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In the last couple of years Göthenburg-based Nachtlieder, the studio project conceptualized by multi-instrumentalist, part-time yogini and natural born philosopher Dagny Susanne, has established itself as one of the most potent and distinct new voices in the Swedish black metal pantheon. Her third album “Lynx” fully delivers on the promise that 2015’s loosely conceptual “The Female of the Species” only hinted at. While her 2013 debut was serviceable in the very least, it didn't leave much of an impression on this scribe. On “The Female of the Species” Nachtlieder truly transformed into a distinct entity with its own recognizable vision and voice. “Lynx” builds, but also expands and deepens, upon that foundation and sees Dagny elevating her songwriting to a higher creative plateau. “Lynx” has Susanne at her most bloodcurdingly predatory and perhaps now more than any time before is Nachtlieder red of tooth and claw.

On the whole we’ve always been fairly ambivalent at best and completely indifferent at worst to Swedish black metal as a genre. There are records that we unequivocally love. “Summon the Beast” from the Hypocrisy side-project The Abyss, “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” from Dark Funeral, the first few Marduk albums, “The Somberlain” and “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” by Dissection (who we’ve always considered more of an epic heavy/thrash metal band than an outright black metal one) and selected works from Setherial, the the grandmasters of imitation and derivation, such as “Nord”, “Hell Eternal” or “Endtime Divine” and “Vittra” from Naglfar. The post-David Parland releases from Dark Funeral, the shortlived more death metal tinged The Legion, and the numerous more smaller hordes that persist in the underground have not helped in swaying us to stay current with what’s happening in the scene. Over the course of a decade and now three albums deep into her career Dagny Susanne has proven that she’s persistently deadlier than the male. Nachtlieder is the kind of project to breath new life into a stagnant and regressive genre without the need of a gimmick or being overly innovative.

The lynx has largely been associated with awareness, ability, balance, and change. It is a symbol of knowledge, clairvoyance, and wisdom. Across cultures (Greek, Norse, North American and Asian, among others) and times the lynx has borne silent witness to the foils and follies of humankind and is widely considered an often nigh on invisible sage of secrets both corporeal and ethereal living in great solitude and isolation. In medicine the lynx symbolizes sharp senses. Much like the titular felines an air of mystery surrounds Susanne who has revealed herself as a woman of many interests. It greatly speaks to her sense of individuality and independence that she continues to explore themes and subjects relating to the female experience. Susanne is not a woman to be pigeonholed to a convenient genre tag and with each subsequent offering Nachtlieder continues to expand into grander, ever more ambitious concepts. While Nachtlieder’s 2013 debut didn’t leave much of an impression other than being an extremely capable exercise of the form her subsequent album(s) have shown her as an agile musician and composer. Nachtlieder wouldn’t be what it is without the loyal services of studio drummer Martrum and on “Lynx” he too delivers another stellar performance. The synergy between Dagny and Martrum is one of the project’s strongest features.

Nachtlieder has never been about inhuman speed (leave that to Setherial and their ilk) and much of Susanne’s songwriting is reminiscent of Enslaved (circa “Hordanes Land”) and early Immortal records as “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” and “Pure Holocaust”. Instead of the more Nordic inclinations of her possible inspirations “Lynx” sounds clinically aggressive without that it ever regresses into gratuitous Norsecore blasts (something which Belgian horde Enthroned was often prone to early on) and atmospheric meanderings that serve no larger purpose. As much as the bass guitar is often dealt a cruel hand in most metal productions regardless of their size on “Lynx” it can be heard clearly. The string instruments contribute equally to the compositions and while the bass guitar never quite gets to weave any lead melodies its constantly throbbing pulse is essential for Nachtlieder to arrive at its distinct sound. By and large “Lynx” goes for a more primal and churning epic midpace than the more conventionally speed-oriented excursions from “The Female of the Species”. The primordially crawling, eerie melodies amplify Dagny’s rasping growl. Which doesn’t diminish in any way from tracks as ‘Law Of Decay’ that completely kill with their speed. The duo of ‘Eyes Ablaze’ and ‘Moksha’ conclude “Lynx” on a majestic dark note. Like the ferocious felines of the title Nachtlieder is both elegant and cunning in its assault.

An illustration from John Bauer isn’t typically something you’d expect of a black metal band, especially not in the light of the assorted works of Gustav Doré and Jannicke Wiese-Hansen more or less being standards of the form. “Lynx” avoids the usual monochrome canvasses by using a piece from Bauer as its artwork. The illustration in question is "Guldnycklarna" (Gold Keys) from 1915 that figured into "Bland tomtar och troll" (Among gnomes and trolls), an annual collection of fairytales for children that was first saw publication in 1907. A variety of authors wrote for "Bland tomtar och troll" and Bauer contributed illustrations every year until his death with the exception of 1911. The collection steered domestic children’s literature in a new direction by incorporating themes from folk songs into the various fairytales. After Bauer other illustrators followed among them Gustaf Tenggren and from 1927 to 1980 Einar Norelius with Hans Arnold following in his footsteps. Notable authors contributing to the tome include Hjalmar Bergman, Margareta Ekström, Gösta Knutsson, Severin Schiöler and Edith Unnerstad.

Eine kleine Nachtmusik might be Mozart's most enduring composition and Nachtlieder is the last thing you'd associate with fairytales and nursery rhymes there's something about Dagny's songwriting and her strong sense of individuality that easily places it among the classic bands of her genre. On “The Female of the Species” Susanne already showcased her uncanny ability to compose fully conceptualized pieces better than most of her peers in traditionally staffed constellations. In many ways Nachtlieder is the Scandinavian counterpart to Mediterreanean outfit Melencolia Estatica, the Italian project spearheaded by vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Serena Nardin. If there's something to be said about Nachtlieder as a band and Susanne as a person it's that she will go out of her way to avoid any cliché inherent to her craft. That truly is her greatest forté. Now that the "Lynx" is free to stalk its prey we can only wonder what Dagny will come up with next. It'd be interesting to see her take on the various female apparitions of Asian mythology (such as the ghosts of Chinese folklore or the Indian nagin, the snake spirits, to name two popular examples). If there's anything the metal scene at large needs it's visionaries. People like Susanne are vital. Suss isn't just kvlt, she's kvte too.

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.