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In the twenty-plus years since “Blizzard Beasts”, the not-so-glorious closing chapter of their unsurpassed and rightly revered Holocaust Metal era, a lot has happened in the Immortal camp. They released three albums of more readily accessible epic sounding black/thrash metal with “At the Heart Of Winter” (1999), “Damned In Black” (2000) and “Sons Of Northern Darkness” (2002) that broke them to a massive audience. After a seven year hiatus Immortal returned with the prophetically titled and fantastically overhyped “All Shall Fall” – after which they collapsed amidst personal – and creative differences. In 2014 frontman Abbath left the project in acrimony with the usual aggrieved accusations and lawsuits following suit. Now, a decade after “All Shall Fall”, Immortal (sans Abbath) returns with the “Northern Chaos Gods” 7” vinyl single, a precursor to the album of the same name.

Even without their most recognizable member (whose solo venture wasn’t a grand creative renaissance either) a fire has been lit under sole original member Demonaz and long-time drummer Reidar Horghagen. “Northern Chaos Gods” is lean, mean and the most hungry and combative the duo have sounded in years. As an isolated track it’s nigh on impossible, not to mention misleading at the very least, to gauge how much “Northern Chaos Gods” represents the album it is preceding. In isolation it is indeed an impressive slice of icy Northern wintercold that Immortal used to masters at. The lyrics, steeped in the usual Blashyrkh fantasy imagery, are a thinly-veiled jab at their former frontman and clearly both Demonaz and Horgh have a bone to pick with him. The duo has since gone on record stating that “Northern Chaos Gods”, both single and album, is “the first step in the reclaiming of our past grimness and attitude.” The veracity of that statement will become clear once the record has been released. As of now, we’re very reservedly optimistic about Immortal reclaiming at least a fraction of their old sound and character, hence our coverage of their discography halting after the meager “Blizzard Beasts”.

While Immortal’s chaotic beginnings with “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” were a stylistic continuation of the duo’s work with Old Funeral, it was on “Pure Holocaust” and, more importantly, the utterly barbaric “Battles In the North” that Immortal truly came into its own. The “Northern Chaos Gods” single is apparently painfully aware of that fact and is hellbent on rekindling the spirit of those albums. In other words, “Northern Chaos Gods” is the most bestial and violent Immortal has sounded in many, many years. Demonaz’ serpentine shrieks and rasps recall some of the band’s earliest work and the riffing as well as the solo is the closest we’re likely to come to a recreation or reimaging of their landmark third offering “Battles In the North”. After twenty plus years a band is bound to repeat itself and the lyrics for the single reference ‘under the banner of Blashyrkh we ride’ from the title track of “Battles In the North” as well as the ‘kings of the ravenrealm’ from “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” from the same session as well as name-checking “Sons Of Northern Darkness”. In the best scenario, this single could potentially be a positive omen.

However that doesn’t mean that there isn’t laziness abound. Songtitles as ‘The Gates Of Blashyrkh’, ‘Grim and Dark’ and ‘Mighty Ravendark’ don’t inspire a lot of confidence, but crazier things have happened. The artwork for the single is an outtake of a larger canvas used for the full length release. Artwork that we haste to mention is nothing short of a monochrome xeroxing from the Pär Olofsson digital rendering used on “All Shall Fall” released some ten years prior. It’s virtually unfathomable that Demonaz and Horghagen weren’t able to allocate proper artwork for an album that was several years in the making. It’s an affront to good taste and sensibility that Nuclear Blast Records saw nothing wrong with such an obvious and advanced level of recycling of past assets. As per the expected Nuclear Blast standard the duo convened at Abyss Studio in Ludvika, Sweden with Peter Tägtgren not only producing, but also providing session bass guitar. Tägtgren, of course, is no stranger to black metal as he headed up the very shortlived but scorchingly excellent The Abyss studio project in the 1990s. Rather interestingly is that the original Immortal logo hasn’t been reinstated as you’d expect of an effort so desperately eager to recreate the magic of the past. Oh well… Next time maybe?

It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the once-mighty Dark Funeral, Sweden’s self-proclaimed Ineffable Kings of Darkness, with the Bröberg repertoire increasingly having been one of diminishing returns. “Vobiscum Satanas” and “Diabolis Interium” both were efficient for what they were but from “Attera Totus Sanctus” onward Dark Funeral increasingly started to adopt death metal production values and techniques. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is the completion of the regression that commenced with 2005’s “Attera Totus Sanctus” and reached its apex on the self-parody that was “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”. Is age is finally catching up with King Antichrist, Mikael Svanberg – or, more likely, was post-David Parland Dark Funeral just never all that strong in its songwriting to begin with? Dark Funeral has finally put the proverbial noose around its collective neck, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is where its lifeless, dilapidated form hangs from.

