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Immortal have fallen on some particularly hard times of late. “All Shall Fall”, the supposed grand return to form, is almost a decade behind us. “Blizzard Beasts”, far from Immortal's finest hour, dates all the way back to 1997. When severe tendinitis sidelined Demonaz, frontman Abbath switched to guitar and bassists here hired. While there’s no denying that Immortal grew in profile during Abbath’s creative reign his records seldom captured the spirit of the classic trilogy of “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism”, “Pure Holocaust”, and the uniformly barbaric “Battles In the North”. Now that Abbath is out of the picture, Demonaz (always the more level-headed of the duo) is free to restore Immortal to its former glory. “Northern Chaos Gods” is the album that should have immediately followed the abysmally produced wimper “Blizzard Beasts”. Has Demonaz been able to shake off the rust and creative stasis of Abbath’s decade-long reign and steer Immortal back to relevance? Judging by “Northern Chaos Gods” the best is yet to come for the Hordaland horde.

The last couple of years have been turbulent to say the least. In 2015 long simmering personal – and creative differences finally came to a boil prompting iconic frontman (and multi-instrumentalist) Abbath Doom Occulta to branch out on his own, taking with him an album’s worth of song material, and soon the cursed realm of Blashyrkh formed the arena for the two opposing factions to battle out their legal differences in court. Abbath formulated a solo project simply called Abbath and released called (what else?) “Abbath”. Not that we’d expect anything different from Abbath. Abbath is Abbath with all the good and bad that entails. Precious few bands can survive the loss of a beloved frontman and even fewer can come back stronger and more focused than before. That seems to have happened with Immortal. Demonaz and Horgh have duly regrouped as a duo with Demonaz taking up the vocal mantle. For the first time in over two decades Demonaz can be heard playing guitar again, after undergoing surgery in 2013. Reidar Horghagen remains one of the genre’s most criminally underrated drummers and “Northern Chaos Gods” brims with the sort of fury and aggression many believed Immortal no longer had left in them. “Northern Chaos Gods” is the unbridled force of two men hellbent on reclaiming their former glory. Immortal hasn’t sounded this hellish and icy in a long, long time – or at least not since “Battles In the North”.

Unlike some of its brethren Immortal never experimented with left-of-field influences nor did they stray too far from their original template. However that doesn’t mean there weren’t distinct phases in band’s multiple-decade career. “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” is as much of an early death metal record as it was an early black metal offering. For the most part it was a continuation of what Old Funeral did before them. On “Pure Holocaust” and especially “Battles In the North” Immortal came into its own and “Blizzard Beasts”, demo production notwithstanding, pushed the Holocaust Metal (or Norsecore) sound as far as it possibly could while simultaneously worshipping at the altar of Morbid Angel (“Altars Of Madness” and “Covenant” in particular). Perhaps it’s nostalgia talking, but “Northern Chaos Gods” (was somebody listening to Centurian during pre-production?) is the closest to “Pure Holocaust” Immortal has sounded in decades.

It combines the unflinching barbarism of “Battles In the North” with the straighforward intensity of “Blizzard Beasts”. The title track was released as an advance single ahead of the album and bursts with the kind of ravenous bloodlust and vitriol Immortal hasn’t showcased since “Battles In the North”. ‘Into Battle Ride’ is what “Blizzard Beasts” should have sounded like. ‘Grim and Dark’ and ‘Called to Ice’ sound like vintage “Pure Holocaust” cuts. ‘Gates to Blashyrkh’ and ‘Where Mountains Rise’ is a callback to ‘A Perfect Vision Of the Rising Northland’, ‘Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)’ and ‘Mountains Of Might’. There’s a point to be made that “Northern Chaos Gods” might be a little too much of a throwback to the hallowed trilogy, but it’s also the strongest product Immortal has lend its name to in years.

