Immortal - Battles in the North
Osmose Productions
Black Metal
10 songs (35:18)
Release year: 1995
Immortal, Osmose Productions
Reviewed by Tyler
Archive review

Ever since I began exposing myself to metal’s darkest subgenre, black metal, I have been on a near constant quest to truly grasp the genre. Admittedly, I still feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of all that this unfathomably deep genre has to offer. However, though I can’t remember exactly what piqued my curiosity for the genre, my curiosity remains piqued, so I continue to look for more bands, more albums, and more history. By now, I have a pretty good understanding of “who’s-who” in regards to the first and second waves of black metal that arose in the 80s and 90s, especially the infamous (and unceasingly interesting) Norwegian black metal scene. Inevitably, during my self-taught black metal history lessons (with the internet as my infinite textbook), I came across Norwegian stalwarts Immortal. Since then, they have been one of the BM bands that I have listened to the most, and recently, I picked up their 1995 album Battles in the North.

Now, before I begin to attempt to put my thoughts on Battles in the North into words, let me start by saying that one of the most consistently alluring aspects of black metal for me is that, unlike few genres I have taken the time to explore, black metal can be a truly challenging type of music to enjoy. By and large, it isn’t a “fun” kind of music; it isn’t the kind of music that I put on while I’m driving around with friends or trying to get through work. Also unlike any other type of music, I find that the conditions under which I listen to black metal often determine how much I enjoy it. For example, if I am driving around on a warm sunny day with the windows down and my stereo cranked, black metal is far from my ideal music choice. However, if I am driving home on a rainy, foggy night, with the windows rolled up and the stereo just loud enough to fill the car and block out any other noise, I find the music to be entrancing. I find that listening to it alone, with big headphones, while reading the lyrics is often the best way to get the full effect of the album that I am listening to. Some listeners without patience or a particularly adventurous attitude often dismiss black metal as nothing but blast-beat driven noise with crappy production. The genre’s fans know better though, and I feel that I am slowly beginning to understand the utter brilliance of the genre’s finest bands.

That being said, I believe that thus far in my black metal explorations, Battles in the North may be the most challenging album I have come across. The reason for this is that, at first glance and listen, the album seems like a mess. For starters, the drums (which are played by the band’s singer/bassist Abbath) are at times played pretty poorly; the double bass and blast beasts occasionally seem completely out of time, and the fills are often sloppy and awkward. The production is rough as well, with incredibly overloud drums and guitar parts that are occasionally inaudible. The riffs sometimes carry on without really resolving themselves, the solos are few and far between (and largely inaudible), and the songs often end abruptly. Abbath’s vocal lines often seem as if he gave melody less than an afterthought, and instead just croaked off the lyrics that Demonaz handed him in whatever way seemed to fit. Many of the copies of the album feature severe misprints, where the track list is completely out of order, and some of the linear notes have misspellings and odd grammar. To inexperienced black metal listeners or anybody not willing to give this album a few listens, this would be a very easy album to discard as a disorganized failure.

And yet…

After enough listens, things start to sink in a bit. Many of the guitar riffs are surprisingly memorable and the lyrics are phenomenal, and through these means, the album gradually reveals its purpose. If you know anything about black metal, it is that though the lo-fi production of most of the genre’s albums may seem like an odd and unfortunate choice, it is actually used to accentuate the atmosphere that the music is supposed to create. In short, black metal is often more about the how the music makes you feel and the atmosphere of it than what is actually being played. While most black metal albums shoot for a dark, morose atmosphere, Immortal has always had a somewhat different approach. I know that every review of the band ever written has described the band’s sound this way, but I’m going to say it anyway, because it is absolutely true. If there is one word to describe Immortal’ssound (possibly on Battles in the North more than any other album in the bands discography), it is this: icy. Or cold. Or frosty. I guarantee that 99% of the reviews you have ever read or will ever read about Immortal albums use one of those adjectives, or something similar, or compare the band’s sound to a blizzard, avalanche, glacier, or some other cold thing. And honestly, it is pretty much true. The guitars are fuzzy and nearly washed into the background, and with the way the drums rumble and crack, I can definitely visualize some snowy, avalanche-wreaked landscape while listening to Battles. And if the guitars and drums make this frozen wasteland, it is the demon-croaks of Abbath that complete the picture, perhaps as a raven circling and squawking above, occasionally swooping down to feed on the frozen corpses of fallen warriors.

Interestingly enough, producing such a frozen, raw sound seems to be a calculated decision by the band, as opposed to just poor production. In fact, beginning with Battles in the North, Immortal’s lyrics have been based on the running theme of Blashyrkh, a snowy fantasy land ruled by the mighty Ravendark (a giant Raven), for whom the members of Immortal rule Blashyrkh with an iron fist. Every song is chock full with lyrics invoking images of mountains, glaciers, frozen forests, icy caves, and other such frozen natural landscapes. The band’s lyrics, which have almost always been penned by former guitarist/founder Demonaz, have made the band stand out amongst the plentiful amounts of black metal bands that focus on Satanic lyrics and imagery. There is certainly something to be said about sticking to one’s laurels and Immortal has always done just that. They never got caught up in the controversy of the Norwegian black metal scene, they’ve never stopped donning their thick, neat corpse paint or spikes proudly, and have yet to deviate from the Blashyrkh concept that began with Battles in the North.

In some ways, Battles in the North can be a tough album to enjoy. If you hate blast-beats, predictable song structures, or low quality production, stay far, far away from this album. You will have a much better chance of enjoying Immortal’s later work, when their sound became more focused around the epic and thrash elements that started to poke through in the metallic blizzard that is Battles in the North. Even for myself personally, I find that Battles is the kind of album that I have to be in the right kind of mood to enjoy. I’m not sure I even “enjoy” it so much as I endure it, yet I feel an odd sense of satisfaction when I complete a listen through this album. Maybe I am still naïve or ignorant when it comes to black metal, but perhaps black metal isn’t meant to be enjoyed; no, enjoyment seems like a much too positive word to associate with the grimness of black metal. I believe black metal albums are intended to be experienced more than they are intended to be listened to, if you can understand my meaning. I could very well be wrong, but it appears to be the case with each listen through of a black metal album that I partake in. Battles in the North has been the longest and most difficult of these journeys so far, and yet that personal revelation seems to ring more true in my mind than ever before.

Killing Songs :
Battles in the North, Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms, Cursed Realms of the Winderdemons, Through the Halls of Eternity, Circling Above in Time Before Time, Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)
Tyler quoted 83 / 100
Other albums by Immortal that we have reviewed:
Immortal - Northern Chaos Gods reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Immortal - Damned in Black reviewed by Jared and quoted 87 / 100
Immortal - All Shall Fall reviewed by James and quoted 89 / 100
Immortal - Pure Holocaust reviewed by Kyle and quoted CLASSIC
Immortal - Blizzard Beasts reviewed by Kyle and quoted 86 / 100
To see all 8 reviews click here
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