Much has happened to Immortal in the nine years since the Norwegian black metal superstars released their last album. After a legal battle over the rights to the band's name, guitarist, vocalist and co-founder Olve "Abbath" Eikemo split in 2015 and unveiled the eponymous debut from his eponymously-named band the following year. Longtime Immortal bassist Ole "Apollyon" Moe left shortly thereafter, resuming his drum throne with black-thrash specialists Aura Noir. As Abbath embarked upon high-profile tours and festival dates, Immortal lyricist, co-founder and original guitarist Harald "Demonaz" Nævdal and drummer Reidar "Horgh" Horghagen quietly worked on new material.
But what would Immortal sound like without Abbath? At various points in the band's career, the starkly corpsepainted black metal icon had occupied every musical position — bassist, guitarist, drummer — but had always been their vocalist and frontman. Meanwhile, both Abbath and Demonaz publicly acknowledged that the music on Abbath's debut was originally intended to be the follow-up to 2009's All Shall Fall.
What's more, Demonaz has long been suffering from a severe case of tendonitis that forced him to stop playing guitar in Immortal after 1997's Blizzard Beasts. (However, it didn't prevent him from playing guitar in brief stints for his own 2011 solo album, March of the Norse.) The band's challenges were seemingly insurmountable: Write a new album from scratch with (1) a new vocalist who'd be replacing an iconic frontman, (2) a new bass player, and (3) a guitar player who couldn't play guitar for extended periods of time.
In January of this year, Immortal announced that they'd completed a new album with Demonaz on guitar and vocals. The first taste arrived in May in the form of the vicious title track, "Northern Chaos Gods." And just like that, any doubts about Immortal's ability to make killer music without Abbath instantly evaporated. Produced by Hypocrisy mastermind Peter Tägtgren — who also played bass on the album — Northern Chaos Gods is a raw, frostbitten and triumphant return to Immortal's mid-Nineties blitzkrieg of Pure Holocaust and Battles in the North.
For Demonaz, it's "the ultimate Immortal album" and the culmination of a prolific and tumultuous decade. "From the outside, it looks like nine years since the last album, but for me it was the busiest nine years of my life," he tells Revolver. "I recorded a solo album, we wrote an album that went out the door [with Abbath], and then Northern Chaos Gods. So it's three albums in nine years if you ask me!"
AS I'M SURE YOU KNOW, MANY FANS WERE SKEPTICAL WHEN IT WAS ANNOUNCED YOU'D BE MAKING A NEW IMMORTAL ALBUM WITHOUT ABBATH. DID YOU FEEL THAT PRESSURE WHILE YOU WERE WRITING?
DEMONAZ I wouldn't do this album if I wasn't confident with it. I didn't see a reason to give up this band. I've had this band as far back as I can remember, and I think this album shows that he was not the band himself. [Laughs]
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN CREATING THIS RECORD?
After All Shall Fall, me, Abbath and Horgh started to work on a follow-up album. When we were like 80 percent finished with the songs and the pre-production, we had this conflict that ended with Abbath leaving. And he took with him the material — most of it — so we just had to start from scratch. We didn't want to make a trial about the material, you know? [Laughs] We're a band. We'd rather make music than go to court. So that's what we did. Being able to focus on the music and not the problems was a really, really big freedom for me. We already had problems in 2003 — the band was [split up] and everything — but now we are in 2018, so it's been 15 years since the trouble started. Can you imagine how far away that is for me right now? So the freedom to create music for the ultimate Immortal album was a really great thing.
WHY DO YOU FEEL THAT NORTHERN CHAOS GODS IS THE ULTIMATE IMMORTAL ALBUM?
You always want to make a better album than the ones you did before, but it's very hard to do that because everyone demands something from you. I remember when we did our first album, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, it was total freedom because we didn't care about anyone's opinion. When we did our second album, Pure Holocaust, we just wanted to play faster. We wanted to show everyone we were hungry and furious: "Get out of our way, or we'll run you down!" It was the same with Battles in the North. But the more routine you get into, the more touring you do, that mentality disappears. It was heading in the wrong direction.
All Shall Fall was a good album, but it wasn't furious. It wasn't intense. There was no big feeling in the stomach telling me, "Yeah, this is fucking great." We lost a little of that bite, I think. So this time I thought, "We're going to return to that. We're going to make the greatest Immortal album ever." And I think you can hear that on Northern Chaos Gods.
DID YOU GO BACK AND LISTEN TO OLD IMMORTAL RECORDS TO TRY AND RECAPTURE THAT FEELING?
