I still have fond memories of the night of Saturday 13th August 2011 when Immortal brought Blashyrkh to Bloodstock. It wasn’t the first time seeing them, but the spectacle of them headlining the main stage made it a special performance for me. Abbath - black metal’s very own Gene Simmons - owned the stage that night, almost turning Horgh and Apollyon into bit-part players. When Abbath walked away from Immortal to pursue a solo venture it seemed a no-brainers as to which party would flourish and who may wither on the bough. But sometimes, life doesn’t seem to follow the obvious path.
Although functional, 2016’s self-titled album was not the follow-up to All Shall Fall that we were expecting. When Immortal, now the two piece of Horgh and Demonaz, released the monumental Northern Chaos Gods in 2018 it placed the ball firmly back in Abbath’s court to give us the album we needed from the big man.
I’m pleased to say that Outstrider is that album.
Outstrider is eight tracks (nine if you count the cover of Bathory’s Pace ’till Death) of Abbath doing exactly what we love him for. There’s atmosphere aplenty in the intros to tracks like Calm in Ire (Of Hurricane) and Hecate, where the image of frost-bitten winterscapes is conjured.
It’s fair to day that Abbath has never been the most evil of black metal’s class of ’93, but black metal’s remit is broader than that and Outstrider is packed with classic rock references: whether a lick here or a solo there, as on tracks like The Artifex and the title track itself, this is Abbath flexing his creative muscles far more than it felt like he was doing on the previous record.
For an artist of his stature Abbath has, naturally, surrounded himself with top quality musicians: Mia Wallace and Ukri Suviletho lock the rhythm down, allowing Abbath and Ole Andre Farstad to delivery the texture through the guitars.
There are some fine black metal moments to be found on Outstrider: the central duo of lead-track Harvest Pyre and Land of Khem would not feel out of place on Sons of Northern Chaos, with Abbath frosty vocal espousing over a blast-beat drum.
I worried that I had lost faith in one of black metal’s icons but Outstrider is the collection of songs that make restores that faith and more. It is a very welcome return to form.