Is there reason for excitement with “Northern Chaos Gods”? Most certainly. Immortal hasn’t sounded this icy and lethal in a long, long time. Demonaz can still pull of an epic sounding solo and Horgh can compete with any young drummer as far as intensity and blasts is concerned. The monochrome artwork and self-referential songtitles as ‘The Gates Of Blashyrkh’, ‘Grim and Dark’ and ‘Mighty Ravendark’ might not exactly burst with creativity, but “Northern Chaos Gods” – at least on the musical end of things – is a good first step in restoring the band to its former glory. Despite, or rather in spite of, its immediacy and breakneck pace is “Northern Chaos Gods” in no hurry to forward or expand upon the Blashyrkh concept, and some of the lyrics almost too obviously recycle songtitles and even entire passages from beloved band staples. Which doesn’t mean that “Northern Chaos Gods” isn’t enjoyable exactly for what it is. Considering the turmoil and tribulations Immortal faced over the last years it’s nothing short of breathtaking that they could summon something this incendiary so late in their career. It’s not exactly a great creative renaissance, or a grand reinvention of the duo’s vintage Holocaust Metal sound, in fact it’s exactly the opposite. “Northern Chaos Gods” is regressive in exactly the right ways. It’s certainly no new classic but what it does conclusively prove is that Demonaz was the silent force on the band’s early records.

It’s unbelieveable enough that more than twenty years after their last good record Immortal is able to conjure up such fury and rekindle the flame of inspiration that spawned essential genre records as “Pure Holocaust” and “Battles In the North”. Demonaz still worships at the altar of Bathory’s “Blood Fire Death” and if the venom is anything to go by he was none too pleased with Abbath taking the band into more populist realms. Is it Immortal’s much pined after return to form? Maybe. Maybe not. “Northern Chaos Gods” is just a tad too regressive and self-referential for that. It does conclusively prove that Demonaz is perfectly able to hold his own without Abbath leading the charge. The sterile Peter Tägtgren production once again proves why he is loathed in purist circles. The monochrome artwork from Jannicke Wiese-Hansen (who designed the original and vastly superior Immortal logo, conspicuously absent here) recreates the Pär Olofsson rendering for “All Shall Fall”. Interestingly it’s only the second Immortal album (1999’s “At the Heart Of Winter” preceding it) not to have a band picture for cover art. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, everything is well in the grim and frostbitten kingdoms of Blashyrkh. It seems that Immortal needed to get rid of Abbath to return to the essence of what made them popular in the first place.

Self-professed Mesopotamian black metal combo Melechesh - originally based in the metal unfriendly environs of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Israel who later relocated to the more secular Amsterdam, the Netherlands and recently France and Germany - has always been one of the more interesting of the original second wave bands. Together with Orphaned Land they were among the earliest to combine underground death/black metal with Middle Eastern instrumentation and Arabic folk music. Their legend and repute grew considerably in the second half of the nineties as they fled Israel under mouting pressure from strict religious authorities resulting from the release of their controversial domestically bred debut “As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar”. Since their 1996 debut Melechesh has released three albums on French imprint Osmose Productions and two on the considerably bigger Nuclear Blast Records. Suffice to say Melechesh has an interesting history and oeuvre to say the least. This is where “Ghouls of Nineveh” double-disc comes in…

Thanks to the wonders of international licensing and distribution rights as well as the fine people at Napalm Records and their partners Nippon Phonogram there’s now a compilation for the casual fan who wants to whet his/her appetite as to what Ashmedi and his rotating cast of musicians have been up in the past almost quarter of a century. “Ghouls of Nineveh” is a Japanese-exclusive double-disc career retrospective spanning all of the Melechesh discography, bar “As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar” and the prior demo. Interestingly there’s but a single track from 2001’s “Dijnn”, four tracks from “Sphynx” (2003) and almost the entirety of “Emissaries” (2006). The remainder of content for both discs is culled from “The Epigenesis” (2010) and “Enki” (2015) or the more widely known, far better produced recent releases on German conglomerate Nuclear Blast Records. The lack of inclusion of tracks from the band’s 1996 debut “As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar” and the accompanying demo “As Jerusalem Burns...” from a year earlier is insulting to say the least. That there’s but a single track from “Djinn” but almost the entirety of “Emissaries” is another puzzling decision. Space that could’ve been put to better use by evening out selections from each album instead of what was done here. It is understandable, at least from a sonoric point of view, but as a historic document (what compilations should strive to be) it is a major point of contention. To dispense with the obvious, “Ghouls of Nineveh” covers most of the ground you’d want of a compilation and as such it is more than representative for Melechesh as a whole.