Yes. I don't put Immortal albums on very often, but I did sit down and listen to every album. When you have made those riffs or those songs, they stay in your head in a different way. To you, every Immortal album probably sounds different in a way. To me, they sound the same. [Laughs] They all sound like Pure Holocaust in my head. But I think the energy we had from the first album to Blizzard Beasts was its own story. When Abbath took over the guitars [on 1999's At the Heart of Winter], it was because we couldn't replace me in a way. We put a lot of energy into that album.
When it came to [2000's] Damned in Black, it was different. I didn't participate as much on that album as I did on the others. I didn't feel that was my album in a way. And then we fell back together and got strong again for Sons of Northern Darkness. After that, Abbath got some personal issues and the inspiration was not there in the same way afterwards. That album took its toll on us. It was like the first time we realized I would not be back on guitar. We had been living on that hope before.
AT THIS POINT, MOST FANS KNOW ABOUT THE TENDONITIS IN YOUR ARM AND THE DIFFICULTIES IT HAS CREATED FOR YOU AND IMMORTAL SINCE THE LATE NINETIES. BUT I UNDERSTAND YOU'RE DOING MUCH BETTER NOW —AND PLAYED ALL THE GUITARS ON NORTHERN CHAOS GODS.
Yes, that's right. I had a shoulder operation in 2012 and it went really well. They found that the muscle was broken, that it was split in two. They couldn't see that from the X-ray, so they had to open up my arm in two places and sew the muscle back together. It was really, really painful — waking up from that anesthesia was something else. But the result was a big relief.
WILL YOU BE ABLE TO PLAY GUITAR LIVE?
I feel really good about the arm now, but I think we will probably just get a live guitar player so I can focus on the vocals. That way I can also play guitar on some songs if I want.
PETER TÄGTGREN OF HYPOCRISY PLAYED BASS ON THE ALBUM, AND ALSO PRODUCED IT. WILL HE BE PLAYING BASS LIVE WITH IMMORTAL, OR DO YOU HAVE SOMEONE ELSE IN MIND?
We haven't come to that point yet. We'll go back to the rehearsal room after the album is out and make everything clear for the live situation. Of course, we have some internal plans, but I don't want to give you the name of the bass player before he himself knows it. [Laughs]
NORTHERN CHAOS GODS IS THE FIRST IMMORTAL ALBUM WITHOUT ABBATH, WHOM YOU CO-FOUNDED THE BAND WITH IN 1991. DOES THE ENERGY FEEL DIFFERENT WITHOUT HIM?
It would be very strange if I didn't say yes. Of course it does. But it's something that didn't work for a really long time. We tried to re-establish [the old energy] doing the All Shall Fall album, but it became clear that this problem was not going to disappear. We just had to end it. In 2014 or '15, this happened. We couldn't avoid it. The best thing was to part ways.
IN AN INTERVIEW I DID WITH ABBATH FOR HIS SOLO RECORD, HE MENTIONED THAT YOU AND HORGH FELT HE WAS DRINKING TOO MUCH. WAS THAT PART OF THE PROBLEM IN IMMORTAL?
Well, it's a problem everybody knows about. He told the media himself. There's nothing I need to add. I don't like to talk so much about it when he's not here. But I think it became kind of a stress or problem for the band. It was difficult. We had different perspectives on alcohol.
ABBATH WAS MARRIED TO YOUR SISTER AT ONE TIME, AND THEY HAD A SON TOGETHER. SO THIS SPLIT ISN'T JUST ABOUT THE BAND — IT INVOLVES FAMILY AS WELL. DOES THAT MAKE THE SITUATION ESPECIALLY DIFFICULT?
You have to separate these things in a way. The band is one thing and the situation with the family is another. There was no way we could continue with the band the way it was, but it was never a personal war between us. He did some things back then that I just couldn't continue with. When he tried to register the band name behind our backs … what can I say? [Laughs] But on a personal level, we are not enemies.
HAVE YOU HEARD ABBATH'S ALBUM?
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF IT?
Honestly, I have to say that the pre-production [demos] we made of those songs were better. But I still think it was the best metal album of that year, without a doubt. I think he's really good. Just because we had a conflict, it doesn't make him a worse musician or anything. He's brilliant at what he's doing. He did a great job for Immortal since we started the band. How can I say something bad about that?
WITH ALL THE CHANGES THAT HAVE HAPPENED SINCE THE LAST ALBUM, HAS IMMORTAL TAKEN ON A DIFFERENT MEANING FOR YOU SINCE ALL SHALL FALL?
I think it's really good to have the spirit and the energy on the right side. The other option was to put the band down. We did that before, after Sons of Northern Darkness, and it was no good for anybody. I think that was the worst time for the band and for the fans. So I didn't want that to happen again. I never gave up on this band. Even after Sons of Northern Darkness, I was sure we would be back. It was just a matter of time. I don't know how many people with all the problems we've had would be able to carry on. I think I'm quite stubborn.