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The fourth Immortal album is the last of their “holocaust metal” trilogy, and primarily an album about changes. After this album Demonaz would depart from the band, having been diagnosed with acute tendinitis in his arm. “Blizzard Beasts” is also the first album since the debut to have a dedicated drummer. Reidar Horghagen makes his recording debut with this album, but he had no involvement in the songwriting. It was the first to be recorded outside of Grieghallen Studio and without long-time producer Eirik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin - as a result the production is atrocious, of demo quality and ugly. The album is described as the band’s most death metal – and technical sounding, taking a chunk of inspiration from Morbid Angel’s “Altars Of Madness” in terms of riffing and delivery.

After a short but unlisted intro (which is actually pretty effective and gloomy) the trio bursts into the title track, and they sound more ravenous, determined and hungry than ever before. The blast sections are faster than they ever were before, and the dirge-like slow parts flow better within the general construction of the songs. The tempo is overall much lower than the utterly relentless “Battles In the North”, which was expected as that record pushed speed as far as humanly possible. The ratio of slow tracks does stick out, and “Blizzard Beasts” is closer related to “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” than any of its direct predecessors in that way. There is about an equal amount of slow tracks, as there are fast cuts. Of the slow tracks the epic and very atmospheric ‘Mountains Of Might’ is vintage Immortal, similar in construction to ‘Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)’ and ‘A Perfect Vision Of the Rising Northland’. Other slow tracks include ‘Nebular Ravens Winter’, ‘Suns That Sank Below’ and ‘Winter Of the Ages’.

There’s also an increase in the amount of leads/solos compared to the previous album, and Immortal’s atmospheric folk edge is more pronounced on this record. On his last album with the band Demonaz delivers his most acrobatic and technically refined performance on the guitar. The downside is that much of the riffing, the harmonies and the leads/solos are robbed of their effect due to the abysmal production job. On all other fronts “Blizzard Beasts” is a reliable, but ultimately mediocre sounding Immortal album. The record does what it sets out to do, but nothing ever truly stands out in any meaningful way. ‘Mountains Of Might’ is the lone highlight and the only signature track to speak of. That is not to say that any of the other songs present on this record are bad, because they are not. Immortal had written stronger material in the past, even considered as a death metal album isn’t very remarkable, poignant or, well, strong.

Instantly noticeable is how much the production, or lack thereof if we’re being honest with ourselves, hampers the product. The band had holed up in Sigma Recording Studio with producer Henrikke Helland, and the band co-produced the record on its own. What exactly went wrong is hard to tell from an outsider perspective. Why of all bands exactly Immortal befell this fate remains a mystery. The duo, that had otherwise had tolerable to exceptional productions in the past, now was stuck with the most plastic, sterile and soulless production job yet to grace any of their records. Horghagen’s drums sound like thin cardboard boxes and plastic buckets instead of the usually hammering percussion we have come to associate with Immortal. The guitars are washed-out, fuzzy and don’t hold a lot of power. The vocal production is as good, if not better, as on the last album and the bass guitar can be heard plucking and popping away. For a band that usually avoided terrible productions, “Blizzard Beasts” was an experiment in sound that went horribly and terribly wrong. Unfortunately. Equal to the production the photography is horrid and ugly this time around. Immortal are better than this.

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“Blizzard Beasts” marks the end of the first era of Immortal. It is the concluding chapter in their “holocaust metal” trilogy and the end of the classic era. Draped in mediocre songwriting, broken up by the occasional memorable track, and hampered by a subpar production – it is the most divisive Immortal record outside of the debut album. After this the band would venture into a more thrash-oriented epic metal on which the black metal stylings were only secondary at best. As is usually the case with institutions like this the band experienced a period of hiatus before transforming and returning to the scene with a reunion album called “All Shall Fall”. Immortal is one of the classic Norwegian black metal formations and its career trajectory is one of the strangest of that scene, not counting the industrial – and electronic obsessed subsets of the genre. “Battles In the North” set a standard the band weren’t able to live up to. Clocking in at a meager 29 minutes it also is the shortest Immortal album up to that point.

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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.