“Where Shadows Forever Reign” - the not exactly highly anticipated follow-up to the entirely risible “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”, a record that was no less than 7 years in the making - has long-running Swedish black metal formation Dark Funeral reaching the point of obvious redundancy and artistic vacuity and thus banks itself entirely on visual/linguistic cues to earlier, better recordings; and self-referential nostalgia. This is not the much pined after return to relevance with material worthy of the “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” legacy, “Where Shadows Forever Reign” continues the co-opting of death metal stylings and production techniques into what is otherwise remarkably unremarkable barely-there Norsecore that second-tiers Setherial perfected to greater degree many years prior. It’s high-time for Svanberg to consider a songwriting partnership as “Where Shadows Forever Reign” isn’t solely in the grip of the pangs of nostalgia, it’s entire raison d'être seems to hinge on making people forget the dreadful Masse Bröberg era of the band.

Like Suffocation’s “Blood Oath” before it “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is considerably slower compared to prior outings. Instead of starting off with a blisteringly fast cut ‘Unchain My Soul’ opens with ominous narration, and takes its time getting started. As such it’s a harbinger of things to come as Dark Funeral, now two decades and half into its existence, is exhausted. The chiming funeral bell on ‘As I Ascend’ greatly enhances the atmosphere, but it merely functions as a bridge towards the single ‘Temple Of Ahriman’. For the first time in history Dark Funeral pairs two slow songs in immediate succession, neither of which are particularly foreboding. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” does sound like Dark Funeral, especially on the last three Bröberg fronted efforts, but none of it is particularly inspired or inspiring. New frontman Andreas Vingbäck sounds far closer to original singer Paul Mäkitalo with his selection of serpentine rasps, slashing shrieks, and ominous ululations, than to rightly maligned former Hypocrisy frontman Magnus Bröberg. Andreas Fröberg (who has since defected) is another in a long line of completely inconsequential and interchangeable bass guitarists - especially with Svanberg handling the instrument in the studio - that nobody pays attention to. ‘Unchain My Soul’, ‘As One We Shall Conquer’ and ‘Nail Them to the Cross’ were co-written with drummer Nils Fjellström (who has since defected), but it isn’t nearly enough to shake off the rust of a decade plus of self-imposed creative stasis.

You’d be hardpressed to recognize any of this as Dark Funeral, especially the drastically lowered pace and the heavy-handed attempt at mimicking Dissection-like epic songwriting, complete with Iron Maiden-inspired leads and archetypical Swedish melodic accents. In light of a 7 year hiatus (and another overhaul of half the line-up) what could we possibly expect? A return to the golden days of “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”, the one Dark Funeral record that Svanberg had practically no involvement in? No. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Dark Funeral is still around to begin with, and their adamant refusal to go quietly into the night almost resembles Maryland’s Dying Fetus. Not everything about “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is terrible. Yet it is terrible enough to merit that most on “Where Shadows Forever Reign” either doesn’t resemble the Dark Funeral we’ve all come to love/hate, or either is a nostalgic callback to the brighter, fiercer, more agile days of “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”. Making a long overdue return is the instantly classic blue Necrolord canvas and the old title font. It’s faint praise indeed but at least “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is better on the visual front than “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”, which isn’t much of a recommendation in and of itself.

At this point there’s no other way of saying what everybody the least bit perceptive already knew years ago. Dark Funeral is a spent creative force, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is testament to its redundancy. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is a solid enough death metal album - one that doesn’t warrant frequent revisiting - but not one you’d want to see adorned with the iconic Dark Funeral coat of arms. Not that this particular evolution is the least bit surprising or unexpected. It was over a decade coming, and now Armageddon has finally come. More than anything “Where Shadows Forever Reign” has the look of a last-minute act of restoration, a desperate attempt to invoke the spirit of the glorious past. This Temple Of Ahriman has been in disrepair for longer than was probably healthy, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is unable to escape the looming shadow of the superior songwriting skills of the late David Parland. It’s high time for the Black Winged Horde, these Demons Of Five, to refamiliarize themselves with what made them famous to begin with. In 2016 Dark Funeral is as declawed, docile, and unnecessary as modern day Dimmu Borgir. The real question is: when will the metal scene finally refuse to put up with mediocre swill like this? No more!