At The Heart Of Winter
Review by Kostas on June 21, 2023.
After two mediocre and another two more than just bad albums, naturity time had come for Immortal. Finally, a great album was released in 1999, one that would later become one of the most important releases in black metal history. What I am talking about is ''At The Heart of Winter'', the absolute highlight of this band's discography and a record every metalhead has heard about and should listen to, since it is an exceptional musical offering in general.
''Withstand The Fall of Time'' is the first song one can enjoy here. And thankfully, it is instantly made clear that things are going to be more serious this time. The rifts are not as repetitive as in the past, yet they still bear the grim coldness the band became known for. Fast and catchy, they manage to create a really aggressive sound. However, atmsopshere is just as present, with the mediocre sound quality doing its magic when it comes to giving the sound depth. Don't get me wrong, mixing and mastering are not terrible like in the band's past releases. The general sound quality is just as low as it should be in order for a dark musical background to be created. Moreover, drumming seems to have become much more professional this time, with Horgh doing a really fine job. Not really something that innovative, but for sure much more well-played than in ''Blizzard Beasts''.
Besides the great rifts and the balance between atmosphere and power, what really makes this album so good is the big improvement in Abbath's vocals. The vocalist of Immortal no more seems like he tries to sound evil in ''At The Heart of Winter''. I was unable to spot any part where he pronounced the words as if he had some weird accent, which is a big step forward. In addition, there are some pretty well-written bass lines in this record. Alongside the necessary use of sound effects and acoustic interludes, they also play a key role in the creation of the unparalleled atmosphere I mentioned before. And note that besides this grim aura, there is still much variety, with slower tracks followed by faster ones and vice versa.
To sum up, I can easily say this is a great album and one of the best releases of the 90s, at least when it comes to black metal. It has all the elements this kind of music became known for and it is balanced and well-written. Well, maybe the lyrics are still pretty pointless, but I guess that's Immortal... Recommended to anyone who likes metal.
Rating: 8.6 out of 10524
Review by Felix on June 21, 2023.
"Blizzard Beasts", the predecessor of the here described album, had shown a band that had idiotically taken the course of self-destruction. I have heard somewhere that Norwegians who try to copy the sound of a North American formation are still Norwegians, for better or for worse. But maybe I am wrong. Anyway, it was time for a drastic change. Immortal had obviously realised that they were driving down the road to nowhere. Consequently, "At the Heart of Winter" was nothing less than a radical (and absolutely necessary) turnaround. The guys from the top of Europe left no stone unturned and the surprising result was outstanding.
The most important modification - how could it be otherwise - affects the compositional arrangements. Instead of confusing the listener with crude and obscure song patterns, the band puts the focus on clearly defined, majestic melodies in order to deliver accessible song structures. This does not mean that the songs lack of brusqueness. The instinct for vigorous guitar lines ennobles every part of the songs, irrespective of the degree of harshness. Better still, the melodic sequences fraternise with gruff outbursts in an amazingly harmonious manner. Immortal combine the different elements with great ease, although the aura of the tracks does not indicate any kind of lightness. The guttural vocals sound more masculine than on the catastrophic predecessor and convey the feeling of inevitability and doggedness. But the sound works as a whole while creating an ice-cold atmosphere. It matches with the fascinating artwork of the album that also has nothing in common with the unimaginative picture of "Blizzard Beasts". By the way, it is the only successful cover of the band up till now, apart perhaps from "All Shall Fall". Stop making silly band photos, deliver more fantastic paintings.
