With an album title as fitting as the worthy marriage of styles found within, I was the new project of Immortal members Abbath and Armagedda, with Demonaz contributing lyrics. Ice Dale of Enslaved joins on the drums, and T.C. King from Gorgoroth on the bass. Since the material is quite close to Immortal's output before the hiatus (in particular, At the Heart of Winter and Sons of Northern Darkness), you could almost just consider it an Immortal album. After all, it retains the heavy and thick guitar tone, the only difference here is that the band have inserted the influence of bare bones, raw heavy metal. I've likened the record in the past to a Thor meets Immortal, and the comparison remains for me: bombastic, driving guitar rhythms and always a hook.
Like a lot of other Norse works, this was not an album which immediately caught me. It took several subsequent playthroughs before its hooks really started to sink into my skin. Apparently, my initial reaction was outside the norm, as I garnered a positive reaction from many upon contact. In retrospect, it's not difficult to understand why. All the hugeness and nigh 'fantastical' majesty of Immortal's later work with an even more accessible vantage point, where the previous band was already poised on massive success (through not only their musical output, but their images becoming internet memes via a bunch of ironic fuckwits who actually thought the band were taking themselves that seriously). No, there has always been an aspect of 'fun' to what Immortal did, but tempered in the cold steel of their warlike, epic grandeur. Between Two Worlds renews this spirit for the 21st century, and I hope this is not the only album we'll hear out of the collaboration.
"The Storm I Ride" strikes out immediately with a mid-paced gallop, enormous guitar rhythms dancing across Abbath's gritty but recognizable vocal rasp. There is a Viking-like folk subtext to the track which becomes apparent through the notation, and a great driving melody over the almost thrash-like bridge, which swerves into balls-out blues fury. "Warriors" cuts down the tempo to a glorious cruise, like a longship slowly making its way through the grating, fragmented ice across the northern waters. It lumbers, but the men aboard press forward, and the song itself has some excellent, hammering rhythms offset with graceful, small glistening licks. The title track falls between the first two in speed, the riffs fully coherent as if to bridge them. Once again, it's hard to imagine Abbath fronting anything more glorious, and the middle of the track slows into a penetrating crawl of choppy riffing, like the frostbite gathering on your weary toes and fingers. After this, "Battalions" is a pure throttling which would have seemed right at home on Sons of Northern Darkness, with some drifting bass lines and more of the shimmering fields of bludgeoning guitars. The riff at :40 is one of the best on the album, and it transforms into an even more epic pattern of descending majesty.
Magic moments magic times
Barbarians born to stride
Ride with splendor for the war
Battalions at our side
The latter half of the album holds up, with the epic "Mountains" recalling the very best of Bathory's post-Blood Fire Death period. Acoustic guitars lambasted in huge chords that truly ascend the heights of its namesake. Another of the album's absolute pinnacle riffs comes in after 1:10 in the track, and therein all is beautiful. "Days of North Winds" has a biting groove to its deep, slow thrashing, an evocation of savage natural mystique against the rise and fall of civilization. "Far Beyond the Quiet" is another track I would have pictured straight from Sons of Northern Darkness Pt II: Nephews of Northern Darkness, rousing and splendorous, slow rhythms that manage to confine both sadness and pride for the fallen and the living. I have realized by this point that Abbath is really doing a sort of hybrid of his own snarl with Quorthon's later, cleaner harsh stylings and the grimy edge of Lemmy Kilminster. It is no surprise that this track is a tribute to the Bathory frontman. "Cursed We Are" finishes the fight with yet another of the album's best, catchy rhythms, summoning an almost warm tone through the pummeling harmonics and searing winds of the bridge, and the heavy metal uprising of the chorus.
In three short years, this album has really snaked itself about my memory. Yet something holds me back from giving it a perfect score. Perhaps its the rather safe song structures that don't often meander into the unexpected, perhaps 1-2 of the tracks are not as steel solid as the rest. The album sounds phenomenal, furthering the direction of the (previously) final Immortal record. Brazen guitar rhythms that carve out the ice and ash, solid drumming and some of Abbath's best vocals are all hallmarks of the titanic sound. Though we've now got Immortal back, and they have released a killer new album All Shall Fall, I do hope this is not the end for I. This is a huge effort, well worth the time if you haven't yet heard it.
Highlight: best taken with mead, which will probably cost 3x as much as the album
Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10] (many miles to walk here)