22nd January 2016 – Season of Mist
01. To War
02. Winter Bane
03. Ashes Of The Damned
04. Ocean Of Wounds
05. Count The Dead
06. Fenrir Hunts
07. Root Of The Mountain
Abbath is a man who probably needs no introduction to most metal fans; his distinctive corpse paint and overt stage mannerisms have even seen him spoofed in Guitar Hero games. Following the former Immortal frontman’s acrimonious split with his band in 2015, Abbath brings his solo venture to the fray with a self-titled debut.
In offsetting the mud-flinging that has soured the relationship with his former bandmates Demonaz and Horgh, Abbath has been on a publicity-fuelled charm offensive of Europe. Sweeping into the cereal cafés of Shoreditch in full corpsepaint probably caused more than a few hipsters to choke on their Count Chocula, but the photoshoots that came out of it were certainly eye-catching and a very different backdrop than the isolated frozen mountains of Bergen, Norway. Of all of black metal’s limited crossover big names, Abbath is probably only second to Varg and thankfully for wildly different reasons. It is for this reason that using his own face as the album cover is entirely justifiable.
Stepping out of the shadow of Immortal but maintaining his own unique image, Abbath is also redefining the own sound with which he has been so identifiable for well over twenty years. The same ‘Blashyrkh’ vocal style remains, but the accompanying music has evolved; drawing on influences from peers such as Aura Noir as well as groove metal, Abbath is much more blackened metal than black metal .
There’s an incredible amount of groove and emphasis evident on tracks such as “Fenrir Hunts” and “Winter Bane” and it comes from drummer Kevin Foley, A.K.A. Creature. The current drummer of Benighted and Disavowed, he has also played with bands as diverse as Sabaton and Decapitated, and it’s a shame that he has already parted ways with Abbath since recording the album – possibly another sign of Abbath’s supposed difficulty to work with – since his importance to the drive and emphasis of this work cannot be understated. Whilst Foley provides a relentless barrage throughout the album, the patterns he uses are more varied than typical black metal double bass pedal assaults and the album benefits greatly from his presence; he deserves particular credit for the huge war drums on suitably-titled opener “To War”.
Bass duties are provided by former Gorgoroth bassist and frequent Abbath collaborator Tom Cato Visnes, better known as King ov Hell. A man once accused by Darkthrone’s Fenriz of being one of the ‘Überposers’ responsible for trying to destroy real metal, his influence on the album is a much-needed stabilising effect, underscoring Abbath’s ferocious dissonant tremolo picking with precision, enhancing the overall aggression.
Abbath himself remains at the heart of his first solo outing. His aforementioned playing style is the focal point of the music, binding the varied aggression of Creature’s drums and King ov Hell’s precise bass juggernaut with his trademark jagged dissonance. His characteristic vocal delivery, presumably with lyrics written by himself unlike during his time in Immortal, is as determined and distinctive as it ever was, but in an environment that is less black metal and more groove and blackened metal, the vocal style stands out even more.
This marrying of old-school black metal with more modern groove-orientated metal is perhaps the most distinctive thing about this record. Abbath has paid attention to bands like Behemoth so successfully reinventing themselves, keeping his distinctive appearance and playing style but joining them in experimenting with new musical dynamics. There’s absolutely a new lease of life to Abbath; after only putting out two albums during the last decade, his hunger for musical output has been rejuvenated as he stretches out on his own. At only eight tracks, his return does feel a little truncated (although there is a bonus edition with a further two tracks); clearly the very fast turnaround from his split with Immortal to this release has a part to play in that, but the focus on quality over quantity isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
With a renewed work ethic and passion for writing and recording we may see a return to an active and happy Abbath putting out music much more frequently. The metal world can only be delighted about this.