The six songs are nothing less than - sorry for using this trite term - frostbitten monuments. Their massiveness and coldness leave no doubt that this one is exposed to - another trite term, I am inconsolable - true Norwegian black metal, even though its configuration differs from the early albums of this genre in a remarkable manner. For example, "Tragedy Blows at Horizon" demonstrates that calm parts do not ruin the mightiness of a song as long as they provide the necessary atmosphere. The intro of the title track even goes one step further. It opens the gates to the snow covered landscape of Immortal's realm. Calm and frosty guitars lead to a desperate keyboard line, before the drums and the electric guitars set in. A hymnal riff heralds the strength of their fantasy kingdom and more rugged parts create a suspenseful atmosphere. Finally, the solo part adds the majestic touch which has become a trademark of the band's compositions. No doubt, this song constitutes a worthy representative of the album. This statement takes into account that the first three tracks reach the same level of brilliance. Without doubt, each and every of these opulent pieces would also have been a suitable title track, too. The triple pack at the beginning proves that Immortal manage flattening riffs as well as less aggressive sections and divine moments are not missing. For example, listen to this craggy line of "Solarfall": "See the ice in which we craft our souls / Earth's frozen cries the dark benight your kind" and enjoy its overwhelming guitar work. Apart from this line, I promise that there are more excellent details to discover.
Albeit each and every song lasts more than six minutes, Immortal are never at risk to bore the listener. Without appearing repetitive, the three-piece does not need 100 riffs per piece in order to enthuse the audience. With a view to the old slogan "less is more", the musicians prefer another way of proceeding. They give the guitars room to breathe with the result that they can develop their full effectiveness. In this respect, the powerful production should be mentioned, too. Fortunately, the mix cannot be confused with that of the predecessor. Instead of sounding flat and emotionless, it sparkles with its atmosphere and directness while forming acoustic ice crystals in abundance. Do they directly originate from Blashyrk? I don't know. But one thing is for sure, the Norwegian flagship has returned to its former glory.
Rating: 8.7 out of 10524
Review by Allan on September 7, 2002.
One look into the album insert of Immortal’s “At The Heart of Winter” and you won’t be surprised that Immortal is still attached to their roots and they’re proudly clad their black and white corpsepaint. You just might be under the impression that after four full-length albums of hyper-speed black metal, that because nothing on the outside indicates the band has changed, they’re still playing that same cacophonous wall of noise. One listen to the album though reveals that Immortal is a new band, and the best that they’ve been at that.
Sure Immortal has slowed things down substantially, but speed still is an element, and the rest of those important factors of the past are still here. The change could be do to previous guitarist Demonaz suffering from acute tendonitis in one of his playing hands, and the duties being taken over by Abbath. I can’t help but say this is one of the better things to happen in metal, as “At The Heart of Winter” is one of the better black metal releases out there.
From a musical standpoint, “At The Heart of Winter” is less loud and indecipherable than previously. The riffs themselves have a distinct relationship with death metal because of their somewhat technical aspect. It’s readily apparent that everything is tied to black metal though. Melody is heavily pushed to the front Abbath’s mind, shown in all of the songs. What truly caught my attention at first was the clean guitar in the middle of ‘Tragedies Blows At Horizon’, including some amazing riffs packed in that song also. That’s not to say that anything before that track was any less appealing. It’s hard to stand by and say that ‘Withstand The Fall of Time’ didn’t get my head banging with it’s fast tempo, or that ‘Solarfall’ was any weaker. Moving on, ‘Where Dark and Light Don’t Differ’ has moments that make you realize that “At The Heart of Winter” is surprisingly epic in sound without anything being overdone, over-layered, or cheesy. Possibly the best song is yet to come though, as the title track exhibits each and every element before. Immortal refuse to close on a weak note, and ‘Years of Silent Sorrow’ puts an end to what is soon to be repeated.
My biggest gripe about “At The Heart of Winter” is the arrangements. It happens that the length of these songs is due some sections being repeated a bit too much for their own good. If you’re not absolutely in the mood, it can make it seem like the song was started over or is being played twice. This isn’t something that’s intolerable to any extent, but it can create a problem depending on what mood your in. With that said, I must say that further into the song you’re usually introduced to something new that fits in with the song excellently and leaves you with the feeling that the songs are leading you somewhere.
Bottom Line: Not a weak track is to be found on “At The Heart of Winter”. It’s a new beginning for Immortal, and an essential album for fans of black metal.
Categorical Rating Breakdown
Rating: 8.4 out of 10