Of the two Christopher Lambert ended up in the much better Mean Guns (1997) whereas Linden Ashby supposedly landed here to consolidate his status as upcoming action star. Unbelievable as it may sound, Ashby was at one point during the latter half of the nineties poised as the next big action star. Admittedly, he was very good in Mortal Kombat (1995) and Pyun used a torn-from-the-headlines real-life event as the basis of his script for Blast.

Which event? The 1996 Centennial Olympic Park terrorist bombing. To call something as unabashedly drab as this speculative fiction is far too generous. Besides the always charming Ashby regular Pyun warm bodies Andrew Divoff, Tim Thomerson, Thom Matthews, Norbert Weisser, and Yuji Okumoto do their usual spiel, which is really filling up space. Divoff, to his credit, would play a similar role in Air Force One (1997) later that year. Kimberly Warren, Jill Pierce, and Tina Cote were put to much better use, and actually given something to do, in the thriller Mean Guns (1997). Oh yeah, and 23-year-old Shannon Elizabeth – just two years before her big break in American Pie (1999) – stars as one of the hostages. Blast was filmed over a quick twelve days in April 1996 at the state-of-the-art Twin Towers Correctional Facility for around $700,000 and it looks like it too. Famous former and current inmates of Twin Towers include The Game, Paris Hilton, Steve-O, adult performer Ron Jeremy, and predatory film producer Harvey Weinstein. Mean Guns (1997) definitely is the better of the two. Which, while saying not much, unfortunately, says more than enough.

The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. At a pre-Olympic event which the President is scheduled to attend the women’s swimming team is preparing. A group of terrorist headed up Kalal Omodo (Andrew Divoff) infiltrate and seize control of the Aquatic Center with help from a mole and Omodo’s head of security Moses (Jill Pierce). The cell sends a broadcast across the globe that bombs have been planted all over the Olympic buildings, that they hold the US swim team hostage at gunpoint and, in an ultimatum, they vow to start killing hostages one by one if their demands aren’t met. Remaining somehow out of bounds is Jack Bryant (Linden Ashby). Since sustaining debilitating injuries the former Olympic Taekwondo champion has fallen on hard times and is now a recovering alcoholic. He’s currently slumming it up as a janitor but is hired as a last-minute staffer. Once informed of the hostage situation the Mayor (Barbara Roberts) throws together an improved crisis management meeting with help of an FBI agent (Yuji Okumoto), the police commissioner (Tim Thomerson) and a city aide (Tina Cote). Also sitting in is paraplegic wheelchair-bound Native American Interpol counter-terrorist specialist Leo (Rutger Hauer). From a distance the panel tries to assess and diffuse the situation. Only after his black co-worker Bena (Sonya Eddy) is killed and team trainer Bill (Thom Mathews) tries to strike a deal with terrorist leader Omodo does Bryant realize the building has been taken over by hostile armed forces. Things take a turn for the personal when he learns that his ex-wife Diane Colton (Kimberly Warren) is among the hostages. Will Bryant be able to thwart the terrorist plot?

With Chad Stahelski only netting a “special thanks” credit the action direction and choreography is nothing to get particularly excited about. Linden Ashby acquits himself well enough, but imagine what this could have been with an actual action director on board. In recent years Stahelski has risen to fame as a director on his own with the very lucrative (and ongoing) John Wick (2014-) franchise. Not only is the action direction and choreography on the lame side of terrible, none of the kills really mean anything. In Die Hard (1988) every character had a function, was given enough background, and every kill represented a milestone in the trajectory of the main character. Here none of the goons can be told apart and since the villains wear the same blue uniform as the main character at times it’s hard to tell exactly who did what to whom. Divoff plays the bad guy well enough, Ashby has charisma to spare, and the women are uniformly beautiful – but Pyun’s script (under his usual Hannah Blue alias) is skeletal, to say the least. None of the emergency committee members are given so much as a name (“the mayor”, “the police commissioner”, “FBI agent”, “city aide”, etc) which seems pretty… basic?

Pyun always had a bunch of pretty women in his stock company and here Jill Pierce, Tina Cote, and Kimberly Warren embody the 90s definition of hot. Only Warren has a role with some weight whereas Pierce and Cote are stuck in thankless decorative parts. You’d imagine that Pyun would put more focus on either Jill Pierce or Tina Cote but no such thing ever really materializes. For shame, Al, for shame. Tina Cote, whose presence usually lights up any of Pyun's more banal output, has a part so insignificant that it's easy to forget that she's in this at all. Kimberly Warren was the greatest Pyun babe to never go anywhere. Warren is given little more to do than standing around, and occasionally looking misty-eyed. At least Pyun was wise enough to get her white T-shirt wet. Jill Pierce was the reason to see Mean Guns (1997) even if she was only in there for a brief second or two here she has a slightly bigger role. Why Pyun never made her, Cote, or Pierce into his action muse as he did with Kristie Phillips in Spitfire (1995) is a question for the ages. Why we never got a The Doll Squad (1973) or Charlie's Angels (1976-1981) imitation with these three ladies boggles the mind. In retrospect the biggest star here is probably Shannon Elizabeth who was a two years away from making it big and would become a pillar on American television afterwards.

For the most part Blast is a case of wasted (or at least unfulfilled) potential. Nemesis (1992) was the perfect storm and Albert Pyun was never able to recreate that magic. If Blast is shorn of anything it’s Pyun’s usual style and swagger. The Hong Kong aspirations of Nemesis (1992) are nowhere to be found. The gun pyrotechnics are disappointingly flat lacking in both urgency and impact. None of the individual fights carry any weight and have something of an underrehearsed feel. The Twin Towers Correctional Facility was an incredible location but it isn’t used to maximum effect. Say what you will about former Pyun alum Jean-Claude Van Damme but he was at the height of his success and power by 1997, Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) was two years old by this point – and even though Steven Seagal begun his decline he was still considered a legitimate action star. Albert Pyun was in the habit of making stars out of the unknown and rehabilitating disgraced (and fallen) action stars but he himself never ascended (or transcended) his low budget roots. Nor was he able to legitimize himself with a big budget production. Blast is emblematic of Pyun as a director and at every point effortlessly fails to deliver that what its title would have you believe. Under Siege (1992), Speed (1994), or Con Air (1997) this most certainly is not. Hell, it doesn’t even come within an inch of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995). Had it been half as cartoony as Air Force One (1997) then at least it had been fun. Alas, it is not.