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“Battles In the North” was the breakout album for Norwegian duo Immortal. It crystallized their sound into its most savage, unrelenting and pummeling format while retaining the band’s underdeveloped and underplayed atmospheric folk edge. Having always produced promotional videos for each of their albums, with “Masters Of Nebulah Frost” the duo had finally the chance to work with a production company and a professional video director with David Palser. Based upon his work here Palser would spend 1996 working with the likes of Burzum, Diabolos Rising and Impaled Nazarene. Along with Dark Funeral from Sweden, the duo was among the earlier black metal groups to have a professionally shot promotional video to support their album in the visual media. “Masters Of Nebulah Frost” compiles both these videos, and nothing more.

Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)
This video is the most technically accomplished of the two. The video features a variety of landscapes, and rather modest but good-looking visual effects. The song’s slower tempo, and the absence of many lyrics make it a showcase of Norwegian nature rather than the actual band. The video capitalizes on the breathtaking vistas that Norway offers, and it is littered with amazing shots of mountains, trees, lakes and snow-covered landscapes. Exactly the things that Immortal spends a good portion of time singing about. In the beginning of the video there’s a small segment where Abbath “fist-punches” in unison with the kickdrums that start off the song. It is a small scene, but it adds a lot.

Demonaz is his usual self, although he wears a white band-aid on his arm in the establishing shots that seems to disappear and reappear at random intervals. This gap in continuity is not a big fault, but it stands out. The video is a typical performance video with the band playing their music in a variety of landscapes. Interspersed with the song are images of a flying raven, and one actor portraying Blashyrkh for two seconds. This is probably the most expensive and expansive one of the two promotional clips presented. As with low budget productions is usually the case, there are various scenes in which the band is overlit. The focal point is obviously vocalist/bass guitarist Abbath, who spents a good deal of the time making spooky faces, and has occasionally stick his hair to his corpse paint. This results in momentary lapses of awkward headbanging as he tries his best to unstick his hair from his corpse paint. The same rings true for Demonaz, whose black hair tends to get stuck in his inch-long arm spikes or on his corpse paint.

Director David Palser knew what images to capture. During the song’s folk break with the acoustic guitar and the church organ, we see Abbath traversing the snow in a trenchcoat that is overlaid with images of a raven’s eye opening and closing. Following is another shot of Abbath on a mountainside, again in his long trenchcoat, which is followed by a close-up of him looking grumpy. The segment is concluded with a shot of Abbath looking heroically over the mountainside, just before running down the mountain’s stone-filled face to join Demonaz for the extended solo section. It is kind of endearing to see Abbath waiting for his cue to start running, and to see the camera follow him along while trying to retain a stable, static shot of what is happening. Another fun fact is that none of the instruments are linked to any sort of amplification.

Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms
For this session Immortal called upon Jan-Axel Blomberg (Hellhammer) to sit in as drummer for the video shoot, although he had no involvement whatsoever with the recording from which this cut is culled. The video is limited to one location on a glacier, along a body of water. The camera work is static, and outside of a few close-ups of every individual member, there isn’t much to make it stand out from similar videos. Abbath and Demonaz wander around in a circular motion before the drums. Blomberg wears blue eyeliner and a shirt reminiscent of Cradle Of Filth’s “Dusk… and Her Embrace” photoshoot, and he really has no business being here at all. The preceding video worked perfectly fine without a drummer, so this one should as well. This second promotional video was shot by the same production company and the very same director, so it is a bit puzzling why they suddenly felt the need to include an extra body to fill up the cast. The inclusion of grainy and underlit live footage from a club show doesn’t help matters either, as it adds absolutely nothing of worth to the production values of this clip.

The biggest mistake on the director’s part was the inclusion of and fixation on a few key shots, mostly close-ups, wherein it is suggested that Abbath is encased in frost when singing his parts. The kicker is that the camera appears frozen, and the lens is full of drops of water and condensation. Either that, or he was singing under a piece of frozen glass. Not only does it look amateurish; it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in a professional production. The band is playing on a deeply frozen glacier. The point that Immortal is, conceptually, all about snow, frost and ice is thereby thoroughly conveyed in a visual manner. In other instances the band, once again, is overlit in crucial parts. In the latter part of the video, and in wide shots, it becomes hard to see drummer Blomberg, due to the blinding reflection of bright daylight on the all-covering snow.


tumblr_lfhapfcy0V1qfckzwo1_400“Masters Of Nebulah Frost” wasn’t an ambitious release by any stretch of the imagination. Feeding into the mystique of the Immortal duo it merely compiles the two videos of the “Battles In the North” studio session. Osmose Productions could have remastered the two videos of the preceding two records, but chose not to. Neither did they include any live recordings, rehearsal footage, studio outtakes or a retrospective interview with the band about their career at that point in time. As far as the design of this release is concerned, this was done on the cheap too. The photography from the “Battles In the North” album shoot is reproduced in whole at exactly the same places. There surely must have been other, brand new shots of this photoshoot that could have been used to make this VHS look more original and interesting.