To their everlasting credit Melechesh always was more of an Ancient Rites than a Nile. Melechesh is more concerned with conveying a Middle Eastern atmosphere than with playing at an inhumanly fast pace and/or being technical just for its own sake. The band evolved from Ashmedi's earlier, short-lived death metal solo project Crushed Cenotaph. Upon release of the  “As Jerusalem Burns...” demo and their debut a year later Melechesh were charged with “dark cultish” activity by religious law enforcement officials of the Holy Cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, all of which were later dropped. While considered Israeli the members are in fact of mixed descent, most prominently Armenian-Assyrian, Assyrian, and Arabian-Syrian. Central to the band’s lyrics are Mesopotamian and Sumerian history, antiquity and mythology and “The Epigenesis” is an exception in that regard as it concerns the titular concept derived from Greek philosophers Aristotle (in his Historia Animalium) and Plato. Melechesh has overcome many hurdles and countered every prejudice/bias that any band in their part of the world might face.

Where Nile has downsized its Egyptian component considerably over the last decade, Melechesh has done the opposite and worked diligently to integrate as much ethnic instrumentation and Arabian folk music as its genre of choice would allow. Along with Orphaned Land, Melechesh has been one of the pillars of Middle Eastern metal and their output has consistently been one of quality over volume. Where Melechesh has made the most obvious strides forward is in fusing ethnic instrumentation and Middle Eastern folk melodies with their patented stomping melodic black/thrash metal. What Melechesh unlike, say, Nile benefits tremendously from is their more deliberate choice of tempo. Not that Melechesh ever had any shortage of able skinsmen. Whether it’s Saro Orfali, Proscriptor McGovern, Yuri Rinkel, or Samuel Santiago behind the kit.

Melechesh always allowed its songs to breathe and neither of their drummers had the proclivity to fill every second of every song with needlessly elaborate fills or double-bass blasts. Something of which George Kollias, Derek Roddy and several others are prone to, often to the detriment of the songs. It’s puzzling why “Ghouls Of Nineveh” capitalizes so heavily on the band’s Nuclear Blast Records repertoire when their releases on Osmose Productions and Breath Of Night Records are considerably harder to come by, and even moreso in Asia. Why then that this double-disc compromises for the most part of cuts from “Emissaries”, “The Epigenesis” and “Enki” is anybody’s guess. As a historical document “Ghouls Of Nineveh” blunders by not evenly distributing its track selection among the albums.

Of course the question of legitimacy looms toweringly over this double-disc. “Ghouls Of Nineveh” was released by Austria's Napalm Records in cooperation with Nippon Phonogram. Perhaps it has something to do with international licensing laws since all of the band’s major releases were issued through France’s black metal specialist imprint Osmose Productions and Germany’s Nuclear Blast Records. Had this compilation been curated in cooperation with Ashmedi and his bandmates surely the song selection would have been more even-handed. For the most part “Ghouls Of Nineveh” is a missed opportunity. It’s representative enough for most of the Melechesh discography, but the focus on the band’s recent output isn’t necessarily to its advantage. Obviously there are far worse compilations out there – and Melechesh is the last band to be accused of milking its fanbase for money.

How exactly this compilation came into existence, or what motivation was behind it besides good old-fashioned greed, is anyone’s guess. There are no indications that Melechesh has terminated its long-standing contract with Nuclear Blast Records, nor does the artwork chosen for this compilation reflect any of the band’s usual aesthetics and imagery, other than pillaging promo material publicly available from the albums it selects material from. Melechesh is in no hurry to acknowledge the existence of “Ghouls Of Nineveh” – and neither do the usual music databases. There’s definitely an audience for a band-approved Melechesh compilation. The purveyors of true Assyrian black metal deserve better than this. This might be interesting for the casual fan, but that's all positive that can be said about it.