How should we consider Immortal’s Blizzard Beasts? It’s undoubtedly the band’s weakest record, but is it a total misstep? Perhaps not. I would argue that it’s more of a half-step, a transitional record that comes in the middle of the band’s evolution from masters of raw, black metal coldness, to composers of some of the most epic material put to record. What follows is less akin to “I like this record that everyone else hates, please listen to how wrong you are,” and more along the lines of “there are some shining moments on this album that point to greatness.”
But let’s be honest, fellow Immortal fans, most of these moments arrive on the second half of the album. After a harmless intro track, the storm of awkward guitar and drum combinations kicks assaults the listener on “Blizzard Beasts.” The terrible production of this album has been much discussed on reviews and forums. But it’s not a raw, enjoyably bad production like on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, it’s a sound that’s somehow too loud and too quiet at the same time. There’s not nearly enough reverb, meaning the band’s usually grand sound is restrained with no room to create an atmosphere. This is especially, and painfully, apparent on “Battlefields,” an otherwise great song with fantastic melodic riffs. The guitars have almost a clipping quality here, like a cassette tape that’s seen much better days. Demonaz is really straining himself on the super-fast picking technique here, and it’s no surprise this album rendered him unable to play any longer.
So I’ve just said a bunch of bad things about this album, so why am I using it for one of these articles? It’s one thing if bad ideas are badly executed. But it’s another if good ideas are not given the proper thought or time to gestate. So it is on Blizzard Beasts. You can hear what the band had in mind on “Suns that Sank Below.” That drum pattern at the beginning with the insane picking could have been cool, but it sounds off-tempo here, strange for a band as normally tight as Immortal. However, if you listen closely and have a good idea of the rest of the band’s catalog, you can see where this album stands in their catalog. It’s an evolutionary step between the glory of their first three albums (Pure Holocaust being the best in my opinion), and the soaring compositions on At the Heart of Winter and Sons of Northern Darkness.
And this hinting toward the future is most apparent on the aforementioned “Battlefields,” and the album’s true gem, “Mountains of Might.” The latter, with better production, could easily fit onto At The Heart of Winter. One element of black metal’s power is to stimulate the listener’s imagination. With most 2nd-wave bands, this means traveling back to pagan blots, medieval battlefields and the shores of hell itself. But Immortal created a whole world of their own with Blashyrkh, and this is best recalled on “Mountains of Might.” If anyone were to create a “Best of Immortal” release, this would definitely be the song to include from Blizzard Beasts.
Though I should also say that “Winter of the Ages” is pretty sweet as well, but in more of the Battles in the North sense. This goes for the album closer as well, the audaciously named “Frostdemonstorm.” I wish I’d just made that up. Immortal has a song called “Frostdemonstorm.” It’s as if they wanted to head off any S.O.D-style parody off at the pass and totally own their persona. In the hands of most of other bands, you’d think of the name as laughable, but in the case of Immortal, I’m so glad it exists. And while more of the awkward and not-so-well placed riffs are here as well, any song with Abbath shouting “uueggh!!” can’t be too bad, right?