This was originally released on VHS in 1995 around the same time as the “Battles In the North” album. A couple of years later it was re-issued as a DVD, since the VHS format had become obsolete at that point with the emergence of the new visual storage format. It is interesting as a companion piece to its corresponding album, but nothing more than that. In all, this could have been far more than what we actually got. A pity, really.

On its third album Norwegian black metal duo Immortal come into their own, and deliver their most conceptually complete recording. This third album takes the sound from “Pure Holocaust” and adds additional levels of speed, texture and density to it, without abandoning the atmospheric leanings of the band’s debut. With a cruder production, an even higher tempo in playing and its fantasic Blashyrkh/winter, snow, ice concept worked out to a more detailed degree “Battles In the North” is in many ways the ultimate Immortal album. Released in 1995 it was one of the earlier releases in the Norsecore subset of black metal, and remains the duo’s best work by a long shot.
This is Immortal’s most primitive and fastest album in a number of ways, it also their purest black metal one. The preceding two albums had minor death metal stylings, as would have the album following this one. Later in their career Immortal would up the German thrash metal architecture in their music, and become more of a thrash metal band than a black metal one in the process. However, “Battles In the North” is as atmospheric as it is unrelenting and crude. The atmosphere of Norse desolation, despair and darkness is conveyed through lyrics and Demonaz’ folk inspired melodies with only minor usage of actual folk instrumentation in but one track. Both Abbath and Demonaz deliver commendable work on the string instruments, although Abbath’s performance as a studio drummer for this session is considerably weaker compared to his work on the preceding “Pure Holocaust”. Whether this is to blame on part of the heavier but cleaner production I’ll leave in the middle. It’s one of the inherent charms of the record.

The album is custodian to Immortal’s two most loved live staples ‘Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms’ and ‘Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)’, which themselves would be subject of a later VHS/DVD called “Masters Of Nebulah Frost”. Both embody two different sides of Immortal, and both are the best of those worlds. ‘Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms’ is a fast cut, whereas ‘Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)’ is a much slower, almost atmospheric and epic undertaking in tradition of ‘A Perfect Vision Of the Rising Northland’. The latter has a churning church organ, acoustic guitar playing and overall recalls “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” in terms of construction and instrumentation, but not vocal style. There are other strong tracks to be found on this record, but these two by and large remain the signature tracks of this session, and will be forever identified with the band.

Whereas the duo’s style was already minimalistic on “Pure Holocaust” here Immortal opt for an even more stripped down and barbaric approach. Taking the template from the preceding record and building further upon its initital framework “Battles In the North” sounds like a storm of frozen stormwinds that carry the sounds of battle. Forgoing an intro Immortal immediately break into the title track, and the crude production by Grieghallen Studio resident producer Eirik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin is the most crunchy yet charming the band had ever had at that point. The guitar tone is far thicker, as are the drums, Abbath’s bass guitar doesn’t feature as prominent as it once did, but there’s far more care put into vocal production. Overall “Battles In the North” is the duo’s best work with a stellar production and fitting imagery that complements the snow, frost, ice subject matter of their lyrics. Blashyrkh finally means something.

As with the preceding album “Battles In the North” completes Immortal imagery. For the first time the duo had accumulated enough funds to afford a professional photoshoot and the album’s photography is nothing short of spectacular in all its goofy glory. The cover photo has both men kneeled in the snow holding their black guitars and bass, decked out in black metal uniform, complete with corpse paint, bullet belts and spikes. The back - and inner sleeve of the digipack feature an additional two or three different photos of the same shoot, all lyrics to the songs and the usual production notes and thank-you lists. Notable is that some of the lyrics contain spelling – and grammatical errors. Apparently Osmose Productions didn’t care enough to correct these faults for the final print, or to bring these to the band’s attention. It isn’t a big criticism yet a very valid one. Amateuristic things like this usually tend to hold the extreme metal genre back.