Scratching the Immortal Itch: Abbath Outstrider Review
Abbath: the man. The myth. The meme. The legend. His corpse paint tainted visage is synonymous with Norwegian black metal, and his vocals have been emulated and outright stolen by countless black metal front men. In many ways, Abbath is black metal itself. Born in Norway in 1973 as Olve Eikemo, he has gone by the moniker Abbath Doom Occulta since founding Immortal with his former band mate Demonaz. Throughout the course of Immortal's discography, Abbath, a multi-instrumentalist, has played bass, drums, guitar, and of course lead vocals, and since branching off and forming his new project, which shares his personal namesake, Abbath has focused on guitar playing and vocal duties. This storied history of a metal legend has brought us to the current year of 2019, and the release of Abbath's second album, Outstrider.
Part solo project, part band, Abbath carries on the precedent set by previous heavy metal luminaries like Dio, Marilyn Manson, or the Devin Townsend Band: utilize the name recognition and personality of the front man while presenting the full heavy metal ensemble experience. Make no mistake, while Abbath is all about the man himself, it is also a proper band rather than a rock star in a studio with a producer and roster of nameless, faceless session musicians. What of course makes Abbath interesting is that this form factor is presented within the universe of extreme metal, and in particular black metal. The songs presented on Outstrider hearken back heavily to Immortal's discography, complete with standard Norwegian black metal fare: blast beats, tremolo picked riffs, screeched and croaked vocals, and dissonant tones. However, fans of the classic Immortal era (Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, Pure Holocaust, Battles in the North, and Blizzard Beasts), will unfortunately not hear Abbath's return to form. Instead Outstrider, much like Abbath's debut self-titled album, is more reminiscent of the last half of Immortal's discography, beginning with At The Heart of Winter.
While being a spiritual successor to the latter half of Immortal's discography, Outstrider certainly stands out as a distinctly different project. While not "true" black n roll in the vein of a band like Kvelertak, Outstrider is laden with hard rock references, especially in the hot licks laid down by lead guitarist "Raud" Ole Andre Farstad and the acoustic guitar passages that recall the great hard rock power ballads of the 1980s and early 1990s. Fret not, my kvlt readers, Abbath does not begin crooning about some hair sprayed vixen who has stolen his heart, as these acoustic passages only serve as song intros or interludes between tracks.
"Calm in the Ire (Of Hurricane)" kicks things off as a preview of sorts, integrating most of the previously mentioned tonal and stylistic choices throughout the album, Raud's anthemic soloing accentuating each riff and verse. "Bridge of Spasms" is pure Immortal nostalgia, with the discordant riffs and blasting drums to boot. Third track "The Artifex" continues the cold and cult vibe invoked on "Bridge of Spasms" and juxtaposes it with some more flashy lead guitar work from Raud. The first single from the album, "Harvest Pyre" stomps with as headbanging a riff as anyone from KK Downing to Hank Sherman could hope to compose, and resolves a strong first half of this recording.
Fifth track, "Land of Khem" could also be another Damned in Black cutting floor tune. What follows is the title track, with an acoustic rock intro that honestly hearkens back to Richie Sambora at his peak with Bon Jovi, but it somehow works, even as the song congruously shifts into another howling black metal epic. Majestically titled "Scythwinder" gallops along, pulling the listener towards a formidable close as shown in final tracks "Hecate" and a cover of Bathory's "Pace Till Death." "Hecate" blasts an all out black metal assault, thoroughly putting to rest and doubt in Abbath's capacity to be one of the heaviest composers in Norwegian black metal. Finally "Pace Till Death" is faithfully executed, as anyone who is familiar with Abbath's body of work from his years in Immortal to the present day would expect. Bathory has had not just a huge influence on Abbath specifically, but all of Norwegian black metal.
Outstrider as an album is surely a testament to Abbath's ability to compose quality black metal, and is actually refreshing in the current trend of more experimental sounding black metal. Of course, the reason contemporary bands in black metal blend in the avant garde, progressive, or even new wave/goth sentiments is because by-the-numbers black metal has been done to death. Abbath's tasteful use of arena rock production and guitar pyrotechnics do serve well in holding listener interest, as do the sheer quality of the song-writing. It's just a case of Outstrider, as an album, not quite attaining the lofty position as a breathtaking instant classic. The songs are expertly composed and executed, but don’t have as much staying power as one would hope. Abbath’s life work and his influences are worn on his sleeves in this album, meaning there isn’t much in the way of stylistic experimentation, which also serves as a detriment to the memorability of some of the songs presented here. It is still well worth a listen, and for this reviewer at least, scratches the itch that I've had for new Immortal-styled epic black metal.
Label: Season of Mist
Lineup: Abbath Doom Occulta (vocals, guitar), "Raud" Ole Andre Farstad (lead guitar), Ukri Suvilehto (drums), Mia Wallace (bass)